The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Harry Potter analysis: Who will die? Who will survive? … in publishing

May 11, 2007

Jeffrey Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal investigates the non-fiction bandwagon around the Harry Potter franchise.

When J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” hits bookstores July 21, it will, as virtually everyone knows, mark the end of a 10-year run of seven books that have made publishing history.

But the series has spawned a whole literary ecosystem, with new offshoots expected to spring up as never before during these next few months. Hordes of adventuresome publishers are out there already, and others will be trying to cash in with books that predict what could happen in the final Potter title, provide behind-the-scenes analysis, or just plain ride piggy-back.

At least a dozen new or updated Harry Potter-related titles will likely be published this year, according to Cambridge Information Group Inc.’s R.R. Bowker. These aren’t the kind of faux Potter fantasy tales that are posted on the Web, though there are plenty of those.

Trachtenberg called me for the story and faced the unenviable task of trying to extract a “short” sentence from me (I actually apologized repeatedly; it was that difficult). The big question: what will be the fate of Harry Potter fan non-fic as the last book and films get released?

But the likelihood of a short shelf life isn’t stopping publishers from moving quickly while interest is still high. “My suspicion is that there will be a rush of books after the series ends,” says Daniel Nexon, an assistant professor in the government department at Georgetown University who co-edited “Harry Potter and International Relations”published last year by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc. “Having the final book out will generate a lot of buzz, and they’ll look at that frenzy as one last big marketing opportunity.”

Book retailers are also mindful that nothing drives traffic to their stores like Harry Potter. Borders Group Inc., the nation’s second largest book chain, has struck exclusive deals to sell two related Potter books: “The Great Snape Debate” and “The Unauthorized Harry Potter.” The first has a gimmick that harks back to the early days of science fiction: the book must be turned upside down in order to read the counter argument regarding Snape’s allegiances. The second title offers a broad perspective on various subjects Ms. Rowling has raised in her six published books.

I argued later in the interview that Harry Potter is such a landmark in popular culture and literary fiction that we shouldn’t expect that production of Potter analysis to cease in the near future.

Trachtenberg didn’t quote me to that effect, but he did quote someone else making a similar point

Still, some caution against underestimating the passion of Harry Potter readers. Mr. Granger, an English teacher at Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pa., says academics will attempt to fix Ms. Rowling’s place in the cultural firmament, much as they continue to do so for such writers as Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie. “I’m fairly certain Potter-mania will not go the way of disco and the hula- hoop,” says Mr. Granger, who is currently working on “Harry Meets Hamlet and Scrooge,” that will explore Harry’s literary antecedents.

So I ask for your thoughts. On a continuum between, say, Krull and Shakespeare, where does the scholarly fate of Harry Potter fall?

… In case the hyperlink above wasn’t obvious enough, let me plug the book again. The sales rank is the worst it has been in a while, so now’s the time to buy that copy of Harry Potter and International Relationsthat you’ve always wanted.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.