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Tony Grist

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The Potter Effect [Jul. 23rd, 2007|09:09 am]
Tony Grist
The publishers are busily looking for the next Harry Potter. I doubt if they'll find him.

There have been several contenders already- The Pullman trilogy, the Lemony Snickett series, the Artemis Fowle books. They've all been successful, but none of them has come near repeating the Potter effect.

International, cross-cultural, intergenerational, cultic-  causing obsession, causing 36 hour queues for product, making the headlines.
Marketing has a role to play, but you've got to have a decent product first- a product that a significant number of people have fallen in love with.

Rowling came from nowhere- an untried author who was rejected several times before getting a deal with a small-time publishing house.  Her success is implausible, a-million-to-one. 

Why Harry? Why not? These enthusiams sweep the world from time to time. You can trace them back through history. It's not just about books. People fall in love with all sorts of  cultural products. The last really big one was Star Wars. And before that there was Beatlemania and before that James Bond and Sherlock Holmes and the serial novels of Charles Dickens. People thronged  the quayside in New York as the boat came in carrying the latest issue of Old Curiosity Shop and shouted up at the passengers, "Is little Nell dead?" No concern about spoilers there.

You can't go any further back because the phenomenon depends on modern communications.

It's a feature of all these fandoms or whatever you want to call them that the product is doled out in installments, with the public always expecting and wanting more- another album, a further episode, the next movie. The relationship builds from year to year. The fan lives alongside her heroes in real time. And it's a reciprocal relationship- with give and take between creator and audience. The "author" becomes a celebrity- gives interviews, bats away speculation- Conan Doyle brings Sherlock Holmes back from the dead because of pressure from his readers. And it gets to be quite erotic too. The Beatles have to hide their real marriages so as not to upset the fans, girls queuing outside Waterstones say (only half joking) that they want to marry Harry Potter.

(And then there's fanfic. And slash.)

Another common element is that all the biggest fandoms centre on work that's really quite good. We still read Dickens, we still listen to the Beatles, the James Bond franchise is still lumbering on. The public en masse turns out to have pretty good taste. I can't think of an instance where the idolised work was total dreck. Star Wars? Well, The later  movies were dreadful, but the first ones weren't.

And one of the indices of their quality is that all these fandoms gave us something new.  None of them repeated the success of an earlier franchise. They weren't carbon copies. Which is why all those publishers who are looking for something as much like Harry Potter as possible are barking up the wrong tree.

The next big thing could be anything. And it will take us by surprise.

[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-07-23 03:50 pm (UTC)
I thought of putting Peter Pan on the list but it's only one book/play and not a series.

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[User Picture]From: mummm
2007-07-23 03:57 pm (UTC)
Oh that's true. Peter is very lasting though. That one goes on the Children's Classics list.

I'm trying to remember the series books... Little Women was only one book, yes?
We also had the Nancy Drew series and The Hardy Boys. My brain does not function too well on many things. WAY back there were books about elves... but I just can't remember the names of those books! I have them somewhere...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-07-23 05:52 pm (UTC)
Little Women was one of a series I think.

Some of these series don't have much currency beyond the USA. I don't think British kids have ever had much contact with Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. The British equivalent would probably be Enid Blyton's "Famous Five" mysteries.

A series about Elves? No you've got me there....

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[User Picture]From: mummm
2007-07-23 06:11 pm (UTC)

So sorry about the American references.

Oh dear... they were BROWNIES... no elves. I have several of these books. I am guessing that they have some worth.

Oh and... Hans Christian Andersons books are still great ones.

The American ones were ones I grew up with. I live *somewhere else* at times to not realize that they were not worldwide ones.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-07-23 06:41 pm (UTC)

Re: So sorry about the American references.

It's interesting how some things cross the Atlantic and others (perhaps equally worthy) don't. I'm guessing that Enid Blyton- who was huge all though my childhood (and many of whose books are still in print)- is largely unknown in the States.

One of the odd things about Harry Potter's international success is that the series couldn't be more English if it tried. Maybe the Englishness is part of the attraction.
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[User Picture]From: mummm
2007-07-23 11:11 pm (UTC)

Re: So sorry about the American references.

Undoubtedly! It's a great series, in my humble American opinion. *L*

Palmer Cox was Canadian, but also a Freemason. My grandfather and his brothers were Freemasons too, so maybe that's why the books are here. But I did read that Palmer Cox was quite famous; popular in the 20's and that the Brownie camera was named that in honor of the books. I have no idea if they are still published.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-07-24 08:58 am (UTC)

Re: So sorry about the American references.

That cute little brownie fella looks familiar. I'm thinking my grandmother might have had one of those books.
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