I deeply and bitterly resent that Orlando is about to become the official place of pilgrimage for every Harry Potter fan on earth
You know, sometimes I don't understand what's wrong with us. This is just about the most creative and imaginative country on earth – and yet sometimes we just don't seem to have the gumption to exploit our intellectual property. We split the atom, and now we have to get French or Korean scientists to help us build nuclear power stations. We perfected the finest cars on earth – and now Rolls-Royce is in the hands of the Germans. Whatever we invent, from the jet engine to the internet, we find that someone else carts it off and makes a killing from it elsewhere. And now, in the crowning insult, I am being told by a 12-year-old that I have to start making preparations to take everyone to Orlando, Florida.
I want you to know that I have nothing against Orlando, though you are, of course, far more likely to get shot or robbed there than in London. In general I adore America. But I deeply and bitterly resent that Orlando is about to become the official place of pilgrimage for every Harry Potter fan on earth. On the 18th of this month they are unveiling a vast 20-acre attraction – a theme park – that will be called The Wizarding World of Harry Pottere_STmk, and the word in the industry is that it is gonna be huge. There will be animatronic whomping willows and exhilarating interactive quidditch-style rides, and vast latex-covered Hagrids rolling bonhomiously down the street.
In the words of Mr Thierry Coup of Warner Bros: "We are taking the most iconic and powerful moments of the stories and putting them in an immersive environment. It is taking the theme park experience to a new level." And of course I wish Thierry and his colleagues every possible luck, and I am sure it will be wonderful. But I cannot conceal my feelings; and the more I think of those millions of beaming kids waving their wands and scampering the Styrofoam turrets of Hogwartse_STmk, and the more I think of those millions of poor put-upon parents who must now pay to fly to Orlando and pay to buy wizard hats and wizard cloaks and wizard burgers washed down with wizard meade(TM), the more I grind my teeth in jealous irritation.
Because the fact is that Harry Potter is not American. He is British. Where is Diagon Alley, where they buy wands and stuff? It is in London, and if you want to get into the Ministry of Magic you disappear down a London telephone box. The train for Hogwarts goes from King's Cross, not Grand Central Station, and what is Harry Potter all about? It is about the ritual and intrigue and dorm-feast excitement of a British boarding school of a kind that you just don't find in America. Hogwarts is a place where children occasionally get cross with each other – not "mad" – and where the situation is usually saved by a good old British sense of HUMOUR. WITH A U. RIGHT? NOT HUMOR. GOTTIT?
I know that Thierry and everyone at Warner Bros and Universal will do a magnificent job of making it look and feel authentic and faithful to the stories. But I know somewhere that's even better than Orlando at looking like London – and that is London. I want to know why this Kingdom of Potter is not being built in the UK, and I won't be fobbed off with any nonsense about the weather. They built Eurodisney in the Valley of the Marne, where it is at least as cold and drizzly as it is in London – and it has been a triumphant success.
Don't tell me that this is a fad, that Harry Potter won't last much beyond the last film. Like everyone else, I have watched with utter amazement as my children have been sucked into J K Rowling's world. I have listened to them babble about the detail, the clues and suggestions that become ever richer with re-reading, the emotions evoked and the deep satisfaction that these books evidently give.
I have before me a copy as thumbed and dog-eared as a missionary's Bible, and in case you think I am exaggerating, or extrapolating too generously from my own experience, let me give you the key figures.
Never mind the movies, which have now taken about $5.3 billion and which must be among the biggest global cinematic successes of all time. Just look at the sales figures for J K Rowling, the girl from Gloucestershire who famously began her literary career scribbling at a table in a café in Edinburgh.
No, wait: let's look at her rivals. Take Beatrix Potter, who has been selling like hot cakes around the world for more than a century. She has sold 60 million. Or take Enid Blyton, with dozens of titles to her name, including the blockbusting series about Noddy. She has done about 100 million, and the same goes for the great Dr Seuss, who also has a vast number of books still on the shelves. We are still nowhere near the summit of J K Rowling's figures. You have to go past the best-selling comic books of all time – Tintin on 160 million and Asterix on 250 million and still she towers over the literary landscape.
The seven Harry Potter books have together sold about 400 million copies, in 67 languages. There is nothing like it in history. Think of the cumulative impact on the imaginations of the younger generation of today – and those young people will be reading Harry Potter to their own children tomorrow.
My point is that this Potter business has legs. It will run and run, and we must be utterly mad, as a country, to leave it to the Americans to make money from a great British invention. I appeal to the children of this country and to their Potter-fiend parents to write to Warner Bros and Universal, and perhaps, even, to the great J K herself. Bring Harry home to Britain – and if you want a site with less rainfall than Rome, with excellent public transport, and strong connections to Harry Potter, I have just the place.
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