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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 June, 2003, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
Harry Potter: Ask the experts
Harry Potter novel
Author Julia Eccleshare and Harry Potter fan Jamie Lawrence answered your questions in a LIVE forum.

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    The queues to buy Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix are forming already.

    Fans have had to wait three years for this latest instalment about the exploits of the boy wizard Harry and his boarding school friends Ron and Hermione.

    The novel has already broken internet sales records, with more than one million advance orders received by Amazon.

    In the UK, the postal service is having to lay on extra vans to get the book, which weighs a kilogram, delivered to customers.

    What is all the fuss about? Are the Harry Potter books true classics? Why does Harry Potter appeal to adults as well as children?

    Julia Eccleshare, author of A Guide to the Harry Potter Novels and founder of the Smarties Prize for children's literature, and Jamie Lawrence of the Harry Potter fans' website www.mugglenet.com answered your questions.


    Transcript

    Torin Douglas:
    Hello and welcome to this interactive forum, I'm Torin Douglas. In a little under 10 hours muggles will be settling down to read the latest Harry Potter book - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The pictures don't move and the text doesn't write itself but the novel's already broken sales records around the world. You've been sending us your questions on the whole Harry Potter phenomenon and here to answer them are Julia Eccleshare, author of a Guide to the Harry Potter Novels and founder of the Smarties Prize for children's literature and Jamie Lawrence from the fan website mugglenet.com.

    Now I imagine both of you have been quite excited about all this, have you been preparing for it in some way?

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Well I'm certainly very excited about it, I don't think if I've been preparing for it but I have set aside a lot of the weekend because I do want to read it and I'm going to read it quite quickly.

    Torin Douglas:
    But how long do you think it'll take you?

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Well I'm not a very fast reader and I know it's a very big book, so it'll be slower than my children.

    Torin Douglas:
    Yes and Jamie?

    Jamie Lawrence:
    I'm planning on about four hours.

    Torin Douglas:
    And when are you going to start do you reckon?

    Jamie Lawrence:
    I think probably about two minutes past midnight.

    Torin Douglas:
    Right, as I say, we've had lots of e-mails and text messages. This one's from Steve Haywood in the UK: "I want to buy my copy of the book and start reading it as soon as I can but I'm worried that major plot spoilers are going to start appearing all over the internet and on the news, am I being too paranoid or do you think this really could be a problem?" - that people are going to spoil the plot, Julia.

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Yes I think it is a problem. I mean I think what's an absolute miracle is that we've got to this point, this near the wire, and it's still pretty much a secret and I think that's fantastically exciting and a major triumph from everybody who's been involved. But of course it is going to be terrible if you're going to know who's died, as we know somebody's is going to have died, before you get there. I think that will take away from the pleasure for some children.

    Torin Douglas:
    And what about mugglenet.com, is it your job to spoil everybody's surprise?

    Jamie Lawrence:
    Well we've kind of kept a spoiler free site, we sort of made all the areas of it - you have to highlight text to view any spoilers that we have put on there. But basically if you don't want to see any spoilers you have to keep off the internet because they are bound to arise somewhere.

    Torin Douglas:
    And the media, do you think newspapers will do it, I mean broadcasters?

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Well I think the difficulty is if it's anywhere on radio or TV it's almost impossible to avoid it, it's for us to find on the net, but I mean if somebody just mentions it on a radio programme or whatever it is going to spoil it. However, I mean let's get real about this book it's not just what happens next in the sense of the sort of major incidents that matters, the cleverness about JK Rowling is the way that she structures the books and the way that she writes them, so that there'll be lots of detail that we'll want to find out about and lots of finding out about how Harry's developed and she says he's getting crosser and angrier and more adolescent and I think we all want to know how that comes over in print. So they'll be a lot of fun even if you did know the big news.

    Torin Douglas:
    Now we've got two questions linked to that. John Murphy from the UK says, as you've raised: "Who is expected to die in the new Harry Potter book?" And Philip Lickley from the United Kingdom questions: "Is it Hagrid that's likely to be killed off because Robbie Coltrane once mentioned he's only been put down for five films?" Now already we're moving into the speculation, how do you answer people like that Julia?

