Monday, 16 July 2007

"For some people to love it, other people must loathe it."

T his will be the first time I've ever written about Harry Potter. I watched The Prisoner of Azkaban on saturday as our local tv channel makes its build-up to the big release of the fifth movie here in a few days and I really must say how grand it all is. Most of the books have passed through our house and have been loved on and off, but bloody hell, where did those ten years go?

I went to Wikipedia to review the score. There were to be seven books and there turned out to be seven, the last to be released at the end of this week. Five movies so far, the fifth released last week, with two in the pipeline. All with the same principal actors, allowing for losing a couple of old people, and since they all hide behind beards anyway, who's to know? What could the chances have been of everything working out so perfectly? And don't you just love the lady herself!

J K Rowling is "the first person to become a US-dollar billionaire by writing books." and "In 2006, Forbes named her the second richest female entertainer in the world, behind talk show host Oprah Winfrey."
Success of any sort wasn't obvious at the start: "the book was handed to twelve publishing houses, all of which rejected it."
I like the way Rowling has stuck to her guns on many issues:
Rowling has not allowed the first six Potter stories to be released as e-books and has no plans to change that for the seventh and final work. I applaud! (I stuck to that too in a contractual discussion, but it was only when I pointed out to Random House Australia that neither they nor I could ever be bothered to scan all of From Hell that they realised there was nothing to argue about.)
And regrets the one she let go:
Scholastic published Philosopher’s Stone in the US under the title of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: a change Rowling claims she now regrets and would have fought if she had been in a better position at the time.
I have oft wondered if the editors at Scholastic thought it didn't matter what it was called, or worse, that they didn't know what the philosopher's stone actually is, and never thought of looking it up. Worst of all, maybe they never read The Fabulous Philosopher's Stone, the full-length 1955 comic book Uncle Scrooge story by Carl Barks.

But she got her way with Warner's:
In contrast to the treatment of most authors by Hollywood studios, Warner Bros. took considerable notice of Rowling's desires and thoughts in their attempt to bring her books to the screen. One of her principal stipulations was the films be shot in Britain with an all-British cast, which has so far been adhered to strictly. In an unprecedented move, Rowling also demanded that Coca-Cola, the victor in the race to tie-in their products to the film series, donate $18 million to the American charity Reading is Fundamental, as well as a number of community charity programs.
Warner's won a few points too:
Rowling's first choice for the director of the first Harry Potter film had been Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam, being a fan of Gilliam's work. Warner Bros. studios wanted a more family friendly film, however, and eventually they settled for Chris Columbus.

If I recall correctly, Potter was Robbie Coltrane's next gig after From Hell, and regarding the all-British cast thing, and no disrespect to the acting abilities meant here, Robbie would have been my choice for Abberline instead of Depp (and any of the British actresses on the set instead of Heather Graham). But those American studios will insist on US actors. Once again, huge applause to Rowling and her support team for winning that one. Me, I just took the money and ran. I'm left with the conviction that Rowling's deserved success can be attributed before anything else to her love for the books she has written, and a suspicion that if the rest of us loved ours more we could go farther. A sharp and honest wit does no harm either: "Anyone who thinks I could (or would) have 'veto-ed' [Spielberg] needs their Quick-Quotes Quill serviced."

The new movie is packing them in:
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Warner Bros. fantasy sequel "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" conjured up a $77.4 million debut to lead the weekend box office,according to studio estimates Sunday. That raised the movie's total domestic gross to $140 million since opening Wednesday. "Order of the Phoenix" also has taken in an additional $190.3 million in 44 other countries where it began rolling out Wednesday.

The Times of India speculates on the contents of the final book:When an off-camera filmmaker congratulates her, Rowling admits that there will be some Potter fans who will 'loathe' the book. "Some people will loathe it, they will absolutely loathe it. For some people to love it, other people must loathe it. That's just in the nature of the plot," the Scotsman quoted her, as saying. And though Rowling insists in the documentary that she's "actually really, really happy with it", a moment later she bows her head on the keyboard and says: "Oh my God!"
Rowling, who confessed that she "sobbed her heart out" and drank a half bottle of champagne shortly after ending the book, has already warned fans that two main characters will die in the final book in the series.

Isn't it great how it's making kids actually sit down and READ!:
Meanwhile, nearly a fifth of Potter fans say they will skip straight to the last page of the final book to find out what happens to the boy wizard, a survey showed on Saturday.
And then it will all be over:
Nine out of 10 think it will be sadder saying goodbye to Harry than Prime Minister Tony Blair, the survey said.
*******

The Tintin furore: brilliant piece by India Knight in the Sunday Times. (link thanks to mr j):
Books stand as testament to the errors and horrors of history. They are vitally important.

