1 Some first editions can appreciate in value pretty fast. There were only 500 hardback copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone printed in the first run in 1997, of which 300 went to libraries. If you find one of these knocking about in your downstairs loo – the print line on the copyright page is 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 – it’s worth a small fortune. Expect upwards of £30,000 for it. Fun fact: there was one of these in the Daily Telegraph’s books cupboard for many years, but it mysteriously went missing in the early noughties. If you’re the bastard who stole it, please have a word with the paper’s former literary editor, Kate Summerscale.
2 Even Homer nods. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry is fighting a duel with Voldemort when he accidentally does something (Priori Incantatem) that causes the Dark Lord’s wand to spit out, in reverse order, spectral images of the people he has killed. Harry’s father, James, comes out before his mother, Lily – when, according to the established story, he died in the process of trying to help his wife and child escape. Fans feverishly speculated as to whether JK Rowling was setting up some crafty plot twist. She eventually admitted it was a mistake (Erratum Cockupis Normalis), due to “late-night writer’s fatigue”; the text was corrected in later editions.
3 Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, on 26 June 1997, passed practically unnoticed. That day, people were more interested in the news of the election of Bertie Ahern (remember him?) as taoiseach of the Irish Republic. They were still making a fuss about Cool Britannia (remember that?) and the fresh-faced, new prime minister, Tony Blair (remember him?); going bananas about the Spice Girls (remember them?), and wondering about Diana, Princess of Wales’ love life. The bestselling novel of that year was a John Grisham.
4 Children’s books can be political. Rowling’s brilliant decision was to have her characters grow up at the same rate as her readers. Each book was set in one school year, and grew longer, darker and more adult in theme. By the time we reached book four, Goblet of Fire, we were seeing do-gooding Hermione’s Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare formed in response to the bond slavery of these sock-loving poppets. In the person of the hack journalist Rita Skeeter, Rowling sent up the tabloid press. The ministry of magic sent up Whitehall bureaucracy. And, as any fool could plainly see, the story’s master narrative – with purebloods fighting a war of annihilation against “mudbloods” – is about the struggle against your basic blood-and-soil fascism.
5 Academics can give us all a laugh. Harry Potter studies is a flourishing corner of the humanities and theory industry. See “The Hippogriff in Harry Potter As a Prime Example for Intertextuality”, “No Grace for James: James Potter and the Noble Heathen”, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: A Psychoanalytic Viewpoint”, and “From the Holocaust to 9/11: Harry Potter and the Contemporary Struggle with Evil” for details.
6 Some people can be as dumb as stumps. In several places in the US, copies of Rowling’s books were burned by fundamentalist Christians who believed they were encouraging children to take up witchcraft. “Behind that innocent face is the power of satanic darkness,” said pastor Jack Brock of the Christ Community church in Alamogordo, New Mexico, in 2001. “Harry Potter is the devil and he is destroying people.”