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Well I have to say I'm not predictive reader anyway, so I never sit down with a book and think what's going to happen next, I'm always totally in the hands of the author who leads me along. And I think in this case I'm not even prepared to hazard a guess about who's going to die and lots of children I've spoken to think it's going to be either Hermione or Ginny Weasley but I pointed out there are only two really strong female characters and I don't think JK Rowling's likely to kill off one of them, so I don't think it'll be one of them. And I don't think it will be Hagrid, I think he's too central to the drama.

    Jamie Lawrence:
    I think it's going to be Hagrid. I think we've been told that it won't be Ron or Hermione, at least not now, in this book, it's supposed to be a very big death and she hated writing it.

    Julia Eccleshare:
    She cried.

    Torin Douglas:
    Julia this connects up with something you said, this is from Ratch in Keighley in the UK: "Do you think if the books continue they get darker and more dramatic as the story progresses?"

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Well interestingly I think number 3 - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - is about as dark as you can get because in that Harry really confronts his parents' death and what happened to them and his feelings about his parents and I'm not sure that, in terms of sort of internal grief, you can go much further than that. I don't think Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was more dark than the Prisoner of Azkaban so I'm sort of open to this one, I'm not quite sure. I mean again JK has said that Harry gets angrier, there will be more strong emotions around, but I'm not sure it can get much darker.

    Jamie Lawrence:
    I think we are going to see a different side to Harry in book 5, I mean it was like in the Chamber of Secrets every single person who saw the Basilisk only got petrified, nobody died, so she was kind of setting us up for a more grisly side of Harry in the future books and obviously we saw that in the Prisoner of Azkaban, but I think we will see it more in the Order of the Phoenix.

    Julia Eccleshare:
    But we start from such a very high grisly point in the sense that there's Harry, who's only miraculously saved from the moment of his birth. So in a way it's not really getting darker we just have forgotten how dark the origins of the stories are.

    Torin Douglas:
    Fiona from Aberdeen asks: "Why are the books so popular? It's not exactly ground breaking storytelling." Jamie what do you think?

    Jamie Lawrence:
    I think it's just how it's so different from everything else and how they sort of tie the wizarding world in with the muggle world. You've got all the different issues, you've got the magic on its own, you've got quidditch - the game on broomsticks - but then you've also got the sort of social issues of it like when Voldermort was in power how many people were being controlled by the Imperius curse, so it kind of links in magic with everyday issues and kind of brings it together in a fantastic story.

    Torin Douglas:
    Julia?

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Well I think that's right but I think the crucial difference about what she does in the books compared to what other people do is the closeness of the magic and the everyday, so that we can all - I mean one of my favourite bits is the way that when all the conversation about quidditch is exactly like conversation about football or anybody else's passion, you get the best, the supermodel, it's like cars or anything else and it's so close and yet it's got that twist in it. That's a very clever thing to do and it means she's not just going off in some sort of airy fairy invention of her own, she's using something we all know and then just twisting it. And exactly the same is true with the school story settings, school stories traditionally have been very popular in children's books but hers is like a very familiar school story but just turned into something amazingly extraordinary.

    Torin Douglas:
    And of course there was the World Cup wasn't there, so you were then building on that whole phenomenon.

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Yes and anybody who's sort of entered into - you didn't even have to know much about the World Cup to feel so comfortable with everything she was creating and then surprise because she took it to a new dimension.

    Torin Douglas:
    We've got another live e-mail here from Kelly in the United Kingdom, Kelly Rider: "A lot of people are now attacking the Harry Potter series as overrated and just nonsense, do you agree with them?" Well I don't think you do but do you think the series is a useful tool in encouraging to read? Which side?

    Julia Eccleshare:
    It's more than a useful tool to encourage children to read, children who have not traditionally thought of themselves as readers now are reading Harry Potter and yes it is perfectly true that Harry Potter takes up a very large part of the children's book market but it is encouraging children to read once you've read one book you're more likely to read another book, it's encouraging children to think that reading is cool and that it's something they want to talk about - you hear conversations about Harry Potter between parents and children, between children and children, waiting at bus stops you hear people talking about what happened in the children's books, tell me when that ever happened before?

