Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Say It Ain't So, JK

Jean Hannah Eddelstein, in her Guardian Unlimited blog today, points out an interesting campaign being run by the Waterstone's book chain in an attempt to get JK Rowling to continue her Harry Potter series. Eddelstein rightfully questions the motives of the Waterstone's effort to gather one million signatures by July 21 on a petition begging Rowling to reconsider ending the Potter books.

"There has never been a place like Hogwarts. There has never been a writer like JK Rowling. And there has never, ever been a character like Harry Potter. Millions, perhaps billions of us love reading his adventures, and we never want them to end."

This would be a rather sweet plea if it was drafted by the 8-11 year-olds who were originally the target demographic for the Harry Potter series. But that tell-tale "W" at the bottom of the website that touts itself as the epicentre of "the international campaign to SAVE HARRY!" betrays the truth: this crusade is brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood bookselling behemoth, Waterstone's.

Are they really trying to save Harry, or are they trying to save themselves?
...for Waterstone's, the end of Harry means the end of the guaranteed massive volumes of sales that they've made every time a new book in the series has been released. With no clear successor to the series on the horizon, I imagine that the company's strategy meetings are less than jolly these days as they scramble desperately to identify the next pot of mass market publishing gold.

Independent booksellers, on the other hand, will not be signing the petition. Although making the statement in polite bookish society that you're not keen on the Potter is tantamount to saying that you enjoy kicking adorable puppies, independent booksellers can't compete with the deep discounts that large retailers can sell the books at. Indeed, 25% of them won't be stocking book seven because they cannot afford it. The prospect of a publishing market that is not dominated by a single author and title each year or two must be extraordinarily appetising for them.
The Harry Potter phenomenon is really interesting to me when I consider the business aspects associated with moving that many millions of books in such a short period of time. It's been fun to watch all the bookstores and theaters position themselves for what they perceive to be one last shot at making a buck off of Harry and friends. But what's been most intriguing about all of this is the fact that so many booksellers lose money on a new Potter book and are probably hoping that Rowling really does kill the guy off in Book Seven.

Too much of a good thing often turns into a bad thing, and at this point, I've come to wonder if Rowling is not pulling the plug on Harry Potter at exactly the right moment. She is obviously ready to move on, and I have to hope that booksellers are as prepared for what comes next as she is.


  1. I loved reading the Harry Potter series and so did my sons, but I think there is a natural life to a series, and going beyond that always feels forced. If the author's instinct is to stop, everyone should honor that. Besides, if she wants to keep going, and she's not a one-trick pony, maybe she'll create some other sort of series that's equally entertaining.

  2. I agree that the author knows when it's time to pull the plug on a series. I think sometimes it's that fear of being a one-trick pony that causes some authors to keep a series going well beyond when they should have stopped it.

    I once told John Harvey how much I hated to see him kill off his Harry Resnick series and he told me that Harry had gotten old not only in the novels but to him, as well, and it was time to let go. I hated to hear that, but what are you going to say when an author is that honest?

  3. I'd just like to say that i completely agree with the previously posted comment. Also it has been said, even by J.K., that Harry Pooter may return and this is pause, however thats not to say that he definately will comeback it a possibility and i feel that if the writer is happy with and ending we should respect that and not pester for more

  4. I've loved reading them, but agree that there comes a time....we don;t want to see the HP series "jump the shark" as happens in TV series when they go on too long (a reference to The Fonze 'jumping a shark' in Happy Days - an indication it had just got silly)

    Enid Blyton (with whom JK has much in common in having revived the Boarding School Book and married it with fantasy) stopped Malory Towers after 6....she had many other popular series.

    The other factor is that there are so manyother great kids' books, even series, and it would be great if they got a boost. there are new writers who must shudder at the idea of their books being buried under the Potter marketing juggernaut. (Though why they need to spend a cvent marketing the last one is beyond me!!!)

    PS Just saw Movie 5 and thought it the best of all.

