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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 July, 2005, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
'Why I hate Harry Potter'
Promotional material for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The sixth book goes on sale at midnight on Friday night
The BBC's Robert Winder explains what he hates about Harry Potter, but accepts the challenge to read Half-Blood Prince when it is published to see if the boy wizard can work his charm.

Personally, I've never understood the hype about Harry Potter.

I've seen one of the films (I was stuck on a long-haul flight and didn't have much choice) and tried to read one of the books and was left distinctly unimpressed.

But whether you like books or not is a matter of personal opinion.

The irritating thing is that, like the Star Wars series, the constant barrage of Potter books, films and associated merchandise reeks of crass commercialism.

Harry Potter has now become a brand that has been used to sell the products of multinational corporations like Coca-Cola.

A huge promotional campaign is under way - mainly aimed at children - to market the latest book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I have heard parents often complain that their children harass them to buy the book - but that it is left unread on the shelves while the kids get back to their computer games.

But that's not the only thing that annoys me about the Potter "phenomenon".

I myself have seen normally intelligent people reduced to gibbering wrecks, babbling incoherently about Gryffindors and Slytherins

The series paints an unrealistic picture of Britain in 2005.

In fact Harry Potter often reminds me of John Major.

There might not be much to connect the young wizard and the former Conservative prime minister at first glance - apart from a passing resemblance - but it seems to me that their vision of Britain could be the same.

John Major believed the UK to be a country of "long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs and old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist".

Harry Potter, I think, also represents this long-forgotten Britain of the 1950s in many ways.

Living at a boarding school, he inhabits a world of duelling practice, of house-masters, of pet rats and harmless games.

J K Rowling
It will be the sixth Harry Potter book from J K Rowling

It is a world where good and evil are clearly defined and not one with the many grey areas and dangers familiar to children and young adults today.

My Harry Potter would certainly not be a part of this world. He'd be more of an urban Harry for 2005.

He might hang round bus-stops late at night wearing a baseball cap and drinking cider.

He might harass the neighbours with his magic powers and end up with an Asbo.

My Harry Potter would probably sell about three copies, though.

And you might argue that Harry Potter is fantasy for kids and is not supposed to reflect the realities of modern-day life in Britain.

'Inner child'

And you'd be right - except that Harry Potter is also read by thousands of adults. Why?

You will probably see nearly as many Half-Blood Princes as you see Da Vinci Codes on public transport for a while.

But what is it that appeals to adults about what is essentially diet-Lord of the Rings?

Harry Potter represents that desire in so many of us to find the magical lying under the surface of the mundane
Paul Growcoot, Milan, Italy

I myself have seen normally intelligent people reduced to gibbering wrecks, babbling incoherently about Gryffindors and Slytherins.

Author AS Byatt said that adult Potter fans are actually "reverting to their inner child" when they read Potter, and that they were "for people whose interests are confined to the worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip".

One of the BBC News website's very own readers has the perfect response to that one, though - "I've never heard of AS Byatt," he said in a recent Have Your Say on the issue.

Despite all this criticism I embark on this challenge with an open mind - hoping to discover the magic that has enchanted millions and find out whether the book is really any good - but I'm still not expecting to find my urban Harry.

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