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It's the witching hour again

THE COUNTDOWN A young fan checks out the posters

THE COUNTDOWN A young fan checks out the posters  

The Potter boy is back in action and the world waits impatiently for the clock to strike 12 on July 16. That's when the ultra-strict embargo on the book will be lifted and the young wizard's fans will read Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, which solves the mysteries left tantalisingly unsolved (neat trick that) in the previous book, Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix.

Young Potter's global fame has been quite unprecedented and phenomenal since the launch of the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, in 1998. The fourth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was adjudged a bestseller even before it hit the bookshelves!

What is it about the Potter series that has the readers under a spell? Has J.K. Rowling, like a master craftsman, woven the stories so well that the characters immediately strike a chord with the people? Or is it the sympathy factor, since Potter is all alone in the world without an immediate family and is ill-treated by only the muggle he can call his family? Potter is, in fact, ordinary in the muggle world but breathtakingly extraordinary at Hoggwarts, the school of wizards. Does that mean he is as ordinary as you and me in the "real reality"? Is that also one of the factors that draw us towards him?

Whatever the reasons, the hysteria surrounding the character and his tales hit you in the face when you get on to the Net. Besides having umpteen sites dedicated to Harry Potter, there are fans clubs where people of all ages chat online for hours about the Potter boy. Salon.com's Harry Potter Directory offers a list of related articles and reviews while Bloomsbury allows netizens an option to enter the muggles' world or the world of witches and witchcraft. The former gives you in-depth information about the young wizards, while the latter challenges you to solve a mystery or a quiz to enable you to enter the site. Only if you pass this test are you allowed membership in the exclusive Bloomsbury Harry Potter Web Club!

It's easy to be a bit overwhelmed by the hype and the orchestrations of the publicity machine. However, for a reality check, I hopped on my broom to find out what local muggles — especially the younger lot — have to say about the phenomenon. And when you get down to talking to people around you, you realise that many actually have mixed feelings about the Harry Potter series. Suchitra, a 13-year-old, says that she isn't "such a big fan of Harry Potter, but finds the books creative, wonderful and unreal which makes for a good read". But she would surely not spend "Rs. 900 for the new book, but would rather buy something that I can gain knowledge from. I'll try and borrow it from hardcore fans!"

Namrata, on the other hand, defines herself as an "ardent Harry Potter fan". She is also a member of some of the online clubs and has been betting with friends (online too) about who will die in the sixth book and who the half-blood prince is. But even she finds the sixth book a bit too pricey. "I can't expect my parents to buy me the book as they have just finished paying for my admissions and academic books," says the 13-year-old. "I'll borrow it or wait and buy the book a little later."

Suchitra Lata, a music composer and a merchandiser in a garment company, though not a fan, has read all Harry Potter books so far and plans to buy the book "if I happen to be near a bookstore." She says that she doesn't go out of the way to read Harry potter, but likes reading it as it makes a good read. "It's the mystery and the suspense that keeps you on tenterhooks. But I would definitely not go online to get further info or to become a fan club member and all that. The book sure casts a spell because of the language used and one always finds some poetic justice in the plot."

Jayashree, a media person, says the book inspires the writer in her. "I thought, `Gawd! Why did I not think of writing like this?' when I read the first book." There is plenty in the book for adults, she says, and adds that the book is popular in India because of the good-winning-over-evil formula that works in all of them. "We have had such stories in the past in our epics, the Vedas and the Panchatantra. But tell me which Indian contemporary writer has come up with stories that will appeal to our youngsters? And who in today's times has the time to go back to the old stories?" she asks. Having read all the five books, she feels there's a decline in Rowling's writing as the books progress. "The plot seems to become predictable." And no, she would not participate in any of the contests that the bookshops and the websites are offering as "they are intruding into the private world of the reader".

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ON A ROLL J.K. Rowling has got the kids reading again

ON A ROLL J.K. Rowling has got the kids reading again  

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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It's the witching hour again

Landmark Book Store is also offering a 20 per cent discount besides organising a pre-launch contest for readers. "Fans are supposed to guess who dies in this book and so on," says Jai Subramaniam of the store. The store is also offering gift vouchers along with a special shopping bag for the event. Landmark also plans to give away a book which is a compilation of J.K. Rowling's interviews.

The Premier Book Shop, Church Street, does not have any special promotional schemes. "There is so much hype about this book that it needs no advertising!" says proprietor Shanbag. "But we will offer a discount where the book will be available for Rs. 640." And he also puts fears of "limited editions" to rest by saying that "there are enough copies for everyone".

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