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23 Comments:

Blogger spacedlaw said...

Not every well known author chooses to stay away from the e-books. Stephen King is a famous example but Nobel Prize winner Elfried Jelinek also opted to put the chapters of her new books on her blog (all three of them so far but in German).

16 July 2007 12:31:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Kelly Kilmer said...

Um, is it July 21st yet?

16 July 2007 1:40:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Christopher Moonlight said...

Faith and I saw it today, for my birthday. Pretty good, but in the end I felt like I was just being run through the plot points that will get us to the next film. They never gave time to let anything that happened set in. We still liked it though, and we can't wait until the last book (I have to get it on tape, for the only time I have to myself is when I'm driving, or working from home) but Faith pointed out that after that, she'll be sad that it's all done with. Here's hoping that Harry doesn't die, because getting the girl is always better then seeing mom and dad again. Besides, they'll still be there when he dies of old age. Right?

16 July 2007 2:02:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous John C said...

You won't scan the pages but your indefatigable fans will. I've seen copies of From Hell online before now. If they're as shoddy as the copy of my Call of Cthulhu that's circulating (which somehow looks like it was printed in purple ink) I wouldn't worry too much.

The NYT had an ambivalent piece about the Potter fans who read the books then never bother with anything else but I expect it's inevitable they'd find readers like that given the huge volume of sales.

16 July 2007 5:20:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll sound a sour note here and just say the Bloomsbury, who publish Harry Potter, have made it nigh-on impossible for booksellers to make a profit on the bestselling books of the past decade, in the UK at least.

I've nothing against supermarkets selling books but when Bloomsbury enable them to make it such a loss-leader by awarding massive discounts, (so the book sells at less than half-price), the bookstores get stuffed as they can't compete, particularly the independents and small bookshops as Bloomsbury won't shift from their standard terms on the title. What's more Bloomsbury have limited the returns on the book to 10%, which means no one can return all those unsold copies and has to leave them on the shelf for years (and trust me with those quantities plenty hardback Harry's never shift and are then junked when the paperback comes out).

Bloomsbury however may well reap what they have sown, as so far they have failed to do anything much with their vast profits besides get a nice new office. There's been very little development of their backlist and when the Potter train stops running in a couple of years and returns from the book reflect those of other former-bestsellers, they may find many booksellers not so keen to promote their authors when they got treated so badly this time round.

The amount of bad blood (let alone half-blood) the Potter books have produced in the industry is very high. Especially when everyone recognises what Rowling has done to get kids reading.

Moan over.

Ben Smith

16 July 2007 6:10:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Ben
The rigorous jounalistic side of my brain was wondering about that side of the story. I've only been involved with 'book' publishers twice and on both occasions i"ve been up to my eyeballs in absurd 'rules' and restrictions. I never understand how they got made or who is supposed to be policing them, but they are invariably a pain in the arse. I do know that the poor old author is at a loss to justify or explain them, and certainly in no position to be permitted whatsoever to do any good between publisher and retailer. With my past experience as a publisher where I have personally got involved in a couple of messes (such as the customs ban on From Hell in Australia) I can sympathise.
Eddie

16 July 2007 6:27:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

On the other hand,

the book business is so bloody stupid I don't know how it succeeds at all. Most books don't seem to make any money from what i can see. If a publisher acts irrationally greedy over its one winner, I can't bring myself to condemn them at all.

Eddie two-face

(I'm currently caught halfway, trying to explain the comics biz to the book people. I don't think they completely get it. on the other hand, comics retailers are looking enviably at this 'returnable' thing of the book world. The comics world has forgotten how it came about in the first place. believe me, it's all a pain in the ass. that's why I got out of publishing. Also, I realize, before somebody points it out, that every time I say why I got out i phrase it completely differently. And if I continue I'll phrase it differently again,)

16 July 2007 6:39:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger spacedlaw said...

Eddie,
Have you seen this ?

16 July 2007 8:37:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Aaron said...

How could you applaud the ban on ebooks? I don't get that. Why would you turn down another way for users to read your prose, another way to get money in your hand, etc.?

I do almost all of my prose reading on a mobile device of some sort. I just don't have the space to shlep all these heavy tomes with me. Not only that, I like having a dictionary integrated into my reader so if I stumble on a word, I can look it up right then and there.

And for all of her anti-ebook stuff, the Potter books are all online, pictures and all, and usually the day of release. So instead of profiting on that, people are grabbing her work for free anyway.

bah!

