Harry Potter and Why I'm Rubber and You're Glue

The final battle is upon us. Not that final battle, for which you'll still have to wait until midnight (or risk permanent eyestrain from reading poorly photographed pages), but rather the battle between healthy adult fans of Harry Potter who can handle the fact that the some newspapers have published early reviews of Deathly Hallows and obsessive lunatics who are still freaking out like someone just told them that Santa Claus raped the Tooth Fairy. I think you know which side I'm on.

To recap, the Huffington Post iteration of this debate began when Rachel Sklar got all Bellatrix LeStrange on the New York Times, and continued with me gently suggesting that Sklar have a butterbeer and a nice lie down. Now John
Neffinger responds
that I am "all wrong." (Sorry, I'm out of half-clever allusions.)

Unfortunately for Neffinger, he can't make his point without referring to Deathly Hallows as J.K. Rowling's "final gift to her people," a phrase that says more than I ever could about his utter lack of perspective.

His complaint is that while I "suppose" that the issue at hand is that "readers don't want to know anything about the book in advance" the real issue is that "this release is an intensely exciting
experience shared among that community of readers" and that it's vitally important to this community that nobody, even those outside the community, should know anything in advance "so its arrival can be experienced by everyone all at once."

First of all, I didn't just suppose what the issue was. I read it, from Harry Potter fans themselves, over and over again. "[We] desperately just want to enjoy the final book without knowledge or hint of what is coming," says a typical e-mail complaint to the Times in the Public Editor column Neffinger himself links to.

But let's consider the "respect the community" angle. Neffinger's evidence for the vitality and significance of this community is the "parties around the world" that will celebrate the release of the book. While these parties certainly generate a lot of media attention, it's safe to say that only a small minority of the millions of people who will read the book will actually attend one of these midnight gatherings. And of that minority, only a smaller minority also read the New York Times. And of that smaller minority, only the tiniest fraction, I hope, are incapable of realizing that when they click on a link to a book review they are likely to find themselves reading a book review.

The New York Times does not exist to cater the the whims of Harry Potter cultists. It exists to serve its readers, most of whom are probably people, like myself, who have read and enjoyed the Potter books, who plan to read the new one, and who don't want to know in advance What Happens, but who value thoughtful reviews that address the quality of the book and the question of whether it is a satisfying ending to the series. Such matters qualify as news, and this is what newspapers are in the business of publishing. I respect the feelings of Potter fans who don't want to read any of this in advance, or who even wish that no one would, but why, exactly, should they get to be the ones who call the shots?

The thing is, as passionately as the Potter community feels about the value of this shared experience -- so passionately that they insist the rest of us should make sacrifices out of respect to them -- there are an equal number of Americans (if not more) who feel even more passionately that the Harry Potter books should never have been published at all. As much as fundamentalist Potter fans are offended by leaks and early reviews, many fundamentalist Christians are far more offended that "Potter promotes an interest in magic and the occult" despite the fact that "God is clear in Scripture that any practice of magic is an 'abomination' to him." Potter fans say newspapers should respect the authority of J.K. Rowling or "magic" or childhood wonder; Fundamentalist Christians say publishers should respect the authority of God -- who has been commanding a devoted following for far longer than J.K. Rowling, and thus has a better claim to it.

Fortunately in this country passionate minorities, or even majorities, don't get to make the rules for everyone.

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