Psychologists and experts on hermeneutics will have to rake their brains to explain the incredible popularity of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Press runs across the world are into the hundreds of millions, topping best-selling lists in 17 countries, including the US, Great Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, and others. The adventures of the little magician arrested the attention of both children’s and adult audiences. In the UK alone, advance orders for the third part of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban were for 220,000 copies, with the overall print run of 300,000. The popularity of the gold series of seven books reached its peak in mid-2001. In November, the US movie industry proved its usual quick self as Warner Bros. came out with a screen version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The budget was impressive: $126 million, yet the mind-boggling success of the books brought the producers some $500 million in the first couple of months of public showings in America, surpassing even Tolkien’s blockbuster fantasies (his devotees spotted about 40 discrepancies in the movies). Companies specializing in computer games followed suit. Electronic Arts produced a game allowing every user to act as the little magician and enjoy the charms of the virtual world. J. K. Rowling wrote her first Potter book five years ago, and it has since been translated into over thirty languages.
The Potter mania is spreading quickly. Ukraine is no exception, although for the Potter books to get here was almost as difficult as for Santa Claus driving his reindeer. Finally, owing to the dedicated effort of Russian Rosman’s and Bambook Internet Shop (www.bambook.com), the Kyiv audience saw the little magician for the first time. This happened on New Year’s Eve, Old Style, during the presentation of the first three books: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The presentation’s atmosphere at Art Club 44 was a mix of old witchcraft and modern technologies (candles and computers), including a Potterman contest and a magic stand-up buffet. This author had studied the press release in depth, so he was lucky to win the prestigious third place in the contest (a ten-year-old girl placed first, and the silver went to a five-year-old boy), the trophy being a “magic cake” that came in very handy after the magic B-52 cocktail. The computer played the official commercial of the US movie and the audience responded for the most part by saying something like, Big deal. I already have the movie on tape, but the quality is poor.
Once again one is left wondering about the world’s most popular children’s authors coming from Great Britain, the list now rightfully topped by Joan Rowling (she celebrated her second marriage about a month ago). Someone also noted an interesting regularity pointing to the connection between the success of writings and their “religious” affiliation, ranging from Carroll’s fantasies to latter-day improvisations. Their atmosphere ill fits into the Christian values of the Church of England and Catholicism. But the fact remains that the popularity is there. A Potter book was the first one read by a young offspring of my friends, despite the rich assortment in the home library and the reader’s apparent laziness and fastidiousness. In fact, the youngster started rereading it right away, much to the parents’ delighted surprise (at long last he could be distracted from the hateful PC by the virtuous process of reading). Children in more educated families are nonetheless interested in reading the Potter books in English. Incidentally, the first Ukrainian translation is expected only toward the end of the spring, courtesy of the A – BA – BA – HA – LA – MA – HA Publishers that hold the copyright. The only problem, its manager Ivan Malkovych admits, is the cost. The currently available Russian version costs 24 hryvnias, which is quite a lot. The Ukrainian publishers are also preparing their own illustrations, not quite satisfied with those offered by the Americans.