Author Rowling leading the next British invasion

What can we make of a situation where young Americans are staying up past any reasonable bedtime? Where their parents simply go along? Where kids are caught up in an international craze that sweeps them away into an elaborate fantasy world?

Harry Potter, it would appear, is rather a hit with young people. The fictional British boy is a mystery to most adults, but he seems to have had quite an effect on the Summer of 2000. In Snohomish and Island counties and across America, thousands of children, especially those in the late elementary grade range, are throwing themselves into his adventures.

Thousands of kids and their parents stayed up late for Saturday’s 12:01 a.m. release of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the latest installment in the book series. The eager boys and girls couldn’t wait to tackle a 734-page novel.

Hurray for Harry, then.

And when you think about it, hurray for the author, J.K. Rowling. She has definitely become a success, even a celebrity (though she pretty much tries to ignore the attention). A few years ago, however, she was a middle-class, university-educated woman going through a difficult divorce and depression. She was a poverty-stricken single mum on the dole – Britain’s welfare allotment. Then she started writing stories that, she insists, are simply designed to meet her own ideas of a fun tale.

The books are British to the core. Harry even lives in that most English of institutions, a boarding school. But kids here and everywhere love the drama of a lonely, orphaned young boy who uses his magical powers and becomes a hero.

Rowling, at age 34, is pretty much having the world thrown at her. So far, at least, she seems to be winning the battle to retain her own identity and the authenticity of her work. She continues to write first drafts of her books in long hand, often at favorite coffee shops in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she lives.

Steven Spielberg engaged in several conversations with her about making Harry into one of his movies. It never went anywhere, she told the New York Times, because she wanted the film to be her own vision.

There is speculation that, because of her popularity in the United States, Rowling will now add American elements to her stories. No, she says, exchange students from Texas won’t suddenly pop by Harry’s school. And, heavens no, there won’t be any fast-food toy tie-ins.

The quality of Rowling’s writing has won over young readers and book reviewers alike. There’s no need to alter her stories to meet some consultant’s idea of what will sell. Young Harry is enough to make kids around the Puget Sound area (and their parents) smile as they turn to Rowling’s enchantingly foreign yet familiar books.

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