16 July 2007 8:48:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eddie,

It's that old biting the hand that feeds you thing. As Bloomsbury don't have any other titles that the supermarkets are going to take, unless lightening strikes twice, it's the regular bookshops who will be able to promote their titles (or not). In the past at least it's been a symbiotic thing, but the Potter bonanza has seen them do effectively do without the bookshops. Perhaps with bookshops' general decline in sales in favour of the internet they'll be proved right, and will be seen to have done the wise thing in turning their back on the highstreet and backstreet shops. But frankly I doubt it. After all they issued a profits warning last year when there was no new Potter book available and there was nothing to take it's place.

Ben Smith

16 July 2007 8:55:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Johnny Walker said...

It's nice to see Ms. Rowling getting some love here. I remember reading Alan Moore complaining that he'd attempted Philosopher's Stone and, while wishing the lady all the best, couldn't see what the fuss was about and promptly gave up.

It's a shame because, as readers know, the books are written with the audience in mind; which along with the characters, have steadily grown up. The first book is almost painful to read (although I can imagine it was a breath of fresh-air to parents used to reading "Huey Kablooie" to their younguns), but thankfully it is short and sweet. The second isn't a marvel, but the third is genius. The fourth is perhaps even better, and while the fifth needs a huge chunk lopped out of the beginning, the remaining bits, and the whole of book six, are also fabulous.

What's absolutely amazing to me is the skill with which her stories unravel, constantly teasing you into thinking one thing, and then pulling the rug out just when you think "aha!, I've figured it out!".

Another wonderful touch is the authenticity of the characters. That sounds perhaps a little silly about a book that features such diverse creatures as half-giants and shape-shifting humans, but the thoughts and feelings of being a teenager are perfectly captured, and those, in themselves, were enough to entertain. It's amazing that someone should remember so vividly those anxieties and thought-processes from when we were younger.

I just watched the most recent film and it's happily reminded me why I love Potter so much. The director might have failed it, in some respects, but everyone else is so adept at what they're doing, (main cast, dp, editor, special effects, etc) he gets away with it. Imelda Staunton is actually better than her character in the book (a series first, I think), a fantastic performance from an underused actress.

Well, it's only a week until I read the final book, and hopefully I'll manage to avoid the annoying twats who (and I'm sure this happens only in England), will undoubtedly go out of their way to spoil the ending for other people. *sigh*

(Did anyone else hear about the people who stood on motorway embankments with signs held up revealing the end to the last book? I'm surprised someone didn't "accidentally" swerve and hit one.)

PS - Eddie, I managed to get my blog sorted in the end, yay!

16 July 2007 8:57:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good lord, even the supermarkets aren't happy about Potter. To wit, from the Bookseller magazine:

"Asda has pledged to sell the final instalment in the Harry Potter series for "the lowest price in the land". The supermarket has also promised that around half a million copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be in store when the book goes on sale at midnight on Friday.

Peter Pritchard, director of general merchandise at Asda, accused Bloomsbury of hiking up the RRP for the seventh book in the series. "By setting the RRP at this level it can only be seen as blatant profiteering on their part," he said. Bloomsbury is expected to issue a rebuttal to the comment later today."

I guess it's the last book so they can burn any bridge they want.

Ben Smith

16 July 2007 11:15:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger spacedlaw said...

Meanwhile,this is happening... And it didn't even spell "scrotum". This is a MAD world.

16 July 2007 2:08:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Johnny Walker said...

They were speculating that the stores might break the sales date because... what can Bloomsbury do to stop them? It's the last book, nothing is ever going to come close.

16 July 2007 2:42:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Steph said...

Confession of a Harry Potter fanatic:
On my 11th birthday I waited for my Hogwarts owl. Convinced they had merely overlooked me by accident, I waited the day after as well.
It will be tragic when it finally ends. It's been part of my life for so long actually.
I am in fact chosing not to attend a vital english study day at school because taht is the release date of my dear Harry Potter #7. Harry Potter day! Only happens once. Who cares about senior exams?
:(
I am still waiting for my owl.

16 July 2007 6:12:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Pete Ashton said...

"They were speculating that the stores might break the sales date because... what can Bloomsbury do to stop them? It's the last book, nothing is ever going to come close."

Well, there's the paperback. That's actually a bigger deal in many cases, especially as it's not so widely discounted.

16 July 2007 6:31:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous not rc harvey said...

Why would you turn down another way for users to read your prose

You think he should just transcribe the word balloons?

