A couple of days ago marked the anniversary of the publication of the 1st Harry Potter novel in 1997. And I began "serializing" a speech I made at Western Reserve Academy about my experiences reading HP. In that first installment I wrote about how I'm an obsessive reader of an author's complete works; in the second, about other authors’ complete works I’d read—especially Anthony Trollope. What was it that made me cave, that made me read all of Potter? Reminder; I delivered this speech at Western Reserve Academy on May 4, 2012.
And speaking of children … On Friday, July 20, 2007, Harry Potter-mania covered Hudson like a crazy quilt. On the eve of the release of the final novel, Hudson transformed itself, via some rough and ready magic, into a haven for Harry-freaks. Harry Potter Land, they called it. And The Last Extravaganza. Streets and stores got new names: Main Street became “Diagon Alley”; the Learned Owl Bookshop, “Flourish & Blotts.” Merchants decorated their display windows with images from the novels. Everyone was selling Harry-related items; owners and clerks dressed like characters. A local restaurant offered a “Snapes’ Potion Martini.” And thousands of fans—perhaps as many as fourteen thousand!—arrived to walk and gawk and participate in the festivities. There were rock bands, a coloring contest, a Quidditch match right out on the soccer field.
All that Potteria made me want to puke.
But our grandson, Logan, two-and-a-half, was visiting. So we made nice. Joyce and I moved slowly around town with our son and daughter-in-law and Logan, who was alternately dazzled, delighted, and terrified by all that swirled before him. Sound systems blaring, people yelling weird greetings to one another, thick crowds milling and mooing. One character on stilts and full blue costume set our grandson to crying.
I tried to recall any other publishing phenomenon like it and could come up only with what I’d read about Charles Dickens—about long lines forming outside London bookshops and huge crowds gathering at his readings and on the docks of New York City to await the arrival of his newest novel—or latest installment thereof. But there is really no comparison. I don’t think people then dressed up like David Copperfield or Tiny Tim. Or barked at one another: Dude—It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
That evening, our grandson gone, Joyce and I escaped the Potter madness at the movies—a late screening of Hairspray up in Solon. But as we drove back into town along Main Street about 12:30 a.m., we saw the queue outside the Learned Owl—still hundreds of people, many in costume, waiting patiently to purchase The Deathly Hallows. (The Hub-Times later reported that the shop sold around 2,000 copies that night.) And at that moment, seeing that line, I snapped. I surrendered.
Next day I bought the books. And by the first of August, as I’ve already said, I’d read the entire Potter-saga.