|This past December, about a week before Christmas, I answered the phone at work. It was a customer from the other end of the state who had heard that we carry Harry Potter merchandise. I cheerfully confirmed the rumor and asked her what I could help her with. A little while later, I felt like Santa Claus as I wrapped up nearly $200 worth of Harry-related goodies for an 8-year-old nephew. I was especially tickled because I have an 8-year-old nephew of my own who is also a Harry fan.
Experiences like this have always made me marvel at J.K. Rowlingís incredible gift to the world. Besides becoming a billionaire herself, she has had an incredible impact on the global economy. Books sales, merchandise, movies, and events have generated more money than any of us could have imagined. She has inspired an electronic generation to turn paper pages again. When I worked for the state education department, one day we marveled at a report that came in from a local middle school phys-ed teacher who was having his classes play muggle Quidditch. Iíve never known a gym teacher who was able to so completely involve athletes and bookworms alike, but Rowling gave him the tools to do so. And as I reminded myself a sentence or two ago, she has also greatly expanded our vocabulary. Words like, muggle, galleon, and quaffle are now commonplace, while ancient words like wizard, wand, castle, broomstick, and snitch have come alive again.
The most obvious example of her impact that I have seen was last October when the annual conference known as The Witching Hour was held here in Salem. Itís an international academic symposium on Harry Potter that is held every year at different conference venues across the country, but Salem seemed especially appropriate and the participants raved about the location. Fans from all over the world crowded the city wearing robes and sporting more paraphernalia than one could imagine. We donít have a confined conference center here in town, so events were spread out across the area, allowing local merchants (my boss included) to participate as sponsors and capitalize on the opportunity for extra business. On Saturday evening, the downtown shopping area stayed open late and was turned into Hogsmeade. The city park became a Quidditch pitch. Local business also sponsored teams who wore our logos on colored t-shirts and tore each other to shreds in a weekend long tournament, complete with rain and mud for effect! (The weather was awful. Our team did well, but didnít win.)
Itís been a relatively short time since the publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcererís Stone (or Philosopherís Stone, depending on which side of the pond youíre on), but itís already hard to imagine life without our beloved boy wizard and the world that surrounds him. The books get darker as Harry gets older, and Ms. Rowling has even publicly mused about the possibility of killing him off in the last book so that no one else will be able to write about him. Such a decision would be heart wrenching, and something tells me that pirates will write what they will no matter how she ends the saga. She let on that someone would die in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but it wasnít as major a character as many of us feared. And when Professor Dumbledore met his demise in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, we were all dumbstruck because she hadnít let on at all. (My copy still has tearstains.) Thereís no truth in her ďhints,Ē and Iím sure that she prefers it that way. Personally, Iíll be disappointed with anything less than Harry working happily as an auror and living with Ginny at 12 Grimold Place while Ron and Hermione apparate in on a regular basis.
My boss has chosen not to carry the Harry Potter books because everyone else has them and the real money is to be made on the merchandise. Still, Iíll see if I can talk her into taking orders and hosting a midnight party when the last book is released. As Rowling herself has noted, the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be bitter sweet to say the least. Itís the last one. A small celebration seems in order.
PS. Snape is innocent.