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The Seven-Book Itch


Muggle. Verita Serum. Death Eater. Quidditch. If these terms are not familiar to you, then (a) you have spent the last 10 years on another planet, or (b) you are the owner of a Christian bookstore. The upcoming release of the seventh and last Harry Potter novel, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," marks a decade of controversy, celebration and, most shocking, young adult literacy. Here are five perspectives from book people, academics and somebody who knows a really big man.

The Super-Fan

On a Friday night in July 2005, Leslie Dixon dressed up as the revered witch and member of the Wizengamot, Judge Amelia Bones. The next morning, when she cracked open the long-awaited "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," she discovered that her character had been murdered. This has not stopped Dixon, a freelance historical researcher and the brains behind the creation of Richmond's own Diagon Alley, from dressing up as Judge Bones again at this year's release party, on July 20. "We're celebrating the entire series so you can still be your favorite character even if they've already been killed off," says Dixon.

Built to the scale of the buildings on the block surrounding it on Granite Avenue, the independent bookstore Book People bears an uncanny resemblance to Diagon Alley's Flourish and Blotts. This year's celebration is expected to draw about the same size crowd as it did in 2005 — more than 3,000 people. "It got to the level where it became a happening," Dixon says. "At a certain point it started to run itself."

Once again, Professor Lupin will oversee the chess competition, the Leaky Cauldron will serve dinner and the Hogwarts Choir will provide entertainment. There will even be vats of butter beer as well as animatronic three-headed dogs and messenger owls made by a company in Florida.

And how did the Richmond Diagon Alley score a Hagrid look-alike?

"One of my friends said, 'I know a really gigantic man in Maryland,'" explains Dixon. "So we invited him to come down with his wife and kids and join the party."

The Big-Box Bookseller

"I'm not a Harry Potter expert by any means," says Kyle Coble, the community relations manager at Barnes and Noble, Libbie Place. "I've only read each book about twice." Coble got a kick out of reading an article about John Irving and Stephen King's pleading with Rowling at Radio City Music Hall last summer to spare Harry's life. "I enjoyed big-name authors begging for the lives of fictional characters," says Coble.

Coble's Midnight Magic Party will include a wizard trivia game, a sorting hat activity, a beanbag toss and the opportunity to have your photo taken with a former bookseller who looks like Harry Potter. It's no gigantic man, but he really looks like Harry Potter.

The Christian Bookstore Owner

Michelle Cousins, owner of the Capstone Christian Store in Mechanicsville and the mother of seven, has a different take on the Potter novels.

"I have no problem with fantasy per se," says Cousins, "but the occult factor in them is bothersome to me as a Christian." Cousins hasn't read any Harry Potter novels and neither have her children. Because of their values, she says, they aren't interested. One of her sons chose to leave class rather than listen to his teacher read Harry Potter at story time. Since then, the teacher has put the book away and hasn't brought it out since.

The Professor

Libby Gruner, who teachesVictorian literature and children's literature at University of Richmond, included Harry Potter novels in her curriculum until she found that most of her students had already read them. But in the past year, she brought back the sixth book for a class on children's literature and theology.

"If you read the books, they're actually very similar to Lewis' 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,'" she says. "There is a deeper magic and that magic is love, which is a very Christian belief."

Gruner has also written an article entitled "Good, Evil and Harry Potter," comparing Harry to Jane Eyre and Holden Caulfield. Each is a coming-of-age novel in which the hero fights against hypocrisy or evil or phonies. Certainly Rowling has tapped into the mythic qualities of the hero's journey. But does Gruner have any complaints about Rowling?

"She uses too many adverbs and she uses stereotypes; the family structures are very, very traditional," she says. "From a feminist perspective, I hope we see more of Ginny and Hermione in the last book. I've been wondering what Mrs. Weasley is doing during the day now that all of her kids are in school. Certainly she is as good of a wizard as her husband."

The Librarian

"A lot of people have this weird idea that Christians shouldn't have an imagination, but God created my imagination, so I don't think it's sinful," says Sandy Handschuh, an elementary school librarian in an undisclosed county. "I'm a painter, and I'm sitting here right now painting houses on a rock."

But Handschuh has chosen not to order the Harry Potter series for her school library. "I read the first edition to see how close to witchcraft it is," she says. "And if you look, there is witchcraft. You can see it as good against evil, black against white. But I don't think the author is trying to promote witchcraft or sorcery. I think she is laughing all the way to the bank."

Handschuh says she would allow her own children to read Harry Potter, but she'd want to read it with them so they could discuss it. "How does this affect your relationship with Christ?" she would ask. S

The Diagon Alley festivities at Book People are Friday, July 20, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. with a young reader's breakfast Saturday, July 21, 9 a.m.-noon. Call 288-4346 or visit The Barnes & Noble Midnight Magic Party begins Friday night at 9 p.m. Call 282-0781. All books will become available at midnight.

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