Now Potter becomes a business segment

Posted: Wednesday, July 12, 2000

The wait is now over.

I know the wait is over because the newspaper, a publication previously known for breaking the Watergate scandal and bringing down a president, tells me this.

The Washington Post was updating me daily with a specially designed logo for what it called the Potter Watch. It was a black circle encompassing the stylized likeness of one Harry Potter, he of of round spectacles and lightning-bolt scar.

This Potter Watch was checked daily, in lieu of baseball scores, at the breakfast table. The other day, the 10-year-old who replaced the baseball roundup with the Potter Watch asked if we could camp out at a bookstore Friday night, in anticipation of the much-anticipated release of ``Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,'' the fourth book in J.K. Rowling's enchanting series about an orphaned, 11-year-old wizard.

The answer was no.

That is because several weeks ago, instead of asking if he could camp out on the pavement at a strip mall, the 10-year-old asked if we could place an advance order for the book. We did.

He did not anticipate then, nor did I, that Harry Hype would overtake Harry Potter.

Harry before the hype was something extraordinary, and extraordinarily wonderful. He was a world, a state of mind, a touchstone for a generation of kids for whom ``Little Women'' and the Hardy Boys just don't do it. And Harry was, at the beginning, their very own discovery.

The kids started reading Harry Potter and they started telling each other about Harry Potter and it became the coolest thing - this idea that you would sit down with a book that your best friend told you was terrific, just wade in and see if he was right. Then you could play Harry Potter trivia or argue about how you think the next book should begin or make up other games right out of your head, no batteries required.

Or you could figure out, without the assistance of a whole aisle at Toys R' Us, how to have a Hogwarts Halloween.

If you wanted to be Harry last Halloween, or Professor Snape, you had to consult the appropriate descriptive passages of the earlier Potter books. Then you were on your own to create a costume for yourself from the remnants from an old, generic witch or wizard costume and a pot of face paint.

That was when the kids were in charge. Now the grownups are.

So we had parties planned for 12:01 a.m. Saturday at a bookstore near you, and reports of store clerks who had to sign affidavits pledging not to sell a single copy (a few leaked out) before the witching hour. We have Warner Brothers, with a whole Web page designed to promote the release of the first Potter movie, ``Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,'' arriving in theaters nationwide on Nov. 16, 2001.

Just 16 months, then, until the Harry of our kids' imaginations is replaced by Harry of Hollywood. If you do not think this will happen, try to remember when Aladdin's genie took form in your mind as anything other than a large and amiable blue fellow who happens to speak in Robin Williams' voice.

Warner Brothers already can sell you, through its Harry Potter Web shopping page, mugs and T-shirts. Soon will come the underpants and shampoo and the Potter pajamas, the plastic action figures to be purchased, for the price of a burger and fries, at the fast-food chain of Warner Brothers' choice. The video-game version and the special home-video edition of the film are of course not far behind - Christmas, 2002, anyone? Warner Brothers, which considers Harry Potter a complete ``business segment,'' expects $1 billion in sales.

The lesson is clear, even to Muggles. Harry and the kids teach us anew the value of a pure and simple joy to be found in a good book. In return, we teach them how to cheapen even this.

Marie Cocco is a columnist for Newsday.

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