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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 11, 2001

Harry Potter enchants readers young and old

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i, like the rest of the Muggle world, has been bewitched by a kid with tousled hair and glasses and transported to a wonderland filled with people who use "Muggle" and other strange terms.

Hawai'i readers, young and old, join millions of Muggles in the worldwide craze of Harry Potter.
The word means a nonmagical mortal, like you.

But perhaps you knew that.

Millions of people worldwide know that, and everything else about the Harry Potter universe, the realm of wizards, witches and the students who want to join their profession, and the setting of a sure-fire blockbuster film premiering Friday.

"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" was first released in Britain in 1997. The U.S. audience was won over quickly to the American edition (retitled "The Sorcerer's Stone), and the series, created by British children's author J.K. Rowling and now comprising four books, since has been published in 16 countries.

And in all those countries, in all those bedrooms where Potter fans of every age cuddle up with their favorite page-turner, each devotee believes he or she inhabits Hogwarts, the wizarding school Harry attends, and other places in his world.

 •  Harry Potter: Behind the Magic 6 p.m., NBC.

Katie Couric brings to life the mysterious world of the universe’s most famous wizard. There’s a behind-the-scenes tour on the set of the movie, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which opens Friday. Couric also chats with the movie’s stars, the director and we get a glimpse of exclusive footage from the highly-anticipated film.

"When I first read Harry Potter, I was amazed," wrote Helene Korich, a 14-year-old Honolulu resident who entered The Advertiser's call for essays on the series. "It seemed that he had all the feelings I had. He did all the things I knew I wanted to do. He was a hero, just as I hoped to be one.

"His life was so real to me, and it all seemed so possible, even the magic."

Potter-mania is set apart from most other book fads by the breadth of the epidemic. Kids start being wild about Harry in the first grade, said children's librarian Dave Del Rocco, although for younger keiki it's a superficial love affair: They aren't able to manage the vocabulary until Grade 4.

At the upper end of the scale, Potter fans can be as old as you like. As old as, say, Dave Del Rocco.

"It's too recent to call it a classic," said Del Rocco, children's literary guide at the Hawai'i State Library. "But it's such good writing I can't imagine that it wouldn't still be popular years from now."

Other book sensations — "The Lord of the Rings," another headed for the silver screen, is an example — have a smaller audience, primarily middle schoolers and up, said Nyla Fujii-Babb, children's librarian at Salt Lake/Moanalua Library and an adjunct professor of library and information science at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" and the other six volumes in C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" perhaps come a little closer, she said.

"The Narnia chronicles, or even Kipling, have a long, classical history," Fujii-Babb said. "We don't know what's going to happen with Harry Potter.

"I enjoyed it very much," she added. "It's fun to read, it's a good fantasy, it's highly exciting, entertaining and multilevel."

The "multilevel" description refers to a quality common in children's entertainment created primarily for younger children but with elements that only adults can grasp. For example, one Potter book includes a commercial for a witchcraft home-study course, complete with testimonials that sound familiar to anyone who's seen a late-night infomercial.

That may explain why Fujii-Babb found herself filling a demand from adults as well as children for various titles in the Potter series. Her library owns 10 copies of "The Sorcerer's Stone," all of which are almost constantly in circulation. A more usual practice for her small library is to purchase no more than four copies of any book, she said.

"At one point I had 200 holds placed against a single copy," she said.

Booksellers, naturally, are ecstatic about the craze. Dede Sing, a manager at Borders Ward Centre said one Potter book or another has been on the store's bestseller list for nearly two years.

All the same, Harry Potter hasn't been without his detractors, especially within the conservative Christian community and parents who worry about the books' emphasis on witchcraft. It is an issue that has been raised only lightly in Hawai'i, but it exists.

John Alejado, a spokesman for the Christian Homeschoolers of Hawai'i, said he agrees with those who aren't entirely opposed to the Potter books but see them best used as an opportunity to lead children toward superior reading matter.

"Harry Potter would provide an opportunity to introduce younger children to better literature that has a biblical basis, such as works by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and others," he said via e-mail. "Intimate, daily interaction between parent and child that homeschooling provides give families many teaching moments to have children make right choices, even with recreational reading."

Some educators are delighted with the way the series has inspired a new generation of readers. Judy McCoy, administrator for the state schools' language arts and world languages section, applauds the book for intensifying children's reading habits.

"They normally don't read books by the same author," McCoy said. "The good thing I hear from parents and teachers is it gets kids reading. The bad things I've heard about is the focus on magic and the occult ... but the good parents would guide their children."

Helie Rock, librarian at the Big Island's Kea'au High School, stands squarely in Harry Potter's corner.

"If the themes of good versus evil, perseverance in the face of difficulties, and ingenuity weren't enough, the fact that these books promote going to school as something to look forward to make these books very easy for me to recommend to any student," Rock said via e-mail.

"The witchcraft issue is, I think, a nonissue," she added. "It is so innocuous (especially compared to what else is out there, and in real life), that I can't imagine why anyone would have a problem with it."

Booksellers and other merchants who sell Potter-phernalia are other beneficiaries of the book's popularity. Everything from clothing marked with the insignia of Hogwarts or its Quidditch team (see adjoining Potter glossary) to collectible "sorcerer's stones" and other toys have been hot items among keiki and adults alike.

And there are Web sites and other Internet spots galore. Victoria Clubb, a Kapi'olani Community College English student, said she resisted the craze at first but then fell head over heels. Clubb founded an e-mail Potter role-playing group (read about it at www.geocities.com/theharrypotterhogwartsrpg/HPRPGmain.html). Members play parts in the story and effectively write their own Potter episodes by posting their dialog to other members of the group.

At first, Clubb hid her addiction, literally, in a brown paper bag, not wanting people to see she was reading a kids' title. She removed the sleeve of her Potter books and rode the bus with them reclothed in a plain wrapper.

"I figured nobody pays attention to a college girl, reading on a bus," she said. "Friends would ask, 'What are you reading?' and I would say, 'It's a book for biology.'"

Eventually they learned the truth, and Clubb emerged from the closet. Friends came to her, bearing gifts.

"One gave me the Hogwarts Journal for my birthday," she said. "I have the Hogwarts mousepad, and two textbooks. And I got another book, 'Exploring Harry Potter.' It's a book for adults."

And it's out of it's plain brown wrapper.