    Torin Douglas:
    And Jamie it's boys, I mean that was one of the phenomena that boys started to read from these books.

    Jamie Lawrence:
    Yes I think it happened with everybody, they are just the most amazing series of books. They've taken all the prizes, taken all the prizes for the book market and people have just started lapping up all of the merchandise as well and it's just brought in a whole new world of Harry Potter.

    Julia Eccleshare:
    It doesn't mean there aren't other wonderful children's books and I think the thing that we forget is that although we talk a lot about Harry Potter actually there is a lot of other reading going on as well. But it seems a shame that we should sort of criticise Harry Potter for being too successful.

    Torin Douglas:
    I mean you having invented the Smarties Prize .

    Julia Eccleshare:
    I didn't invent it.

    Torin Douglas:
    . I mean this must have come as a huge sort of .

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Well what was very interesting, we take great pride in the Smarties Prize, what happens is that the adult judges choose three books and then put them to a group of children and JK Rowling was a complete unknown and we read this book and we thought it was a very good book and we put it to the children and they chose it as the gold medal winner, children chose that book because they loved it so much. But we recognised its quality as well. And I think it has done a very good thing for children's reading.

    Torin Douglas:
    We've got another one here from somebody who calls themselves Mole in Newcastle: "The Harry Potter phenomenon is now so much bigger than JK Rowling ever intended, do you think it's possible for anyone, including her, to live up to the huge expectations now put on it?" Jamie.

    Jamie Lawrence:
    Well we didn't know about Harry Potter before it came out, we just can't tell what's going to come out next but I think she can definitely sort of keep going with Harry Potter. I mean every single book that she writes is going to be brilliant, I mean even if other people who are just normal casual readers of Harry Potter don't really like it as much as the others I think every single hardcore fan is just going to [indistinct words].

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Yes I mean whether it can live up to it, is a difficult question because of course it can't, in a sense, I mean just like is it worth it, I course in one sense no book series can be worth the amount of money it is, compared to all the other books, if you know what I mean. But on the other hand I think I'm agreeing slightly with Jamie, I think for her fans she has kept very, very steadfast and true and she has never - I think this is a great tribute to her - that she has never, despite the fact that the books moved from being, as it were, simple children's books into being a phenomenon for all readers, she didn't change how she writes, so in Goblet of Fire she's not writing with an eye to adult readers, she's still keeping true to her original audience, I think that's great credit to her and that's why the fans will go on reading them.

    Torin Douglas:
    A linked question from Judit Wild in Hungary: "I really like the adventures of this young wizard but I think the whole fuss around the new Harry Potter book makes it a simple marketing product." And there has, as we know, been an absolute furore all over the world about it, what do you think - have the marketing people taken over?

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Yes of course they have but that doesn't take away from the book at its core and this is what Rowling says herself, you know, she writes the books and that's what matters to her, she can't be responsible for the fact that the rest of the world has gone mad about it as something that you can market very successfully, for her what matters is the books and the readers and the interaction between them. And I think she's alright, I mean I think she's remained firm on that. And it's like everything else, I mean it's like with David Beckham - is he a good footballer or is he only a media star? You can't criticise the person for what they do just because the media then picks up on it.

    Torin Douglas:
    And she also said - I mean the interview this week - that actually she didn't really want any of the merchandising but in the days when the film started she didn't have the power to stop it.

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Who was she, you know, she was the author. And I mean it is a well known fact for creators of things that they do get taken out of your control. If we don't like the marketing of it in a sense that's the big question about marketing and how things are promoted but the fact of the matter is that's not her fault.

    Torin Douglas:
    Now as part of this whole marketing business booksellers are selling it at cut price and Andy James from Durham says: "Many big chain bookshops are selling this book at a loss. Independent bookshops and smaller authors can't compete. Is Harry Potter ruining the children's books market?" Julia.

