We’ll miss Harry’s kind of magic

A final, tempestuous battle between good and evil – our hero and a soul-less villain.
Thus ended a phenomenon which has transformed the literary landscape for children.
When the movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows premiered a few days ago it marked the final bow for a fictional hero who turned writer J.K. Rowling into a household name as well as a multi-millionaire.
But away from the hype and the tears shed by the movie franchise’s stellar cast and its legions of fans, there is a genuine reason to be sad.
Even those of us who don’t know our ‘muggles’ from our ‘horcruxes’ should appreciate what this literary giant has achieved.
The Harry Potter books and the anticipation of new installments in the series were a potent force for good in children’s education. Just ask any teacher.
In the 14 years since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone first hit the shelves, more than 400 million books about “the boy who lived” have been sold.
What’s more, countless other authors have followed the trail blazed by J.K. Rowling and tapped into the reading public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for fantasy fiction.
I was one of those who queued in to the wee small hours on July 21, 2007, after a Sentinel late-shift to grab a copy of the final installment in the series about the bespectacled wizard.
Having been weaned on Roald Dahl stories and C.S. Lewis’s chronicles of Narnia, my only regret is that these books weren’t around when I was about 10 because I would have lapped them up.
They must be good because not only have they tempted boys into reading but grown-ups forked out for them too (hidden behind an adult, non-cartoon cover, of course).
Now that’s what I call magic.
The big question is, however: Who or what will fill the void left by Hogwarts’ finest?
In an age of emails and text-speak, I think there really is a need for this kind of brilliant, innovative literature which will hook our next generation and act as a defence against the dark arts of social networking, video games and mobile telephones.
I say this as someone who is obsessed with encouraging his children to enjoy reading and writing.
I also speak as a 20-year hack who involuntarily sub-edits every leaflet that gets pushed through his door, every shop sign he claps eyes on, every CV he receives and every menu he peruses.
I chunter at the spelling mistakes, the rogue apostrophes and the mangling of the Queen’s English to such an extent that family members think I have some sort of illness.
They’re probably right.
However, like my late colleague John Abberley, I despair at the poor grammar which seems to pervade every aspect of our society and, what’s more, I’m convinced things are getting worse.
According to England’s chief schools inspector, I may have a point.
Head of Ofstead Christine Gilbert reckons standards of literacy among 11-year-olds are falling “stubbornly short” of achievable levels – with too many children leaving primary school unable to read or write well enough.
The experts tell us there are many reasons for this failure in our education system and point to ‘phonics’ – teaching children how to connect the sounds of spoken words with letters or groups of letters – as one possible solution.
Now, I’m all for anything which helps youngsters master our mother tongue but I can’t help but feel that somewhere along the line an appreciation of the importance of reading has been lost.
You only have to visit a school these days and look at the size of its computer suite compared to its library of actual books to see that we’ve got the balance all wrong.
At the risk of sounding like a luddite, there were far fewer options to entertain me when I was growing up in Stoke-on-Trent in the late Seventies and Eighties than there are for youngsters today. Thus I immersed myself in books.
Surely there must be a correlation between the plethora of attractions vying for the attention of children these days and poor literacy standards.
By placing so much emphasis on computers I think we are rather putting the cart before the horse.
We simply must work harder to engage children in one of life’s simple pleasures – reading.
Which means, as far as I’m concerned, the sooner the next J.K Rowling comes along, the better.


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