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TODAY

Monday, February 18

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There's a book coming out on July 21 — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Maybe you've heard if it. Maybe you've preordered one of the 1.6 million copies online. Maybe you've planning to be at a local bookstore that Saturday at 12:01am so that you're certain you have the seventh and final book in your own hands. Maybe you'll be camping out to get a good place in line. Maybe you've also heard that the fifth film in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, hits theaters this Wednesday, July 11. Maybe you've already bought tickets to a midnight showing.

Not me. I've read all six books and seen all four movies, and try as I might, I cannot truly embrace the Potter craze. A large part of it is due to the level of said mania and my contrary nature: whenever anyone demands that I have to read or watch something, I immediately back away. Another factor is Harry Potter Internet fans. HP fandom is well known for being one of the most divisive groups online, with levels of dedication, infighting, backstabbin, and grudges that still rage on years later. (What is "fandom"? If you don't know, perhaps you're better off, but if you're interested in feuding HP fans, here's some light reading to get you started.)

But the main reason is that, as an editor, my fingers itch for a blue pencil whenever I read one of J.K. Rowling's later works. In my current reread of the series, I just completed the fourth book, Goblet of Fire. This was the first book she wrote after the hype grew to record-breaking levels. Rowling was generating so much buzz — and revenue — that Scholastic seemed to give her free rein. The difference between the first three and the three that follow are glaringly evident. The tight pacing of the first three books was replaced with too many adjectives, unnecessary adverbs, and the beginning of Rowling's love of ellipses. (Note: Spoilers follow.)

As a friend pointed out, the first 150 or so pages of Goblet of Fire is about the Quidditch World Cup. Sure, there are seeds of plot sown throughout, but the story meanders. Perhaps Rowling was trying to set up red herrings or offer a more in-depth view of wizard society, but the story could have been told in a more concise manner. Also, Goblet of Fire is almost two different books: World Cup and Triwizard Championship. And at 734 pages, it's almost as long its two predecessors — Chamber of Secrets, 341 pages, and Prisoner of Azkaban, 435 pages — combined. (The first book, Sorcerer's Stone, is a slim 309 pages.) And don't get me started on the fifth book, Order of the Phoenix. At a staggering 870 pages, it was months late . . . and full of even more ellipses . . . and adverbs describing how people spoke . . . every time they opened their mouths . . . AND DID I MENTION ROWLING DISCOVERED THE CAPS LOCK KEY?

One can argue that art of any kind can't or shouldn't be edited. Several authors, one they reach a certain status, demand and receive reassurances that their work won't be changed at all, or will only be lightly edited. Anne Rice is notorious for this. After her third published novel, Rice refused to read, let alone incorporate, her editor's comments, relegating the latter's function to "mentor and guardian." And if you've read any of Rice's books after The Queen of the Damned, well... My bias always errs on the side of feedback and constructive criticism. An editor's job is to make the writing better, not insult the author.

I'm not anti-Harry Potter by any means. As a reader, I enjoyed several of the characters and situations of the HP universe. The structure (if not Rowling's style) is fairly consistent across the board. She offers a firm framework for her audience to build from as they imagine their own interpretations or possible stories. Harry's world offered a new, exciting and accessible world for young readers in an age where many of them grew up with an endless supply of television, movies and videos. Not only that, but adults enjoyed the books as well, giving parents and children something in common.

The books were not without controversy, of course. The series ranked #7 on the American Library Association's The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000, mostly for its positive description of magic, wizards and witches. Numerous Christian groups fretted that it would encourage young readers away from the church and toward wicked wiccans. However, there hasn't been an obvious increase in pagan membership caused by impressionable young minds falling prey to a fictitious universe. (I'm sure I would have seen the article.) It's just another example of adults not giving children enough credit. Yes, the series keeps increasing its body count by killing off positive authority figures in Harry's life: Sirius Black, Dumbledore and of course Harry's parents were killed when he was a baby. But most people know that life is not fair, everyone eventually dies, and humanity soldiers on.

No matter how it ends, Rowling will not be able to satisfy everyone. Sort of like "The Sopranos." She has already incurred the wrath of several angry fans who believed Hermione should be with Harry and not with Ron, even though Rowling herself said that she had "dropped heavy hints, ANVIL-sized, actually, hints" about Ron and Hermione's eventual love match way back in book three. She has also confirmed that two characters will die, leading to wild speculation about who and how. My predictions as an HP neophyte:

  • Snape killed Dumbledore at Dumbledore's request via a telepathic message — or wandless magic, take your pick — from Hogwart's headmaster.
  • Regulus Black, Sirius's brother, stole the Horcrux that Dumbledore and Harry thought they'd recover.
  • Snape and Ron die. Or Hermione. No, Ron, doing something noble. Or the Weasley twins. Drat.

I plan to finish Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince before July 21. I'll probably check out nearby booksellers that Saturday afternoon to see if they have The Deathly Hallows available. If not, no worries. I'm sure the biggest twists and turns will be online in a matter of hours anyway.

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the WB's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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