Show of hands please. Do you:
If you raised your hands for any of these, I will leave you to determine your own level of addiction to the Harry Potter series. Suffice it to say the only reason my hand was not up at the second from last was because my local cinema does not have an advance booking service. If you raised your hand for the last one, I have one question for you where have you been for the last couple of years?
Harry Potter is the teen wizard hero of his own series of books, written by J. K. Rowling. The main plot of the series is simple. Harry Potter is a wizard, and when he was a baby the evil wizard Lord Voldemort murdered his parents. This same Voldemort then failed to polish off baby Harry, and disappeared, apparently vanquished, leaving Harry famous, with a lightening bolt scar on his forehead and living with his horrible muggle relatives, the Dursleys. Harry is brought up in ignorance of his wizarding heritage until his eleventh birthday when he suddenly begins to receive a stream of letters from someone. His uncle and aunt continue to try and prevent him discovering who he is, but cannot withstand the efforts of Hagrid, a half-giant wizard, to tell Harry that he has been granted a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry duly heads off to wizard school where he makes many friends: notably Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, and Professor Dumbledore Hogwarts headmaster, and several enemies, including slippery Professor Snape and Harry's rival Draco Malfoy.
Cue much learning of spells, flying of broomsticks and playing of Quidditch a wizard sport, involving two teams of seven players on broomsticks, four balls and much speed and violence. In each book Harry becomes embroiled in a mystery that threatens Hogwarts and may bring back the evil Lord Voldemort. As the reader progresses through the books a vision of the Wizarding world is built up, with layers of information about Harry's family, Lord Voldemort and the eternal battle between good and evil.
The above précis does little justice to Rowling's magical world. The characters are beautifully drawn, they and their relationships following established models. The plots rattle along creating the suspense of an old fashioned detective story, each book containing a self contained story, and each contributing a little further to the big picture. Harry is the classic young hero, with natural ability and carelessness, but perhaps not the most academic tendencies, unsure of himself and his world. Ron is his best friend and sidekick, generally loyal and supportive, but in a nice touch he has his own foibles that lend the friendship real depth. Hermione is Harry's muggle-born, clever, hardworking friend who helps him to learn what he needs to deal with the events he faces, tries to restrain his rule breaking, but who stands unquestioningly by his side. Professor Dumbledore is Harry's wise old counsellor and mentor who explains why some things have happened to Harry as and when he (and we) need to know. On the other side of the coin is Lord Voldemort, the arch-villain who wishes to dominate the wizarding world and hates muggles, and those wizards who come from muggle families. Professor Snape is Harry's most detested teacher, and his foil, the character who draws attention to the fact that Harry is in many ways an ordinary young boy, and whose motives are anything but clear. Draco Malfoy is Harry's rival in class and quidditch, and the living embodiment of the old wizarding values espoused by Voldemort and which the wizarding world must overcome in order to survive.
Nothing can be taken for granted in this magical world, and Rowling has created an entrancing backdrop for her stories. It is a world where cooking and cleaning can be done with a few spells, where you can summon items rather than having to run back to fetch them, where gnomes are real, where you can buy spellbooks that will tell you how to curse your enemies, and where things can easily become a matter of life and death. It is also a wonderful mirror on the real world. There are wizard fashions and a quidditch culture akin to that surrounding English football. Hogwarts is in many ways a traditional English school, uniformed, divided into houses: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin, and the magic becomes more complex school year by school year. It's really no wonder all ages, and not just children, are captivated.
Fairly unsurprisingly the Harry Potter books have met with resentment and criticism. Some literary figures are coming to regard it as today's Lord of the Rings, incredibly popular, but in the critical opinion not a great work of literature. More serious is the reaction from some Christian groups. Issue has been taken with the wondrous depiction of wizardry, with it being claimed that this is a bad influence and will lead children towards Satanism. Books have been removed from the libraries and reading lists of church affiliated schools, and there is more than one website warning of the dangers of the books. The accusations against the books range from the ridiculous, to the dangerous: every number featuring in the books generally Harry's age - are stated as being the devil's favourite numbers (how do they find these things out?). However, there are claims that Harry represents the anti-christ since his eyes are green (the devils favourite colour) and has a scar on his forehead. It is impossible to go into an in-depth debate on this topic now, yet it must not be ignored that the Harry Potter books have a strong moral heart, espousing the values of friendship, loyalty, hard work and the power of love.
The first inkling the vast majority of the world had of this young man came just over two years ago with the publication of the third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This occasion garnered a fairly large amount of press, particularly considering it is technically a childrens novel. It is regarded by many, fans and critics alike, as the best of the four Harry Potter books published to date, and was subsequently nominated for the Whitbread Book Prize, winning the childrens category, and only losing out in the final round to Seamus Heaney's Beowulf. Last summer the world was fully forced to sit up and take notice, with the publication of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This 700+ page novel was given the largest first printing of any childrens book ever, and was published simultaneously in many countries around the world. This generated publicity on a massive scale, and the success of the book led to an explosion of interest in a film of the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Playgrounds, offices and the Internet have been buzzing ever since as fans discussed the production of the movie, counting down the days till its release.
The news that Rowling had sold the film rights to Harry to Warner Brothers created huge fears that the stories would be 'Americanised'. These were only fuelled by rumours of Quidditch with cheerleaders; directorial desires to combine sections of the first two novels into one film and American child stars to play Harry. The first director in the frame was Steven Spielberg, which created the worst of the rumours, including the potential casting of Haley Joel Osment. This was followed by Spielberg deciding to direct A.I, and Osment following up his reported: 'I'd love to play Harry Potter' statement which appeared in Empire with a comment that he didn't believe the books should be filmed at all.
Finally announcements were made. Chris Columbus' appointment as director met with howls of 'but he directed 'Stepmom' and 'Bicentennial Man'!' and more rumours followed particularly of the casting young American Liam Aiken of Stepmom as Harry. There were also wild stories of potential Robin Williams cameos, and the likelihood of Rosie O'Donnell playing Mrs Weasley. The Harry Potter fan community breathed a communal sigh of relief when the all-British cast was revealed. With three young British unknowns: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson cast as the central trio there could be unnecessary baggage carried over from previous roles. Indeed only Radcliffe, cast as Harry, had any professional experience at all, gleaned in his small roles as a young David Copperfield, and in The Tailor of Panama. However they were cast alongside some of Britain's greatest actors: Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, Richard Harris as Dumbledore, Alan Rickman as Snape, and Dame Maggie Smith as Professor McGonnagall, the head of Harry's house, Gryffindor.
Since last autumn rumours, facts and pictures have appeared from the production one of the largest ever to take place in Britain. The locations for the movie have become tourist attractions, the young cast members have become stars already and excitement has now reached fever pitch. Three trailers have debuted, and been greeted with acclaim by the fans for the vision of the magical world presented there. Columbus always stated that he wanted to remain as faithful to the books as possible, and early reports have been entirely favourable. The Premiere on November 4th was a massive event in Leicester Square, and even Rowling, the highly protective author, has declared herself delighted with the finished product. With the movie due to open world-wide on November 19th, British fans have been able to get in ahead of their international fellows thanks to widespread preview screenings. Soon all the other fans will be able to join them in seeing the fantasy world come to life.