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Entertaining the children

Sales of the sixth Harry Potter adventure by J.K. Rowling have reached 6.9 million copies in the first 24 hours. Repeat slowly: 6.9 million copies. That puts this novel – and I am not a great fan, it has to be admitted – up in the sort of league that used to be associated with sales of Beatles albums or Michael Jackson tunes.

6.9 million copies sold in 24 hours. Egads. Those who decry Potter as lowbrow nonsense can spare their rage. (Yes, that includes you, Stephen Pollard). This is a cultural phenomenon we have not seen from these islands for years. As Brian Micklethwait pointed out not so long ago, Rowling has created a character to rival an earlier, very British-but-also-transferable-character – James Bond (I am an unashamed Ian Fleming fan).

I mentioned Michael Jackson a bit earlier. Strange to relate, but has anyone noticed that Johnny Depp, starring as Willy Wonka in the new version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, directed by Tim Burton, looks just like the Faded One? I presume this has to be some sort of Hollywood in-joke.

Update: latest figures put Harry Potter sales at 8.9 million.

27 comments to Entertaining the children

  • Verity

    Another earlier creator of a compelling serial character was, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle.

  • As well as HP Lovecraft. I rather enjoy the Potter series truth be told critics be damned. I shall, of course, as cheap git wait for the paperback.

  • Sam Boogliodemus

    That just shows there 8.9 million foolish people. As P.T. Barnum said, ‘There’s a sucker born every minute’. Because people lined up for weeks to get a ticket to Star Wars doesn’t mean it was any good. Rowling does have a flair for finding the lowest common denominator though.

  • Verity

    Sam Boogliodemus – So did Charles Dickens.

  • Depp has said explicitly that he modelled his appearance in WW on Michael Jackson.

  • Kell

    Not sure if this is redundant or not, but I’d just like to point out H.P. Lovecraft was born and raised in New England, despite sharing the same romantic flair as British authors of the same era. Algernon Blackwood might be a more apt comparison for British character.

  • Matt McIntosh

    Normally I don’t go out of my way to link to things that are in bad taste, but apparently you aren’t the only one who sees the resemblance.

  • Shawn

    Why is it that enjoying Potter makes us “foolish” or “suckers”? Is Sam suggesting that those of us who do so are incapable of having our own opinion? It may mean we just have good taste. It may also mean we dont have large corn cobbs inserted in our rectums. The again it may mean that apreciation of art and culture is a purely subjective thing and that no objective standard can be applied to determine what is good art and what is not. Either way every time a new Potter novel comes out the culture snobs on the Right and the PC snobs on the Left do a good job of making themselves look like complete asshats.

  • That is truly an amazing amount of books sold, but I’m not convinced that all of them will be read. After all amongst many kids it is a fad thing, where they will want the book but may not necessarily read it all.

  • Julian Taylor

    Err, does it matter a damn whether they get read or not? Most copies of the book were certainly not bought for children to read but for the parents – I’m sure the children would much rather prefer to wait for the HBP Warners blockbuster to come out.

    I still think the publishers that turned down Joanne Rowling in the 1990’s rank up there with the famous Ken Olson comment to Steve Jobs and the Woz, “There is no reason anyone in the right state of mind will want a computer in their home.”, or Decca’s Dick Rowe comment to Brian Epstein regarding the Beatles, “groups with guitars are on the way out”. 8.9m sales of a book – incredible!

  • Verity

    Julian Taylor makes good points, except, there were a quarter of a million motivated children gagging to know what comes next. I don’t think 100,000 adults would be motivated to queue until midnight to get the latest sequel were there not a son or daughter begging them. It is children who care so deeply about the immediacy of such things. Adults know they can pick up a copy the next day.

    Confession: I’ve never read any of the books nor know any of the names except Harry Potter, but why should children not be captivated? Why should they not be eager for the latest adventure? Julian Taylor says “most copies of the book were certainly not bought for children to read”. Proof? Why not accept that children love going into another world and living in it in their imaginations? It wasn’t ironic adults that made Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan popular for a hundred years.

  • veryretired

    I have a tendency to be a strict parent. My kids know that I have no problem saying “no” to all sorts of requests, especially for high priced, crap toys.

    They also know, because I have said it to each of them dozens of times, that I never say “no” to a book, if it is appropriate for their age.

    Some people think only “worthy” books should be encouraged, great writing, the classics, and so on.

    I disagree. Reading should be fun and more fun, and then even more imaginative fun. There’s plenty of time for the classics. First, get them reading, and wanting to read.

    I have any number of failings as a parent, as we all do. But I have instilled a love of books and reading in all my kids, and they are all doing well in school as a direct result.

    If Harry Potter’s adventures help a whole new generation of young people, and their parents, to look forward to opening a book and travelling to a different world that exists only in their mind’s eye, then Rowling will have earned every penny, and more power to her.

  • Verity

    Agree. Rowling has constructed a universe that children are more than ready to lend their imaginations to enter. Story tellers have ever woven such magic using the reader’s – or listener’s – mind’s eye.

    She has drawn in as many children, I’m sure, as Lewis Carroll did in a smaller population, and those stories will stay with those children and become, in fact, a common reference, for two or three or four generations.

