Thursday, August 3, 2006
Emerson Spartz stood in the lobby of Radio City Music Hall on Tuesday night, surrounded by a crowd of teenagers eager for his autograph. The teens were part of an audience of some 6,000 Harry Potter fans, about half of them kids, who had just heard J.K. Rowling do a rare public reading in the United States.
You might have thought Spartz is an actor in the films about the boy wizard. He isn't, though he certainly is a celebrity. Seven years ago, when Spartz was 12 years old and living with his family in northwest Indiana, he started a Web site called Mugglenet.com. Today, it is the largest Potter-related fan Web site, he says, with 20 million page views every month.
"You don't understand," says Samantha Friedman, who was waiting for Spartz to sign her ticket. "He brings us fans together. Plus, he's met J.K. Rowling, so when you touch him" -- and here she reached out and touched Spartz's shoulder -- "you're touching someone who has touched her."
At the reading on Tuesday, fans in the crowd shrieked with delight when Rowling walked onstage and sat in a ornate and regal chair lined with red velvet. She read from her most recent book, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," and then took questions from fans, many of whom wanted hints about what will become of Harry in the seventh and final installment.
"I will miss Harry," was about the most revealing comment she made on the subject. "I will go through a mourning period, then I will have to think of something else to write."
Potter might not survive, but you get the sense that Mugglenet.com will be around forever. Spartz says the site started thriving a few years ago. Today, he writes less of what's on the site, instead managing the ever-growing team of contributors who volunteer time and expertise.
"I think it worked because I began to act more like an administrator," says Spartz, who is about to enter his sophomore year at the University of Notre Dame. "It just exploded after that."
Scholastic, which publishes the Potter series in the United States, has sent Spartz around the country to appear in bookstores for readings and question-and-answer sessions. And when Rowling began to publicize "Half-Blood Prince" last year, she called the Spartz house one morning and asked to speak to Emerson.
"I got on the phone and she started to convince me that it was really her," Spartz recalls. "But I recognized her voice right away."
He and the founder of The-leaky-cauldron.org, another fan site, were invited to Scotland to interview Rowling. Since then, he has appeared on TV dozens of times, and he is invariably asked the same question: What is her house like?
"It's a castle," he said with a straight face Tuesday night.
"No," he said. "Just kidding."
-- David Segal