Friday, July 06, 2007

The Harry Potter Phenomenon

While on a smelly 7-hour long Air India flight from Paris to Mumbai, one tends to try and distract oneself by reading. And that is precisely what I did. Before I proceed, let me register my disappointment with the state of India's shining national carrier. After a highly annoying conversation with the Air India Paris representative about baggage allowances and laptop computers, I boarded the flight with an armload of magazines and newspapers. The flight's condition gave me serious doubts about its air-worthiness and made me wonder if Air India had at all bothered to maintain its fleet since it first acquired the aircraft in the 1970s. Trust me, it was that bad.

Anyway, back to the point. Once I got over the shock of seeing the state of "Air India shining", I began to read the highly interesting, but atrociously expensive Time Magazine. The article in question was about the efforts of the "Harry Potter Brain Trust" to keep up the net of secrecy surrounding the much-hyped release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While the process in itself was extremely interesting, what spurred me on to writing this post was the conclusion of the authors, Lev Grossman and Andrea Sachs. They ask whether the publishers of the Harry Potter books are not under-estimating the power of the same series they are working so energetically to promote.

This was a particularly interesting question. If people only read books to find out the story and the ending, nobody would read the same books more than once. Such is not the case, as we all know. Dickens, published many decades ago still holds a sway over lovers of books. Some books are classics and we never tire of reading them. I have read David Copperfield and many times over and the books hold the same appeal today as they did all those years ago, during the first reading. To cite more examples, the story of Iliad and Odyssey are so famous that they must have become boring by now. But no, they continue to inspire the production of such blockbusters as Troy and Gladiator. The same goes for the Potter books. Why then, are we obsessing with secrecy? Why are we so paranoid about spoilers on the Internet affecting our enjoyment of the books? So what if we do find out the ending? Do we not read a book simply because we want to read it irrespective of who killed whom and who defeated whom?

As a student of literature (ex-student, but that's beside the point), I find that it only makes sense if Harry finally defeated the evil Voldemort. Why would Jo create the character only to have him defeated at the hands of the most powerful and evil sorcerer ever? From a purely literary perspective, that is the only thing that would make sense. The good must always triumph over the bad. That is poetic justice. And not even J K Rowling would throw us a googly on that. That brings us back to the original question. What is the point of reading. The point is to spend time with the book and enjoy the time thus spent. It is appreciate and even experience a good book. And Harry Potter, is a good book.

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