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Well I don't think it is ruining the children's book market, I think it's a very specific issue about this book, partly because Waterstones were selling it at half price from the very beginning. That is a problem but I do think in a way it's rather looking a gift horse in the mouth, we have never - have we ever had a book printed, over two million copies printed in England? No we never have and surely we ought to be grateful, we're all worrying about how many people read, here we've got a huge market, everybody suddenly reading, I think it's a bit mingy to start then fussing about whether it's cutting out the independent children's bookshops. I think one has to think that Harry Potter, Jacqueline Wilson, Philip Pullman - all the big names in children's books at the moment - have done a powerful good for children's books, even if it may cause some new marketing dilemmas or some new selling dilemmas which haven't been thought of before.

    Torin Douglas:
    And Jamie the internet is obviously part of this in that they've been selling it on the internet cheap as well haven't they?

    Jamie Lawrence:
    I think that's just bound to happen with these kind of books, it is the fans that bring about these changes. I mean online bookshops do have the ability to sell at a cut down price considering they aren't paying all the overheads and trading from a high street store so they can - people can pre-order on sites like amazon.co.uk and they can pre-order and then it will arrive to them on the day, so they can save going to a party if they want to.

    Torin Douglas:
    Now what's boosted the success of the books - the books were successful but then the films came along and just added so much more to the whole phenomenon? And we've got a question here from Jusef Barracudla in Manchester: "Why are the film versions so popular when they're nowhere near as good as the books?"

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Well I think I'd take issue with that, not about them not being as good, I think they're not nearly as good, but I think actually the success of the books was enormous - number 4 - wouldn't you agree with that, that it was enormous long before the films came along. I think the books were where they were, I mean it is surprising to me that in fact that there were more sales of the books after the films because I thought everybody had already got their copies. But yes I mean the film perhaps added some incremental sales but the, as it were, profound success of the books, what caused the uprise of websites and the kind of work you've been doing on it, all was there from the books, nothing to do with the films.

    Jamie Lawrence:
    And I think the films - I mean every time something is translated into a film and is going to bring a tiny bit of extra magic to the book because you can see what's happening it adds to your own interpretation of the book.

    Torin Douglas:
    I mean it is wonderful that with all the computer graphics and so on you can actually get some of the effects that you may not have been able to get .

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Yes but I mean what's so odd that we're saying this and being critical about it but actually if you take the Lord of the Rings, which admittedly had a much longer life around before it turned into a film, I was talking with a group of children yesterday and they were reading Lord of the Rings - why? - because they'd seen the film and nobody criticises that, nobody sort of thinks the film is in a way confusing the issue. We have to be grateful, even if it's a different thing - the film's success that it is then taking children to reading.

    Torin Douglas:
    And we've got Chris Kinnen from Northern Ireland who's saying: "I began reading the books following the publicity surrounding the first movie. Do you think the movies have played any part in ensuring the success of the Potter books?"

    Julia Eccleshare:
    No because they were successful before. I mean I think they're an add on, I think the books would have kept their place without the films.

    Torin Douglas:
    We've got one from Arizona here in the States, Hannah in Arizona: "Who will play Dumbledore now that the actor is dead?" Jamie that's one for you.

    Jamie Lawrence:
    It's going to be Michael Gambon and he should be at Waterstones tonight, we've had confirmed.

    Torin Douglas:
    Oh really because Richard Harris sadly died.

    Jamie Lawrence:
    Very tragic.

    Julia Eccleshare:
    But Michael Gambon is a wonderful actor and I think he'll be a very, very - I'm looking forward to seeing him do Dumbledore.

    Torin Douglas:
    He's not a well known star, I mean people recognise him in lots of good sort of dramas and so on but he's not a big figure in the way that Richard Harris .

    Julia Eccleshare:
    He's a TV and theatre star isn't he, not a film star but he will.

    Torin Douglas:
    Well he will be indeed, no absolutely right. And Pieter Buijs from the UK: "Do you think that the current interest in the supernatural and the abandonment of Christian values is one of the reasons for the popularity of Harry Potter?" The supernatural and the abandonment of Christian values, there's a heavy one.

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Well I think that's sort of throwing a bit much at poor old Harry. I mean let's face it this is a simple school story with a bit of wizardry thrown in, I don't think it's got - I mean I think it has got deep issues and I think part of its strength is the deep issues about family and where you come from and belonging and identity and all of those things but I don't think it's really got a lot to do with Christianity and the supernatural.

