Harry Potter


"Harry Potter tie-in volumes slip into stores"

by Bruce Deachman ("The Ottawa Citizen," March 13, 2001)

"Oh the thrill of the chase as I fly through the air, With the Snitch up ahead and the wind in my hair, As I draw ever closer, the crowd gives a shout, But then comes a Bludger and I am knocked out." -- Ingolfr the Iambic.

Most people won't have heard of Ingolfr, the early-15th-century Norwegian poet who allegedly penned these lines almost 600 years ago, but the subject is unmistakable, especially to the millions of Harry Potter fans throughout the world.

It refers to Quidditch, a game played by witches and warlocks since the early 1100s, with two teams, seven a side, zooming about on brooms, trying to catch the elusive, walnut-sized Snitch.

Quidditch Through the Ages is one of two slender volumes --the other is Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them -- to slip their way into bookstores yesterday, a pair of tie-ins to add to J.K. Rowling's cachet of amazingly successful Harry Potter books.

The first four in her series about Potter's adventures at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry have so far sold more than 60 million copies in 200 countries, each making it to the New York Times bestseller list and helping line Rowling's pockets to date with $62 million U.S. in earnings.

These two offshoot volumes, written by her under pseudonyms, are intended to raise money for Comic Relief, Rowling's pet charity. The British organization, unrelated to the American one of the same name, uses humour to fight poverty, and has raised $380 million since 1985.

According to publisher Raincoast Books, 400,000 copies of each title is being printed, with at least $4.60 from each $5.99 book going to Comic Relief.

"Rowling was approached by Comic Relief to help raise some money," said Raincoast Books' publicist Tessa Vanderkop yesterday, from Vancouver. "And these were two books that she said she had always wanted to do. So she asked her publishers to help with the project."

Vanderkop adds that their Vancouver warehouse has shipped all but 30,000 of the books already, and doesn't expect to see any returned. She also indicated that bookstores are buying the book on just half the normal margin, while others are donating even those profits.

"We're hoping to raise $3.8 million," she said. "You wouldn't believe the work that went into this. A lot of the book production food chain, the binders and printers and people who make the boxes, have all donated their services for this."

Written by alter-ego Kennilworthy Whisp, Quidditch Through the Ages was loaned for reprint from Hogwart's library (with little cooperation, it might be noted, from the school's librarian, Madam Pince), and offers a bit of everything about the game.

It first outlines the history of the flying broomstick, essential to the sport, and then goes on to explain the game's origins, most of the information for which was taken from the diary of Gertie Keddle, a 12th-century witch who lived on the edge of Queerditch Marsh and frequently witnessed a rudimentary form of the game being played.

Whisp, with diagrams, letters and reprinted news articles from the Daily Prophet, traces the evolution of Quidditch, explaining the rules, the different players' roles, the different balls used, and all the other minutiae necessary for the avid nine- to 12-year old reader.

He describes the 13 Quidditch teams currently competing annually in Britain and Ireland for the League Cup and, writing alarmingly similar to Rowling's intelligent and humorous style, follows the game's growth through the world's magical kingdom. Canada, Whisp notes, has produced three teams in which we Muggles, the term for humans, can be especially proud; the Moose Jaw Meteorites, the Stonewall Stormers, and the Haileybury Hammers.

Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them, now in its 52nd edition, was written by Newt Scamander and comes directly from Potter's own collection.

The author, now 104 and retired from his job at the Dragon Research and Restraint Bureau, was awarded the Order of Merlin, Second Class, in 1979, for his work in Magizoology.

The book, after briefly outlining some general information about beasts; what constitutes one, where they live, controls on breeding them, is essentially a dictionary of beasts. Two-thirds of the book is devoted to descriptions of everything from an Acromantula to a Yeti.

Most will be familiar to Potter fans. The Puffskein, for example, was one that Potter himself once owned, a soft, loveable custard-coloured scavenger which, while it will eat anything from leftovers to spiders, especially enjoys sticking its long, thin pink tongue up the noses of sleeping wizards, in search of bogies.

Fantastic Beasts is also annotated with hand-written notes that Potter has inked in the margins, nicely tying the reader back to the original novels.
About werewolves, for example, Potter has written "aren't all bad," a reference to the third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, in which the young warlock discovers that his favourite teacher is one.