Under a starry night sky they played witches and wizards, the good and the bad and the somewhere in between. The new play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child had just come out in script form, and for four magical summer nights in a row, Eric Moe's family hosted a reader's theater in their Spokane backyard, with friends and relatives tackling various roles. This family of Potter Pals was not alone in their excitement for the book released in July, as U.S. sales totaled 2 million in just two days. I also hosted a reading party, though my crew only made it through a couple of scenes.
It's because of Joanne "J.K." Rowling that we gather. Because of her creativity, we have Harry Potter and his wizarding world, a fictional place that has come to represent something entirely real — including two actual theme parks — for so many.
Now, nearly 20 years since the first Potter book was published, it would be easy to look at the script's sales numbers, which pale in comparison to the 8.3 million copies the Deathly Hallows finale moved in one day back in 2007, and conclude that Harry Potter mania has waned. But the play itself, running in London's West End, is sold out until 2018, and the upcoming film spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which Rowling wrote, will now receive four more installments.
Joining in for Halloween weekend, the Spokane Symphony hosts a Harry Potter event, complete with a costume contest and the orchestra playing the John Williams scores so integral to the original eight Potter movies.
Moe, a trumpet player for the symphony, says he's thrilled to be able to play the (often brass-centered) music from one of his favorite series, one that he now gets to share with his three kids.
"The reason I love the books is the core message that you choose who you're going to be, despite what the world throws at you," Moe says. "Harry and Voldemort are very similar, but they choose differently how they go through life."
For the foreseeable future, Harry's world will continue to wring fans of their hard-earned galleons, and no one seems to mind. Not only can you purchase Potter-inspired makeup or listen to a Harry and the Potters CD, but Spokane kids can take Potter-themed summer classes at Saint George's School, Spokane Civic Theatre and Corbin Art Center.
Yet Janelle Smith, the children's department manager at Auntie's Bookstore, was worried that the shop's Cursed Child midnight release party might be less popular, despite still having two shelves entirely dedicated to the series.
"We were not sure, with the book being so much past the others and being written in a play format," Smith says. "Is it for adults? Or is for those who are currently reading? And we didn't know who would turn up. But it was a huge turnout. All ages, from 2-year-olds to grandparents, were there decked out in costume."
Gonzaga University's student-sanctioned Harry Potter Club also continues to fly high, sorting its members into the four Hogwarts houses each September, playing Quidditch and hosting multiple movie and trivia nights.
"It's nice to have a silly club to escape to after a stressful week of classes and tests," says club president Katreina Carpenter in an email. "The series has just been a big part of my life, so it's nice to hold onto that throughout college as well."
But there's also something serious about a series that taught so many kids the power of reading, and that continues to enthrall and delight. Unlike the flash-in-the-pan Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey series, Rowling's prose is a wonder. As James W. Thomas wrote in his book Repotting Harry Potter: A Professor's Book-by-Book Guide for the Serious Re-Reader, "'Serious' literature is literature we reread with pleasure and surprise — delighted or even amazed at what we initially missed that was there, and moved yet again at what we felt the first time."
That's why so many Potter fans like to gather together, as Amber Williams, a librarian at North Spokane Library, understands. She says folks who don't want to read Rowling's masterworks don't bother her; after all, there are so many other books to read.
"We don't all have to like the same things, but the people who loved Harry Potter got a lot of joy from it," Williams says. "When I finally get to share this with my daughter, I want to share that joy. It's human nature to want to explore that. It's the camaraderie in finding others who have." ♦
Symphony Special: The Music of Harry Potter • Sat, Oct. 29, at 2 and 8 pm • $19-$39/under 12 half-price • Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox • 1001 W. Sprague • spokanesymphony.org • 624-1200