    Jamie Lawrence:
    And I wouldn't say there's abandonment at all, I'd say there's encouraging and exploring - especially in the latest book, they're going to really specially take into account Harry's feelings which will be really .

    Torin Douglas:
    Dave in Bristol here is just saying: "Why are the books so popular in the light of the reduction in innocence of the average modern child?" Perhaps it's because there are so many other things that aren't innocent, what do you think?

    Julia Eccleshare:
    Yes I think that's got a lot to do with it, I think this is a very - it's very wholesome and I think part of people's worries about children at the moment is that childhood is not quite as wholesome as it once was and I think the appeal - all I know is that, as I say, with the Smarties Prize the children themselves loved it, there was something about Harry as a kind of perfect - the perfect storybook character comes from adversity to triumph through his own inner strength and a little bit of magic as well, in a situation which is quite like their own in that he's at school but it's a particular kind of school with the magic and a boarding school and I think children just responded to that. And I think he does play into the idea of childhood innocence and maybe that's why adults like it so much because it gives a vision. You see I think the books have had quite a powerful effect in changing people's attitudes to children and childhood because whereas traditionally up to that point in recent years children have been seen as rather brattish and disagreeable and badly behaved and yobbish and Kevin off the tele and all of that and suddenly we were presented with a delightful child with friends who were equally delightful and okay this is a story and okay perhaps it's a bit too golden but it did give a very good redress to the image of children and childhood.

    Torin Douglas:
    Alanna from New Zealand almost linked says: "Why hasn't the story ." and she doesn't say this but so far, ". have any love scenes?" Why no love scenes?

    Jamie Lawrence:
    Well I think it was originally written for children and although it is a book to be enjoyed by all ages I think they have to remember that the main market is for children and they can't have anything too strong in that.

    Julia Eccleshare:
    We have had a few love scenes..

    Torin Douglas:
    I was going to say in the last book .

    Julia Eccleshare:
    The Goblet of Fire there was Hagrid .

    Torin Douglas:
    . that's right they were starting to have something.

    Julia Eccleshare:
    .. yeah I mean Hagrid fancying Madame Maxime rather rashly and certainly some of the sort of stuff with the student from - yeah exactly. I think love has sort of been in the air.

    Torin Douglas:
    Perhaps they haven't quite got to New Zealand yet. And I'm afraid this our final e-mail from Karen Bryan in Grimsby in the UK: "Are you disappointed that JK Rowling says that there are only going to be seven books? Would you like to know what happens to Harry, Hermione and Ron when they leave school?" Jamie.

    Jamie Lawrence:
    I think she's going to tell us what's going to happen but I'm not so sure we're going to like it.

    Torin Douglas:
    Really and in the seventh book or .?

    Jamie Lawrence:
    In the seventh book I think everything's going to come to a climactic finish and we're going to find out what's happening to all of them.

    Torin Douglas:
    Really oh well.

    Jamie Lawrence:
    Or she might write something afterwards, I'm not sure.

    Julia Eccleshare:
    I don't think she'll write on afterwards, she's been absolutely clear that she sort of thought of it as a seven book series. It's a very ambitious thing for any writer to do - to age a child - that's practically unheard of in children's books, I mean they nearly always stay where they were and that keeps the core reader. So I think she had a ridiculously ambitious trajectory when she started and I think it's fantastic that she's fulfilled it. And I think she will finish it off in such a way that we are satisfied.

    Torin Douglas:
    But of course they're getting longer aren't they, I think when the last one was as long as it was we thought that was because she didn't have time to cut it but obviously not, this time she's had all the time she wanted and she's made it even longer.

    Julia Eccleshare:
    She's got a lot to say.

    Torin Douglas:
    Indeed. Well I'm afraid that's all we've got time for. Thanks to my guests: Julia Eccleshare and Jamie Lawrence. And thanks to all of you for sending in your e-mails and texts. Don't forget you can watch this forum or any of our previous ones by going to www.bbc.co.uk/talkingpoint. But for now from me Torin Douglas and the rest of the team goodbye.



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