Richa Raheja (in pic, with the latest Harry Potter book), like several Pottermaniacs, prebooked her copy with an e-retailer months in advance
Richa Raheja, 17, was in the fourth standard when she met a boy with unruly hair and myopic eyes that looked out through horn-rimmed spectacles. He was of a similar age, in his first year in the Hogwarts School of Magic in a realm of fantasy reached through a magical Platform 9 3/4 at London's King’s Cross Station. The connection was, shall we say, magical?
Richa's introduction to this boy was through the pages of JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the first book in a record breaking series of seven. As Richa grew, so did Potter. There was always the next book to progress to, the plots got more complicated and darker, the emotions, too, went through their churn of pubertal hormonal surges. Meanwhile, collecting Potter memorabilia became an independent hobby. Among her prized possessions is a golden snitch (a ball with wings that is used in the magical game Quidditch). Potter, as every fan knows, is a great seeker (snitch catcher to the uninitiated).
Although the series officially ended eleven years ago with the release of Deathly Hallows, the Harry Potter films kept alive the anticipation. It's been six years since the release of the last Potter film, however, and a lot has changed in the interim. New fantasy worlds have cropped up, readers and television viewers have immersed themselves into the fast-paced developments of the Seven Kingdoms of The Game of Thrones. “Winter is coming”, is the new chant. But has the new King in the North displaced The Boy Who Lived?
Going by the excitement and anticipation that preceded the release of Rowling's Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, it does seem that a heart is capable of several loves, and alternate realities, at least where fantasy is concerned. Westeros can co-exist with Hogwarts, and a Valyrian steel sword is as prized a possession as Mr Ollivander’s wand.
Richa, like several Pottermaniacs, prebooked her copy with an e-retailer months in advance. But on July 31 (Potter's and Rowling's birthday and the date of the release of the book), she found that she couldn't wait for her couriered copy. So she rushed to the bookstore, with fingers crossed that the stock wouldn't sell out before she reached there. She was lucky, and having got her copy, spent the next three hours immersed in the book. Her verdict: It's not the same going-home-to feeling that she gets from the original series, it's a different medium (this one is the script of two accompanying plays), but she'd definitely read it over again. The magic may have changed, but it's still strong.
With the time leap that the plays have taken, Richa finds herself faced with a 37-year-old Potter, father of three. She is still 17, Potter's age during Deathly Hallows.
So of course, there's less identification with him. “But that doesn't matter. There are his children, and the children of the other original characters, too. It's still familiar ground,'' she says.
Rowling recently said that Harry Potter is gone for good. In the Cursed Child, Potter goes away on a long journey, and that is where Rowling would rather leave him. But the cult of Potter is nowhere on the wane. Thomas Abraham, managing director, Hachette, which has published the book in India, refused to reveal the print order but said that the book had logged the largest ever consumer preorders ever seen for a hardback. The book release was accompanied with a premiere of the play in London. The play, which had already been staged for select audiences in advance, is another talking point, what with Hermione, one of the lead characters, being played by a black actress.
With the Potter series, perhaps, fan-theories and fan-fiction became proper entities. To the uninitiated, fan fiction is when a fan of a series writes stories and theories based on the same characters and situations. One particular fan-writer wrote the first book with more plausible explanations than even Rowling could give. For instance, the writer explained just why Potter's uncle and aunt behave badly with him. Then again, the internet will provide you with enough recipes for Butterbeer, that yum drink which schoolgoing wizards drink on their weekly outings to the village of Hogsmeade.
Among the fans of Game of Thrones for instance, there are so many theories about the parentage of some of the prominent characters, and often, when the book/teleseries shows an indication that's in tune with these theories, the fan following gets quite hysterical. All of this doesn't come from merely re-reading the books, but actually inhabiting the universe of that fiction, something that's becoming increasing more intense across the world.
It's not just the English language reader who is a Potter fan. The series has authorised translations in Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu, ensuring the pan Indian appeal of the orphaned boy who finds himself the answer to a disastrous prophesy.
Abraham points out that just because a series is ending doesn't mean that there should be any dent in the cult around the story. “Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia both were revivals after decades, driven by movies,” he points out. “It's all a question of the brand equity of a particular property or series. Harry Potter is the biggest brand that publishing has ever seen.”
Abraham adds that Potter is the perhaps the first and certainly the only one of its stature, where the books and characters grow with the reader, from first year of school to the darker plots as the narrative progresses into the later books. “So there are new readers being added on, and loyal Potterheads who will continue to read.” Interestingly, the actors in the films also grew as the series progressed, and both Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Waston have worked hard to create identities that are different from their roles, of Harry and Hermione.
Was it any surprise then, that bookshops across the country held myriad Potter themed events around the release of the Cursed Child? Potter's back in our midst, for the present at least, and this calls for celebration. Butterbeer, anyone?