16 July 2007 7:33:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Johnny Walker said...

Steph: I'm sure your owl will appear one day and take you into a magical world, he might just not appear as an owl... (was that too saccharine?)

pete ashton: Pete, I don't think the paperback is going to be as big a deal, as I doubt there's many people _waiting_ to buy it. It might be better long-term seller, but the shops are thinking about the millions of copies that they're going to sell in one day, and don't want to miss out people going into their stores.

It'll be interesting to see if anyone does break the date,

17 July 2007 5:17:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Steph said...

Johnny: Bah! It's owl or nothing!


And most Harry Potter fans don't care about hardback vs. paperback. It's about whatever's cheapest or available. So if they print more paperbacks (is it cheaper?) they'll sell more paperbacks. It's not like kids are going "OH WOW PAPERBACKS GOD YES!"

I'd also like to say that I actually have the American edition of teh first Harry Potter book "The Sorcerer's Stone." Better cover; interesting art by someone named Mary GrandPre. The only other difference appears to be that they say the word "ketchup", although I'm just assuming that wasn't in the other edition. Would such a 'translation' really be necessary?

Looky what I finds, preciouses:
"An American writer has claimed the Harry Potter books are based on the story of Christ.

Abigail BeauSeigneur, the daughter of science fiction author and former Republican candidate James BeauSeigneur, is predicting the schoolboy wizard will die and be resurrected at the end of the seventh and final book.

Previous Harry Potter books have been attacked in the US for promoting devil worship."

http://news.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=1114032007


Why can't religion just leave my beloved books alone?
While I'm talking about both religion and fantasy I just feel like saying that apparently (according to a doco) "The Lord of the Rings" was the highest selling book of the 20th century after the Bible.
(Fundamentalist Christians stick THAT in your dogmatic pipe and smoke it! Haha)

17 July 2007 6:36:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous John C said...

It's very easy to read Christian metaphor into LotR, I'm afraid, and people have been doing that for years even though Tolkien famously said "don't mess with the allegory and the allegory won't mess with you."

His fellows Inklings in Oxford--CS Lewis and Charles Williams--both wrote novels that are very explicit Christian fantasies, Narnia being the famous example. JRRT was a bit more subtle but it's still easy to map a Manichean reading over Middle Earth. Gandalf is resurrected, right?

Charles Williams' books are very under-read and under-rated these days, in many ways he's the most interesting of the three. Many Dimensions is a curious thing with an almost science fiction plot, Islamic mysticism and Muslim heroes (despite the author's Christian faith).

17 July 2007 12:11:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Pete Ashton said...

Johnny Walker, re the paperback.

Sure, it's not a big event like the hardback but it's still a significant thing. Bloomsbury could punish early sellers by docking their discount on the paperback, for example. It's not a huge punishment, I grant you.

But yeah, it'll be interesting to see if any of the supermarkets break the embargo since they consider themselves invulnerable.

17 July 2007 2:41:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

john C.
we did have to scan the whole thing in the end. re my arguing with them about the e-book, now that I think about it I've nothing against it in principal, though i 'd probably still delete it off any contract I see just to be a pain in the arse. if they want it back they'll have to use language to construct an argument. I was getting pissed off with them that they were arguing about the thing without having checked how much work would be involved to make it happen. ON principal, I argue with them about everything until they stop and think about what they're dealing with. My latest one is the way they use the word 'manuscript' to refer to anything that precedes the 'galley' of the book. For instance, they will probably refer to the folder of xeroxes of my new book which i intend to have at san Diego, as the 'manuscript'. IN magazine terms it would be simply the'dummy', and that would suit me fine. I personally would never even refer to a typescript as a manuscript, though i see it done all the time, being very precious about the English language. MY point is the book people won't win with the 'graphic novel' unless they stop thinking of it as just another book. (I realise that's off the Harry potter topic, but it's something that comes up here from time to time, and it's always bugging me in one way or another.)

I confess I haven't been following the whole debate about how the book is sold, though i probably should have been, being in the book business and all, if only obliquely. I'll have to go back and look at all the moves from the beginning. If there's an article on it somebody let me know and save me time.

Johnny,
Did Alan say he tried to read the philosopher's stone, or tried to USE it?

17 July 2007 5:32:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous John C said...

Manuscript: publishing has a number of antiquated hangovers like that which you tend not to notice, Upper Case and Lower Case in typesetting being one example, referring to the cases that typesetters used to keep the metal type in.

For the record, we at Savoy always refer to a pre-press book as a "dummy".

17 July 2007 9:39:00 pm GMT-5  

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