I almost didn’t go. I mean, I bought my Harry Potter “line pass” at the Learned Owl Bookshop back in May when I had a signing there. Even then, I was #435. I paid nearly full price when I could’ve ordered it on Amazon at a deep discount and had it delivered directly to my home. Or I could’ve strolled into the bookshop one day next week and snagged my copy without fighting the crowds.
But there is something intoxicating about being part of a movement, of rubbing shoulders with throngs of people with one thing in common—the love of a book, and the characters in it. And this at a time when many people question whether ink and paper books have a future at all.
HP changed the rules and changed my life. The New York Times moved children’s books onto their own bestseller list after HP dominated it for months. Publishers learned that there could be big money in fantasy and writers of “adult” books showed a new interest in writing for children and teens.
As a fledgling writer of young adult fantasy, I’d been told that works for YAs couldn’t be longer than, say, 85,000 words. I was discouraged, because I couldn’t do my job within that space. I considered switching to writing mainstream fantasy for adults, with the hope that teens would cross over. But HP demonstrated that children and YAs will read longer works if the author is skillful enough to hold their interest.
HP is, in fact, a phenomenon, and I wanted to participate in history.
And so I ended up in downtown Hudson, Ohio on a Friday night, in a crowd of witches pushing strollers, wizard-cloaked students in round glasses, zigzag scars and Hogwarts school ties, grandparents dressed as house ghosts, professors and headmasters. Teenagers in punk-wizard garb clustered with Abercrombie-clad muggles who rolled their eyes. Hermione and Harry walked arm and arm across the green, sharing kisses every few steps. It was Hallowe’en in July, replete with Slytherins, giants, goblins, mudbloods, house elves, down to obscure Harry Potter walk-ons that only the obsessed would remember.
There was quidditch on the green, wandmaking at the Grey Colt, HP cupcakes at the bakeshop, Venus flytraps for sale at the florist’s, and a sorting hat in the Learned Owl itself. Vendors sold wands and glow-in-the-dark jewelry. I bought earrings for a dollar. We shouted out a countdown to the parade of lanterns and the light show that fizzled in a good-natured, small-town way. There was kind of a Times Square at New Year’s energy and cohesion, without the freezing weather, heavy drinking, and peeing on the pavement.
And finally came the lineup of people clutching bright orange line passes, spilling onto the main street despite the efforts of harried but good-natured police. More people than anyone expected, even with 1200 copies of the book pre-sold. Families argued over who got first dibs on a shared copy. I stood next to a fourth-grader who’d read all the HP books and was devouring the Lord of the Rings trilogy and was totally indignant that the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix cut out so many of her favorite parts.
I handed her bookmarks for The Warrior Heir and The Wizard Heir, and told her to let it go. A movie isn’t a book, after all.