July 01, 2004

My Wife, the "Pott-Head"

My wife, Melissa, is the queen of the adult Harry Potter fans (or as my friend Justin affectionately calls them, "Pott-heads"). She reads a HP community fan site called MuggleNet every day, has all of J.K. Rowling's books (including the sideliners "Quidditch through the Ages" and "Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them"), as well as a few companion books by other authors on the Potter phenomenon.

I've read the books, and really liked all of them, but my wife seems to appreciate them on another level entirely. Most parents read the books in order to establish common interest with their children, but my wife can't claim that, since our child is only two.

For Mother's Day, I bought her a "Slytherin" t-shirt from Hot Topic and a Slytherin house scarf from Alivans.com, the internet shop inspired by the famous wand-makers in the books. She insists she would be a Slytherin, even though I think she's more a Ravenclaw. Her rebuttal of this is probably the most heated argument we've had in the course of our marriage. (This speaks both to the relative tranquility of our relationship, as well as her fervor for the Potter Books.)

When she won tickets to a preview screening of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", she couldn't be more excited. However, she became otherwise committed, and was forced to give the tickets to a friend and me. As she handed them over, I could have sworn she growled at me.

This week, J.K. Rowling announced the title of the 6th book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." This came at the heels of a hoax in which a reader claimed to have hacked Rowling's personal web site and found the title "Harry Potter and the Pillar of Storge" ("Storge" is apparently an old Greek word for parental love). This hoax was posted on MuggleNet with screenshots and even a video of the revelation, to corroborate the story.

The fact that there was a hoax pertaining to the title of a book says a lot about the international obsession with this series. Do you hear about crazy Robert Ludlum fans fabricating evidence that his next book will be "The Bourne Audacity"?

With the announcement of the title comes a new flood of speculations from the fans. I tell you, Harry Potter fans pore over these books, looking for dropped hints and hidden clues like theologians reading the Dead Sea Scrolls.

One of the speculations goes like this: The Half-Blood Prince might be Mark Evans, who was mentioned, in passing, in book five as a boy that Harry's cousin Dudley, was picking on. If you'll recall, Evans was also the maiden name of Harry's mother, Lily, who was a witch. Maybe she had a brother, who in turn had a boy named Mark (they would both retain the Evans surname). So Mark Evans might be half-blood if either his father (Lily’s brother and Harry’s Uncle) was a wizard and his mother was a muggle, or vice versa.

Is everything clear? Didn't think so, and it won't be clear until the book comes out. And maybe not even then. Frankly, Oliver Stone has nothing on Harry Potter conspiracy theorists.

The Harry Potter books are such a widespread hit with people of such varied interests, that the books become a sort of screen where everyone can project their own hopes and aspirations for the characters. Some see nasty characters, like Draco Malfoy, being vindicated somehow. Others see a spy within the good guy ranks. Still others want to see more minor characters, like Neville Longbottom, become larger parts of the story.

My wife and I met another couple and their kids for dinner the other night, and we spoke of nothing but Harry Potter for an hour. From the oldest of us (I’ll never tell) down to the couple’s 16 year-old son, everyone was engaged in the discussion. That says a great deal about the series. Something that started off as a children’s story about a teenage wizard has matured into books that are so engaging that many college-educated adults spend hours a day discussing them.

With J. K. Rowling becoming the wealthiest woman in Britain, surpassing even the queen, I doubt the books will stop coming any time soon. Likewise, the whole Harry Potter juggernaut will keep going, picking up more fans as it does. So to those of you Muggles out there that are still unconvinced, I say pick it up. Your kid, or maybe even your boss, is likely to ask your opinion about one of these books in the near future. You shouldn’t be unprepared in either case.

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