    I think it’s great. A by-product, of course, is, the habit of reading.

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    I’m not a fan of either Harry Potter or that other publishing phenomenon Dan Brown, but I have to agree that reading, for both adults and children, is a great pastime, to be duly encouraged.

    The beauty of Potter is that it might encourage kids to pick up other, more challenging books.

    Plus, whom am I to begrudge a successful author?

  • Andrew Duffin

    It ain’t a cultural phenomenon (cue muppets song!), it’s a FASHION phenomenon.

    Peer pressure and all that. Just like selling trainers.

    (The stories are rubbish btw)

  • Verity

    Andrew Duffin’s mean-spirited observation is wrong. I have seen children in airports and on planes utterly engrossed in a Harry Potter book.

    The characters may be rubbish from an adult point of view – and the writing may be too, for all I know – but the author has still unlocked the imaginations of millions of children worldwide, given them an alternative to watching television, and has installed a reading habit in them that will probably last a lifetime. It is to her credit, no matter that they are potboilers, that she has managed to hold her readers for book after book after book.

    It’s silly to judge the books by the standards of adult novels. They were written for children.

  • It’s nearly astounding to see an eleven year-old kid settled on the couch with a book running over eight hundred pages. I didn’t do anything like that until “Atlas Shrugged”.

    I don’t know about this “FASHION” business: every kid I know who owns these books has been reading them very seriously.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    HP is written in such a way that is readily accessible to children, and not only does it encourage reading, their exposure to the rich forms of sentence structure within the books(at child levels) can improve their writing abilities.

    I’m not a fan of it myself, being entirely too cynical and contemptous of Harry Potter as just another fantasy jock(Quiditch ace, poor attitude to studying) who doesn’t use his talents to the fullest(maybe that’s changed in the latest books).

    But it is still a good thing for kids.


  • Nick Timms

    I, and both my teenage children, have read all of the Harry Potter series. My children have read each book several times. My son (15) finished the latest yesterday morning and passed it to my daughter who is now halfway through it. I understand that both my godchildren and several nephews and nieces are also at various stages of the book. For me the evidence is clear; the book is not a fashion acccessory. All of the children I have spoken to about this have been really looking forward to reading the latest installment.

    Reading should be encouraged as much as possible. The earlier the better. J K Rowling’s books are marvelous because they use contempory references and attitudes. One of my loves as a child were the CS Lewis Narnia books but, although better written, they seem somewhat dated now.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I second what Verity, and others have said. It is clear that the HP books have encouraged kids to read and read a lot. That surely has to be a good thing. In fact, one wonders whether JK Rowling has done more for love of reading than all the various endeavours of state education over the past 20 years. No wonder the state education types hate her.

  • Gengee

    I have enjoyed all of the books so far and see no reason why I won’t enjoy this one. As most of the previous commenters have stated just about ‘anything’ that may instill a ‘want’ to read in kids is a ‘good thing’.
    I have tried, and unfortunately failed, to instill this in to my son, but he just does not like reading, I will of course keep on trying.


  • davis chenault

    The Harry Potter series is a coming of age tail for the west. It captures, heart and soul, Britain, America and Australia’s trip into the 21st century. The tail will end as this generation comes to grasp or encapsulate its place in the new and emerging world order.

    It resonates perfectly for the time and for the generation. It will inform and reflect the manner in which we come to understand our world.

    There is, I believe, no import or sense in trying to critique the book as a literary work. It is, more than anything, a cultural phenomena and can onlybe understood in that light.

    In my opinion that is.


  • As to the comment of many of the Potter books not being for children, I present Exhibit A: Myself.

    Exhibit B is my mother.

    As to comments on the low quality of the books, I merely reply that I have been reading science fiction and fantasy since a very young age and am therefore inured to criticisms of my reading. A surprisingly large number of people sneer at genres, missing, of course, the fact that the medium is not the message, no matter what McLuhan said.

    It also is a bit silly for a person who reads maybe ten books a year to assert their superiority over someone to whom reading is life, and whose yearly intake might be ten or twenty times that. But anyway.

  • Adrian Ramsey

    Mr. Dodge, if you check your local Kwik-Save, you may still find copies going for a fiver – that’s under a third of the cover price.

    Not a great read, but a good one, and it confirms that Ms. Rowling remains one of the top five writers of Harry Potter fiction.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Ms. Rowling remains one of the top five writers of Harry Potter fiction

    Not being facetious or anything, but unless you count fanfiction, isn’t Ms Rowling the ONLY writer of Harry Potter fiction?



  • Verity

    Wobbly – Yes! Amusing!

  • The Wobbly Guy

    That raises yet another very, very interesting point. Because of the popularity of HP, many readers are even trying their hand at writing their own takes/fanfic on HP, something that was quite unthinkable years ago. How many students would voluntarily spend their free time writing in the days before the internet and the blog?

    On fanfiction,net right now, there are 194511 HP fanfics!!! More than any other fandom, I believe. Some short, some epics, others of novella length. Some of pro level, some obviously by learners getting to grips with English and the setting. All written by fans. A significant portion, I believe, written by teens too.

    Awesome, I tell you, just awesome. Nothing improves the skill of writing than writing constantly.