    An interesting thing about the books and movies - as HP and pals have matured, so have the concepts and realisations in the books and movies. I wonder in future if kids will follow the whole series through. If you 'disocver' Book 1 at age 9, will you be able to stay with it through to Book 7 end-on-end. Today's HP fans have grown up with the series, and had the benefit of the 12 to 18 month gaps in publication to do their own maturing. In that way the books are different to, say, an Agatha Christie or Enid Blyton. They follow thesame basic plot and language throughout. JKR 's themese have got darker and more complex. I'd take a 6 year old to see HP Movie 1, butI think a 6 yo would be perplexed at Movie 5.

  5. It's always best to end it after the natural life of the story. Otherwise bad things happen like the Star Wars prequels. Seven books is certainly long enough for a series. I think the problem with a lot of fantasy series is that they end up being too long, both in the number of books and the number of pages.

  6. Sally, a couple of my favorite series did "jump the shark" and it's a shame when that happens because it taints the whole series rather than just the last book or two that don't match the quality of the previous ones in the series. Some authors do seem a bit afraid to move on.

    That's a great point about kids who discovered the series as it was being written vs. those who come to it after its completion. I think that the lucky ones are those who grew up along side Harry. I can't imagine that many kids will have the endurance, or the maturity, needed to start the series today at a young age and read all the way through it. Early teens might tackle it but I can't see the younger ones really doing it.

  7. I agree, Matt. Harry Turtledove, a favorite writer of mine, has several series going at once and many of them just seem to go on a bit longer than they should have.

    What happens sometimes also is that an author feels obligated to "recap" his previous books in each new one of the series and that makes them longer and longer. It also bores readers who are reading the series quickly and who have the previous books fresh in their minds. Turtledove does that a lot too. That's why I always enjoy the first books in his series more than I do the later ones.

  8. My children and I have loved Harry Potter but it would seem ridiculous to follow Harry into adulthood.

    His time at Hogwarts is ending and I think we should let him ride off into the sunset. I hope JK Rowling sticks to her guns and doesn't compromise her series by making it overly long.

  9. I just saw an interview with her,and when she was asked what she was going to do next, she said, "take a break" in the most exhausted tone.

    And yes, it would be silly to follow grown-up Harry.

  10. I never much thought about how strange it would be to follow Harry into adulthood (and how boring it would most likely be), Amy. Good point.

  11. Sounds like she's ready to turn loose, Dewey, but the pressure to continue is probably part of the reason she feels exhausted.

  12. The big danger for JKR is that given time, some other author, lured by the gleam of filthy lucre will pick up her characters and attempt to write a sequel or a pre-quel or some such. Look at Sebastian Faulks writing a new James Bond novel, as was announced this week. Personally I think it stinks, if she's smart JKR will have written in various blocks to prevent that happening in years to come. Harry P will leave Hogwarts and his army of fans will just have to get over it and move on to read something else - there are plenty of excellent books out there just waiting to be read.

  13. I would think that she's powerful enough to have a contract with her publisher and enough lawyers ready to keep that from happening. I always figured that those kinds of sequels only happened after an author passed away and the family decided to OK a new book by a new writer.

    Faulks is a really fine writer so I'm curious to see how the new Bond book works out. I was really hooked on those books back when Sean Connery was playing Bond...and no one's ever captured my imagination in that role since Connery.

  14. I can see it might be attractive to have a Harry-as-adult sequel at some stage, without Harry being the main focus - a sort of post-Voldemort world (if that is indeed what happens). Maybe with backdrop of HP as President unifying Muggles and Wizarding World....

    Or not. But definitely not a year-by-year journey into adulthood!

  15. I suppose that by letting Harry & the gang grow up in almost real time, Sally, Rowling has sort of painted herself into a corner. Much of the appeal of her series is the fact that the adventure was happening to children. Without that going for her, the books lose much of their potential audience, I think.