Where is Harry Potter when we need him? For the second year in a row, the nonappearance of Book 5 of the small bespectacled one’s magical doings is throwing readers of all ages into a spring tizzy.
May means different things to different people, but it has always seemed to us that, as the pivotal month between winter’s cold and summer’s heat and rain, it marks a general lightening of mood. Golden Week — despite the fact that the idea usually outshines the real thing — is just the beginning of it. All through May, as the temperature rises, the azaleas and wisteria pop and the leaves thicken, we quicken the shift into summer mode. There’s no resisting it. Everywhere, people step out in lighter, brighter clothes, dream of vacations, drink white wine instead of red — and, if they are part of the small coterie of book lovers, start planning their summer reading lists.
Summer books are different from winter’s, or they should be: lighter, airier, less taxing; poetry, not philosophy; mysteries, thrillers, romances and travel books rather than politics, economics, history and science. Of course, there are exceptions. This summer, for instance, Mr. Robert Caro’s “Master of the Senate,” the door-stopper-size, long-awaited third volume of his biography of the late former U.S. president, Lyndon Johnson, promises to provide as much sizzle and intrigue as any tawdry beach thriller. But on the whole, the books we line up for August don’t have the intellectual heft of the ones we put aside for New Year’s. Which is why “Harry Potter” has proved such a godsend in the past: Each of the first four volumes is the pure, golden essence of a summer book. And it is why frustration is mounting over the repeated postponement of the release of the fifth.
You’re probably thinking: These are children’s books, aren’t they? How many adults include “Harry Potter” on their reading lists, in any season? We don’t have statistics, but anecdote and observation tell us for a certainty that the number is greater than you might suppose. Some are parents, who have to read the books aloud to their kids anyway, but they don’t really count. The ones who do are the many sober, serious-minded citizens who have discovered the peculiar pleasure of losing a weekend — or a week, or stolen moments spread out over a month, whatever it takes — to the charms of Hogwarts School and its witches and wizards. We know lawyers and journalists and doctors who are Potter fans (furtively or not, according to temperament), college students and septuagenarians, men and women. It may have taken a while to catch on, but “Harry Potter” is not just for kids any more.
So, ask those pining for their Potter fix, what’s up with Book 5? Books 1 to 4 came out each year, like clockwork, from 1997 to 2000, and fans understood what they thought was the economics of postponing the fifth book’s publication in 2001 so as not to undermine the movie version of the first, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
But now, according to a report last week in The New York Times, it seems that economics had nothing to do with that decision. (That’s good news, in a way; one would hate to think the dispensers of the magic were capable of such marketing-driven cynicism.) The author, Ms. J.K. Rowling, simply hasn’t finished the latest installment, tentatively titled “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” her publisher says. Nor does she have any idea when she will be done, although the anxious publisher, pressed by shareholders and booksellers alike, has been mumbling about “sometime before June 2003.”
June 2003! That’s next summer’s reading list. That means two consecutive Harryless summers, another whole year to wait to find out the real truth about Snape, more time to lose the threads of an already tortuous plot. Suddenly, May turns dark and dreary. We feel as dismayed as Harry contemplating yet another boring summer vacation with his mean, magic-challenged relatives, the Dursleys.
Well, we adults will get over it, with the help of LBJ and a few other literary distractions. As for the children, they are finding their own ways to fill the void, according to The New York Times: some by dogged rereading, some by turning to other books, some by contributing their own Harry Potter stories to any one of numerous Hogwarts-dedicated Web sites. Life must go on.
Meanwhile, if you still need consolation, just remember the words of wise old Hagrid at the end of Book 4: “What would come, would come. . . .” The same, evidently, goes for the sequels to this extraordinary, crowd-pleasing series. They are worth waiting patiently for.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.