Thursday, July 19, 2007

As readers mourn end of 'Potter,' others are trying to fill the void

Guelph Mercury (Jul 19, 2007)

It's been five years since Harry Potter snagged Valerie Hruska's heart.

The 12-year-old remembers the day vividly. Her Grade 2 teacher picked up "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and began reading it to the class. Every day, she read a few pages.

And every day, Hruska fell for Harry a little more.

"It's just so different from everything else that's out there," Hruska says of the world J.K. Rowling created 10 years ago. "You get to see this whole other world that's hidden from us."

The fantasy books already lining bookstore and library shelves when Rowling's first book was released in 1997 did have magical elements, such as trolls, fairies and giants, Hruska says. But there was a difference between them and the wizards and witches Rowling penned.

According to Hruska, Rowling's characters are more "spunky and real."

On Saturday at 12:01 a.m. the last instalment of the series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," will end the era where reluctant readers were magically changed into page-turning prose lovers. Will these kids now feel a void?

Hruska says there are enough Harry fans out there that she sees people creating more Harry stories for several years to come.

Daniel Fischlin, an English and theatre studies professor at the University of Guelph, says the emotional investment people have made with Harry is comparable to the ties people formed with William Shakespeare's characters.

The sense of the tragic confrontation between good and evil is the same, Fischlin says.

Just as people anticipated the death of Hamlet or Othello, many Harry fans are tense about his fate, he says.

"When a character you connect with dies, that's what moves you."

Many of Harry's fans will feel any pain that's inflicted on him as their own because they've grown up alongside him, the professor says Fischlin adds other storytellers will capitalize on what Rowling has created to fill any void in a child's life.

"It's like a Wal-Mart complex," he says. "When Wal-Mart moves in, other stores move in because they know there'll be high-traffic there."

Fantasy novels will continue to capture kids who have that imaginative bent, who are seeking that sense of play and fantasy in their lives, Fischlin says.

"It's a huge sweet spot in the market and it's what parents are sympathetic to because what parent wants their kids to feel that the world is a horrible place?" he asks.

Rowling may even go on to create other stories her Harry fans will faithfully read, Fischlin says.
Sya Van Geest, who conducts online workshops for the Ontario Library Association says it's always sad to say goodbye to characters people have fallen in love with, but that's what happens with any good story: it ends.

The death of Rowling's series won't mean kids who picked up her books will now stop turning pages every night, she says.

Harry Potter books are a substantial piece of literature, she says.

For a kid to get through those pages -- several of the books clock in at 700-plus pages -- they've now become a reader and it's easier to turn them on to other similar tales, Van Geest says.

For Harry lovers, teacher-librarian Beth McEwen has recommended books such as the "Spiderwick Chronicles," written by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black.

Just as Harry's world has been chronicled in field guides and books explaining and examining all aspects of the wizarding world, the "Spiderwick Chronicles" have their guides as well.

There are also authors who have written non-fiction books explaining everything from religion, science, philosophy, psychology and myths in the wizarding world of Harry Potter, McEwen says.

While his fate on the printed page is still unknown, Harry isn't going to die from the minds of readers anytime soon, she says.

McEwen sees the Harry Potter series as a timeless classic that will be passed down from generation to generation.

Recommended reading for the dark days after Harry
Sya Van Geest of the Ontario Library Association and teacher-librarian Beth McEwan have come up with some books that might interest those who have finished the Harry Potter series and are looking for new reading material. Guelph Public Library also has a long list of books similar to Harry Potter.

"The Earthsea Trilogy" by Urusula K. Le Guin
"The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis
"The Spiderwick Chronicles" by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
"So You Want to Be a Wizard" by Diane Duane
The "Wing" novels by Kenneth Oppel

"Hidden Myths in Harry Potter" by David Colbert
"The Psychology of Harry Potter" by Neil Mulholland
"The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works" by Roger Highfield
"Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts." by David Baggett