The boy who lived lives on. And on, and on, and on.
Harry Potter, the bespectacled boy wizard, has sold nearly half a billion books worldwide over the past two decades. This weekend he’s been resurrected for a new adventure.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child–Parts I and II, a play about adult Harry’s son Albus, premieres Saturday (July 30) in London, hours ahead of the midnight release of its script. With the return of the franchise come the pre-orders, launch parties, costumes, and all-Potter mania.
In Books of Wonder, the Manhattan store where JK Rowling herself promoted her first three books, five magicians, two face painters, a circus juggler, and three live owls will entertain Pottermaniacs waiting for their copies Saturday night. The 36-year-old children’s bookstore has ordered 1,200 copies of the script, and expects anywhere between 300 and 1,000 people to show up for the midnight release.
The midnight Potter party was once a phenomenon so unlike any other in book culture that a meme developed around spoiling Harry Potter plots for people in the hour after midnight. Its return nine years later speaks to the staying power of the franchise.
“Harry Potter was really what sort of started the midnight party,” says Daisy Kline, vice president of Barnes & Nobles books. Kline declined to say how many books the company had ordered for the launch, only that the store’s 640 locations were expecting “very, very large” crowds.
New York’s massive Strand Bookstore has ordered 1,000 books for its midnight launch party, and communications director Whitney Hu says that selling even half would mean they’ve had a great turn out.
The US initial print run of the script is 4.5 million, compared with the 12 million of the last original book, so it seems unlikely that the script will do quite as well as its predecessor. Still, the fervor around such a strange release has reached impressive levels.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the most pre-ordered book of the year, in print and Kindle, on Amazon, and the most pre-ordered book at Barnes & Noble since 2007, when the final volume came out.
The book stands apart from its early aughts counterparts. For one thing, it’s a script, not a novel, and it wasn’t written by Rowling, although she is co-credited along with the writer, Jack Thorne, and director John Tiffany with conceiving the story. The story also focuses on Harry’s son, not the familiar boy hero and his gang.
And most importantly, as reviewers and redditors have both pointed out, plot-wise, the new story is not promising. The focal plot device of the play is also the most dubious one deployed in the original series: time travel. The loopholes introduced by the play’s alternate realities could destroy one of the great joys of Rowling’s original world, where clues carefully laid in book one reappear in book five with satisfying results. Series loyalists would not be remiss to wish that Rowling had stopped at the final book and left the otherwise tightly crafted verisimilitude of the wizarding world in tact.
Yet, in spite of these apparent problems, the franchise plows on. “We think excitement’s at an all-time high,” says Kline. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a spin-off film trilogy starring Eddy Redmayne premieres this fall, based on Rowling’s book of the same name. This week, with the play sold out for months in London, Rowling announced that another 250,000 tickets will be released for 2017 performances. Even the script—again, still not in bookstores—is planned to have a re-release, in a special collector’s edition.
It’s clear that where Rowling goes Pottering around, fans will follow. Part of that may be nostalgia: The readers who grew up with the book are now old enough to have children of their own. But it’s likely that in fact, the feel-good, intricate but wholesome world of Harry Potter looks mighty good for parents generally, given the alternate options of bloody beheaders and irreverent wusses. No matter what happens to Harry Potter in Rowling’s various stories—and spoilers for the new book suggest one possible dark fate—he will never, ever, ever die.