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Dear Leaky Cauldron.

What grade are you in? I was just wondering if there are any grown-ups at your site (like an adult to oversee things), or if it’s all run by students. Please write back if you have the time.

~

Dear Devoted Reader,

Like many of my co-workers here at Leaky, I’m in the grade where I have a college degree or two and a full time career.

Because a lot of people see the Harry Potter books as a children’s series, the assumption is that surely only younger readers must be fans—and yet not only does Bloomsbury, the British publisher of the series, issue adult versions of the books (the only difference is in the cover art, which is more subdued than the original editions), a 2005 poll by Zogby International found that a third of adults have read one or more of the books (as an aside, 41 percent of adult readers believed they would have been sorted into Ravenclaw had they been given the opportunity to attend Hogwarts, 57 percent would elect Hermione as President over either Harry (25 percent or Ron (just five percent), and the book is equally well-liked by Democrats, Republicans, and Independents).

Although several members of Leaky’s staff are teens, most are college age or older. Our webmistress is in her twenties; one of our editors just turned 50. While our ages don’t quite reflect the ages of Harry Potter readers (we’ve answered questions from readers as young as eight to as long-lived (so far) as 87), they clearly do demonstrate that you don’t have to be Harry’s age to find his story appealing.

Best,

Kristin for The Leaky Cauldron

~*~

Dear Leaky Cauldron,

I can’t believe what they did to the movies! Not only are some things flat out wrong (like as the color of Harry’s eyes—they’re supposed to be green and they’re not!), but none of the characters look like what I imagined when I read the books!

~

Dear Devoted Reader,

The film versions of the Potter movies don’t look like what you imagined when you read the books for a very simple reason—they were made by someone else.

Upon seeing each of the movie versions of the books, I’m always struck by two things: the people, places, and things generally don’t look very much as I pictured them when I read the books, and I enjoy the films despite it.

While Jo Rowling fills her novels with a lot of rich detail, she isn’t always particularly specific. Consider Hermione Granger. Our description of her, as with almost all of the characters in the series, comes from Harry. We know she has lots of bushy, brown hair, rather large front teeth (at least, when they first meet), and brown eyes. That’s it. We have no idea if her hair is straight-frizzy-bushy or thick-curly-bushy, or if she’ll tan or burn if she spends too much time in the sun. We can speculate that if she was much taller or shorter or thinner or heavier than average, Harry might have noted it, although we can’t be sure. We can guess by Harry’s reaction to Hermione’s appearance at the Yule Ball that he had never thought of her as particularly pretty before that evening, although, since “pretty” is subjective, this really doesn’t provide further specific clues to her appearance (although we might reason that Hermione is, as my grandmother used to say, “growing into her looks”—and possibly that the slightly smaller teeth she gained by Madam Pomfrey’s hand are more flattering to her than the set with which she was born). Indeed, it would seem out of character for us to have more details than we do, as Harry would have to be the one to provide them to us—and how likely is it that an eleven-year old boy would offer a visually descriptive analysis of girl?

But I can describe, in great detail, Hermione just as she appeared to me the first time I read Harry Potter (if you’re wondering, it was a rainy day, I was home with the flu, and I was tucked into the sofa with a black and white cat and a cup of tea).

Jo Rowling’s gift is not just in the ability to put down a clever plot, but in the method by which she provides a framework for the reader’s imagination. All of the things above that we don’t know from the author about Hermione (or about other characters, or room layouts) are unnecessary, as we provide them ourselves, and (if other readers are like I am, and I suspect that most are) to a rich, specific degree. My Hermione likely doesn’t look exactly like your Hermione or the Hermione of anyone else you know—it’s irrelevant that she doesn’t.

But is it any wonder that the film can’t possibly live up to the books in your head?

No, some details don’t match up to Ms. Rowling’s writing (I wish they’d not given so many of Ron’s lines to Hermione, for example), and the actor who plays Harry doesn’t have green eyes (I suspect both because the importance of their similarity to his mother’s is in more than the color, and because it would be distracting and rather mean-spirited to make an eleven-year old put up with having to wear colored contacts). But if I don’t dwell on such things and allow myself to enjoy the films for exactly what they are (what a collection of people that does not include myself imagined when they read the books), I’m generally delighted by them. My favorite is actually what I think to be the least literal translation of any of the books—the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban—because I enjoy watching scenes with such a very different take on them from how I imagined (interestingly, this film appears to be the most controversial of the series thus far among fans of the books—people tend to either adore it or think it’s terrible).

