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I guess we're lucky they didn't have to bring back the War Measures Act.

It seems some store in Coquitlam, B.C., accidentally sold 14 copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, before the holy minute of its corporate launch.


Before you could say Jack Robinson (or Dumbledore), Raincoast Books, the Canadian rep for Potter Inc., was in the B.C. Supreme court, asking for and getting an injunction that forbade anyone, including the innocent purchasers, from "displaying, reading [italics mine] offering for sale, selling, exhibiting in public" the aforesaid Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

We have state secrets in this country (or at least I hope we do) that would get this kind of high-powered, immediate and sweeping response. Someone could steal the NORAD command codes or, to keep this thing in context, the Kentucky Fried Chicken secret recipe of "11 herbs and spices" -- and I'd wager the legal response would be more tardy and less comprehensive.

The big deal about this particularly ill-named instalment of the Harry Potter franchise (I am surely not the only one who finds "half-blood" in the title of a book for children problematic) is that it is the subject of a global marketing blitz unprecedented in scale and fury.

It was to secure the success of the one-minute-past-midnight launch, meant to gather all the world's the little Potter-philes and their long-suffering Potter-parents, that Rowling Inc. put the muscle on any "breach" in the grand logistics of the massive publicity event. These folks may prattle all they wish about not wishing to "spoil it for the millions of Potter fans," but ordering some dozen kids who legally bought the book not to "read" it before 12:01 -- or else -- belongs more to Kafka than Alice in Wonderland.

The speed of the legal work to protect what is essentially just a hyped-up marketing campaign is also remarkable. The legal force evidently available to prevent anyone, prior to launch time, from sampling the familiar prose of the series -- "the biggest thing since the Beatles" -- was quite astonishing.

Another tyke in upstate New York, a nine-year-old, was also unlucky enough to buy the book a little early. He got to page two before the empire struck back. He and his parents returned the book.

At least two actual adults have also been "lucky." One, Andrew Rauscher of Indianapolis, age 25, scored an early purchase, and, scofflaw and bibliophile that is, he's actually reading it. Up to Chapter 18, according to the news report. The sky will darken and a plague of semicolons will cover the Earth! I think the Pope is onto something here: Harry Potter, at least in its marketing stage, is dangerous.

Essentially, this is because, whatever merit Harry Potter may have had in its early and innocent days, it has long since wandered out of the realm of a good piece of fiction for young people, and into the drear territory of mass hype and 21st-century multimedia marketing.

It's being peddled every which way. It's a movie, it's a toy, it's a book, it's a phenomenon. So all the alarm over a few kids reading a few pages before the "official launch" is mere sputter. The sun would not have stayed its rising this morning, nor would the fogs have ceased to settle on Placentia Bay, if one or a hundred kids already half knew the plot of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

But what it may have been and what it has become are in opposing categories. Literature, for children or adults, is, at its primary level, meant for the individual imagination. The reading of a good book is a most autonomous experience. The contact between story and reader, between style and reader, is singular and distinct. Literature is a sharpening of the individual consciousness, and in its finer operations, especially for the young, the opening of the reader's individual powers of discrimination, taste, judgment and confidence.

It is not, nor can it be, by the very laws of imagination that govern real reading, a mob event. The Harry Potter phenomenon is anti-literature. It employs the same mass techniques, the same mass-marketing hypersell, that every other disposable amusement and trinket in our already vastly overselling world employs. It's a "brand" in the derogatory sense of that word. It's a group response with all the Pavlovian stigmata.

Young people are rushing to buy Harry Potter with the same fever that, a few years ago, they would line up for Britney Spears or the latest blockbuster teen movie.

Harry Potter has been "translated" from a good, lively and inventive read into another precociously over-amped commodity, barricaded with lawyers and publicists and all the add-ons of a ruthlessly commercial enterprise.

So they got their injunction. Good for them. For a couple of days, anyway, a dozen or so kids were kept from the herd.

Rex Murphy is a commentator with CBC-TV's The National and host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup.