Last Call on Platform 93/4

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

ON JULY 21, the wait will be over. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" will come out, and, assuming you can actually get your hands on one, there will never be another new Harry Potter book for your children to eagerly anticipate. Libraries and bookstores will decorate as if for Christmas. Cultural critics will bemoan that children can't be persuaded to read anything else.

In fact, J.K. Rowling's amazing ability to get young people to read is valuable in itself, as her American publisher's name, Scholastic, would imply. While there may be more abstract educational value in other tomes, there's a great deal to be said for inspiring the sort of page-turning passion that makes kids want to rip through a novel in a day and be hungry for more. Will it move them to a similar passion for Willa Cather or Vikram Seth as they get older? Who can say? Maybe today's Potter addicts someday will even read a newspaper.

Whatever the future of the printed page, the era of the Harry Potter Media Event is almost over. It's been a remarkable decade since "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" ("Sorcerer's Stone" in the States) changed life as we knew it in 1997. An unemployed single mother wrote books that made her almost as rich as Oprah and almost as beloved as the Beatles. Parents who used to have to bribe their children into reading suddenly found them attacking 300-, then 400-, 700- and 800-page books like ice cream in July. Not a few parents found themselves impatiently waiting for their turns. That's a rather impressive feat, even for a wizard.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company