So, while I can’t and wouldn’t suggest that you’re wrong to feel disappointed by the films, I do think you should give them another try, and not expect them to be as if you’d made them, because they aren’t.

And if you still don’t care for them, you can always turn back to your bookshelf for a re-read of your favorite Potter book.

Best,

Kristin for The Leaky Cauldron

~*~

Dear Leaky Cauldron,

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, everyone who had been killed by Voldemort emerged from his wand during Priori Incantatem in the reverse order from which they’d been killed. As James emerged before Lily, wouldn’t this mean that he had to have been killed after her—not before, as we were led to believe in earlier books? Has there been any discussion about this and what it means?

~

Dear Devoted Reader,

When Goblet of Fire first came out, many astute readers noticed this and began to debate the meaning, as well as offer their admiration of the author for cleverly hiding the clue in such a riveting passage, where it wouldn’t be picked up on immediately (I confess that I didn’t notice the significance of the order until it was pointed out to me). What was the significance of this? Was Harry intentionally misled as to the true nature of his parents’ death? Could it be possible that one or both were still alive?

Unfortunately, it was a mistake.

The first three Harry Potter books were published consecutively, beginning in 1997, and Goblet of Fire followed that trend with a 2000 release. As any reader can attest who spent the early morning hours following the midnight book release snuggled into bed, book propped on stomach, Goblet is considerably heavier (and therefore longer) than any of the prior stories in the series. Ms. Rowling notes on her website that “we were under enormous pressure to edit it very fast,” her American editor noted that her original (correct) manuscript regarding the order was incorrect, and:

“I changed it without thinking, then realized it had been right in the first place. We were all very sleep-deprived at the time.”

The error was corrected in subsequent releases of the book.

But does this mean that the first release American edition of Goblet of Fire has extra value as a collectible?

At the time of its release, Goblet of Fire set a world record for the fastest-selling book in history, with three million copies purchased within the first forty-eight hours (note that this record has been broken twice since Goblet’s release—by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and more recently by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). So while this first edition is certainly significant, it can hardly be called “rare”—particularly when compared to the print run of the U.K. first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which consisted of only 1,000 volumes. 

Best,

Kristin for The Leaky Cauldron

~*~

Dear Leaky Cauldron,

I love Harry Potter! I’ve got a problem, though—I’m trying to get a friend at school to read them, and she refuses—she says they’re too popular for her. Besides the fact that I find this kind of rude (so *I’m* a mindless, crowd-following sheep?), she’s obviously WRONG. Any suggestions on how I can get her to change her mind?

~

Dear Devoted Reader,

This reminds of a similar battle I had several years ago with a friend, who also refused to read the books. “They’re too trendy,” she insisted. “I’m not reading them just because everyone else is.”

 

I thought her argument might have made sense had I been trying to get her to adopt the latest seasonable fashion trend, but we were talking about literature. How can a well-written, enjoyable book be too *trendy*?

There’s no question that word of mouth can help something to become popular. Certainly, some people get joy out of discovering a book or a film that they’ve heard to be “the next big thing,” particularly if said popularity of said thing becomes newsworthy—it can be rather heartwarming to think of yourself as one of many in a cultural phenomenon. Of course, this also always leaves a few disgruntled folks; those who were early adopters, and miffed that their once secret discovery appeals to the great masses, and those who are so late to the party that they’d rather just not go, as it’s going to be crowded and noisy and uncomfortable and surely not much fun.

(We people are a weird lot.)

But this is neither here nor there. I knew my friend would love the series if she only gave it a chance. So, I responded:

“Really? I’m sorry to hear that—there’s a passage near the end of the first book that I was really interested in hearing your thoughts on. If I lend it to you, do you think you’d consider giving it a try if you find the time? I understand if you start reading and it’s not your cup of tea.”

She’d called me by the end of that week and begged to borrow the rest of the series.

Best,

Kristin for The Leaky Cauldron

~*~

~*~

Dear Leaky Cauldron,

Now that I’ve finally made contact, I’m a little embarrassed.  I am probably one of the world’s oldest Harry Potter fans, am new to the internet, and I have been enjoying The Leaky Cauldron.

Jessica

Dear Jessica,

Are you older then 87? Because the oldest fan we’ve had contact us (so far) was 87.

Don’t be embarrassed—we get mail from people of all ages.

Best,

Kristin for The Leaky Cauldron

~

Well, now I feel younger; I’m only 74. My husband has Alzheimer’s disease and I have trouble dealing with it; but somehow reading the Harry Potter books makes me feel calmer. It’s nice to know that Harry has fans of all ages.

Jessica

Collected by Kristin Brown
All letters copyright LeakyNews.com

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