Tue | Mar 20, 2018

Dramatic secret to Potter tales

Published:Thursday | March 24, 2016 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series.
Contributed Harry Potter and his friends prepare for the final face-off with Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, one of the movies based on the JK Rowling series.

The audience at the talk on Writing and Publishing Children's Literature last week Monday perked up noticeably when the speaker said he was going to reveal the secret to the success of the Harry Potter series.

Up to then Michael Katz, a publisher and lecturer in Children's Book Publishing at the University of British Columbia, Canada, had been giving rather dry details about the publishing business. Doubtless, they were of interest to the lone publisher present and perhaps even to the two or three graphic designers and artists there.

However, most of those in the University of the West Indies, Mona, classroom were writers and would-be writers. And the overwhelming majority of them were female - like J.K. Rowling, author of the best selling book series in history - and they want to be like her.

They might have known some of the extraordinary facts about the Harry Potter books (one woman said she had read all seven):

n More than 500 million copies sold worldwide

n Translated into 73 languages.

n Successful movies based on them.

n The last four set records as the fastest-selling books in history, with the final book selling some 11 million copies in the United States alone within 24 hours of release.

And all would have known that the success of the books, as well as the movies based on them, rocketed the author from poverty to immense wealth.

So when Katz said "dramatic irony is the key to children's fiction. It is the reason why Harry Potter is so successful", the audience asked for more. Katz obliged.

"Harry at the very beginning of the story doesn't know four things," he explained. "He has a mission, he's very important, he's powerful and he doesn't know the danger that lies ahead."

Explaining the ironic element, Katz said, "But we [readers] know, so there is tension. It's like James Bond. A beautiful woman invites him to have a drink and we know that it's spiked and he's going to be captured. He doesn't."

Katz confessed that he hadn't read all of the Potter fantasy novels as he found them "boring". But, he said of Rowling, "Her genius is she kept the audience for seven books." And he assured the audience, "If you can write a book with dramatic irony and a hero that kids like, you'll be successful, too."