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I give in. Just reading some headlines: “Harry Potter Sales Break
Records.” “Everybody’s Wild About Harry.” “‘Goblet Of Fire’ Blazes A
Trail Of Record Sales.” “Vanishing Off The Shelves.” “All Aboard The
Potter Express.” “Potter Books Fly Out Of Local Bookstores.”

And now for a taste of the critical reception: “In Fourth Harry
Potter Book The Magic Lives On.” “Trouble With Harry.” “‘Goblet Of Fire’
Burns Out.” “A Novel That Is A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In short, huge
sales; mixed reaction.

The heterogeneity of the reaction is that, because of the book’s
potential sales, and a craving to stay in the swim, editors have been
placing it in the hands of their top-flight reviewers and not their
specialists in children’s literature, where, frankly, it belongs. On
the other hand, the producers of the new movie “X-Men” invited to its
press screening (which I attended) an audience not one bit more mature
than that for which the Harry Potter series is intended. The shouting!
The screaming! The historic consumption of popcorn! In all, I must say,
the opening night of “X-Men” was an experience of communal joyfulness,
like children at a really good game of pin the tail on the donkey.

So with Harry Potter, a series the readers of which could work up a
really soulful game of hide and seek. As for the Harry series’ age
level, it is relentlessly juvenile. Harry is 11 at the beginning of the
series and 14 at the time of “The Goblet Of Fire.” One of the high
points of the latter is the World Cup game between Ireland, with
leprechauns as their cheerleaders, and Bulgaria, with “veela” as theirs.

I should explain that the game, although it has some of the
mannerisms of British sport, is actually played by youthful wizards
flying around on broomsticks. Both teams of wizards seem to be
coeducational. The cheering is vaguely British. And the game is called
“Quidditch,” a kind of airborne polo. But the most mysterious characters
are the Bulgarian cheerleader-mascots, the veela: “What are veela … ?”
asks Harry.

“A hundred veela were now gliding out onto the field, and Harry’s
question was answered for him. Veela were women … the most beautiful
women Harry had ever seen … except that they weren’t — they couldn’t
be human. This puzzled Harry for a moment while he tried to guess
exactly what they could be; what could make their skin shine moon-bright
like that, or their white-gold hair fan out behind them without wind …
but then the music started, and Harry stopped worrying about them not
being human — in fact, he stopped worrying about anything at all. The
veela had started to dance, and Harry’s mind had gone completely and
blissfully blank. All that mattered in the world was that he kept
watching the veela, because if they stopped dancing, terrible things
would happen. … And as the veela danced faster and faster, wild
half-formed thoughts started chasing through Harry’s dazed mind.”

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the erotic high point of “Harry
Potter And The Goblet Of Fire.” But we are only at the beginning of the
fourth book in the series, and perhaps by the time Miss Rowling has
imagined her way through the (promised) three remaining volumes, Harry,
as I say, now only 14, might have turned into one of the great
womanizers of all time. You never know.

Now the N.Y. Times editorial page, in its motherly fashion, has
offered protection as he grows older to Harry and, in a sense, to all of
us. Parents across the land, you see, so fearful of the seductive power
of the visual media, have rejoiced at the success of a 734-page book,
and are absolutely delighted that their little one is reading it rather
than last Sunday’s issue of the Washington Post Magazine, with its hot
cover story on teen-age sex, covering ages down to 12 and 13. Quality
alone, explains Robert Frank of Cornell, speaking of Harry Potter,
cannot explain what he calls “the most dazzlingly successful book launch
in history.”

“To understand the (Harry) phenomenon,” he explains, “we must look to
the special properties that make markets for popular culture so
different from the markets described in economics textbooks. After all
an important element of reading a book or seeing a movie is the ability
to discuss the experience with friends.” If your friends haven’t seen
the movie or read the book it’s a real loser. But a reverse phenomenon
sometimes comes into play, called by economists the “law of diminishing
marginal utility.”

Hungry? How about this nice ham sandwich? Then, how about a second
ham sandwich? A third? A fourth? So with Harry Potter. Loved the book?
Then how about a second Harry Potter? A third? A fourth? I’m sure you’ve
got the idea. Actually, I can’t stand the little bugger.

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