Mag­i­cal feat

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Dana D. Kel­ley Dana D. Kel­ley is a freelance writer from Jones­boro.

It’s hard to imag­ine now, but only 20 sum­mers ago no­body had ever heard of Harry Pot­ter. Dum­ble­dore. Hog­warts. Hermione. Ha­grid. Volde­mort. Mug­gles. Quid­ditch. Pa­tronus. Gryffindor. Hor­crux. None of those words were in any­body’s vo­cab­u­lary back be­fore June 1997, ex­cept one.

J.K. Rowl­ing’s head had been full of the wizard­ing world of Harry Pot­ter et al. for six years when she fi­nally per­suaded (af­ter a dozen re­jec­tions) a pub­lisher to roll the dice on her book. It was a small gam­ble: The Blooms­bury Pub­lish­ing first print run was only 500 hard­back copies, and two-thirds of those went to li­braries.

That English first edi­tion bore the ti­tle Harry Pot­ter and the Philoso­pher’s Stone. Ex­ec­u­tives at Scholas­tic Corp., which bought the Amer­i­can rights for pub­li­ca­tion, wor­ried that younger read­ers on this side of the pond might con­fuse the ti­tle with phi­los­o­phy, so they sub­sti­tuted “Sor­cerer’s Stone.”

The ti­tle edit seems like a heresy now, in hind­sight, es­pe­cially since the book ex­plic­itly men­tions French al­chemist Ni­co­las Flamel, and the Philoso­pher’s Stone is a le­gend dat­ing back at least 1,600 years.

But at the time the book was still rel­a­tively un­known, though proven pop­u­lar in Eng­land, so li­cense was lamentably taken. No one dreamed or pre­dicted the en­su­ing phe­nom­ena.

It’s rare for a sin­gle au­thor to lit­er­ally change the world, es­pe­cially one as un­pre­sum­ing as Joanne Rowl­ing. (The J.K. nom de plume was an­other change, cour­tesy of the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try; her Blooms­bury agent thought a fem­i­nine name might stunt sales among male read­ers. Joanne ac­tu­ally has no mid­dle name or ini­tial.)

In­deed, the lit­er­ary feat of the Harry Pot­ter book se­ries is noth­ing short of mag­i­cal.

In Wikipedia’s list of best-sell­ing books, which excludes those of a re­li­gious, ide­o­log­i­cal, philo­soph­i­cal or po­lit­i­cal na­ture, fewer than 10 in­di­vid­ual vol­umes have sold 100 mil­lion copies or more in the an­nals of pub­lish­ing. Ev­ery au­thor on the list has been dead for decades, some for cen­turies, ex­cept one.

In the book se­ries cat­e­gory, the Pot­ter sep­tu­ple set dwarfs other well­known and hugely suc­cess­ful com­peti­tors such as Twi­light, Nancy Drew and The Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia.

Col­lec­tively, Harry Pot­ter books have sold more than 450 mil­lion copies world­wide. That’s 12 times the Di­ver­gent tril­ogy sales, and 20 times the Hunger Games se­ries.

Even though it’s been eight years

since the fi­nal book ( Harry Pot­ter and the Deathly Hal­lows) was pub­lished, its record of 11 mil­lion copies sold in the first day of re­lease is a record of spell­bind­ing pro­por­tions. The only ri­val to come close—within 2 mil­lion copies of that num­ber—is the pre­ced­ing Pot­ter book, that of the Half-Blood Prince.

For per­spec­tive, con­sider the best- sell­ing books from last year. The Girl on the Train sold more than 800,000 copies in 2016, rank­ing it sec­ond.

The script for the new the­atri­cal play Harry Pot­ter and the Cursed Child (not a nov­el­iza­tion, but the ac­tual char­ac­ter lines in play­wright nar­ra­tive) topped the list, sell­ing more than 4 mil­lion.

Book sales alone, while a stag­ger­ing mea­sure of stu­pen­dous ac­com­plish­ment, are only part of the Harry Pot­ter story of cul­tural dom­i­na­tion.

The first book sat atop the New York Times best-seller list for so long that other pub­lish­ers fi­nally pres­sured the Times to split its list, and dis­tin­guish be­tween adult and chil­dren’s fic­tion—es­sen­tially giv­ing the Pot­ter book its own cat­e­gory.

Hol­ly­wood couldn’t re­sist tap­ping into the frenzy ei­ther, and the eight-film fran­chise (the Deathly Hal­lows novel was cov­ered in two movies) proved as as­tro­nom­i­cally suc­cess­ful as the books.

Rowl­ing had a heavy hand in their pro­duc­tion, re­serv­ing script-ap­proval rights and in­sist­ing on an all-U.K. cast, for ex­am­ple, and the re­sults re­flect fa­vor­ably on her in­stincts. Film ver­sions of fab­u­lous nov­els of­ten fall short; Harry Pot­ter movies not only mea­sured up, they raised the roof.

All of the Harry Pot­ter mo­tion pic­tures are in­cluded in the Top 50 gross­ing movies of all time. The last one, Deathly Hal­lows Part 2, earned $1.3 bil­lion world­wide, and the to­tal film se­ries grossed more than $7 bil­lion.

“The Wizard­ing World of Harry Pot­ter” theme parks are ru­mored to be on par with the en­chant­ing na­ture of the books and movies. Mer­chan­dise sales add bil­lions more to the rev­enue stream that can be traced all the way back to a sin­gle mom’s first fan­tasy man­u­script — which 12 pub­lish­ers all now greatly re­gret pass­ing on.

I’m for­tu­nate that the first two decades of the Pot­ter­verse co­or­di­nated with my own chil­dren’s com­ing of age.

I re­mem­ber well my in­tro­duc­tion to Rowl­ing’s world, as a beach read that, much to my own sur­prise, I sim­ply couldn’t put down. The sum­mer re­leases of sub­se­quent vol­umes of­ten co­in­cided with our fam­ily va­ca­tions, and we’d be up un­til the wee hours por­ing over the next in­stall­ment.

More than once we at­tended a mid­night view­ing of the new­est movie re­lease, and though I was never in char­ac­ter cos­tume for the event, I was ac­com­pa­nied by sev­eral who were.

The orig­i­nal Harry Pot­ter gen­er­a­tion is now old enough to start hav­ing chil­dren of their own. More than 4,000 pages of J.K. Rowl­ing prose, and all the Hog­warts stu­dents’ ad­ven­tures, pa­tiently await them.

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