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Published: Friday, 7/15/2005

'Harry Potter' and the wall of secrecy have fans buzzing

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Discussion forums on the Internet are filled with speculation surrounding the latest book in
the Harry Potter series. Discussion forums on the Internet are filled with speculation surrounding the latest book in the Harry Potter series.
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Poor Dumbledore.

Things aren't looking good for the head of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. See, speculation among some die-hard fans is that he will be the one to die in the sixth book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, to be released at midnight.

The odds seem so stacked against the poor guy that some of Britain's gambling chains stopped taking bets on which character will die in the book after getting a host of calls from the town where the British printers of the book are located.

Of course, who really knows? The Internet has been buzzing with speculation about all sorts of questions fans hope will be answered in the new book. Who is the half-blood prince? Will romance bloom between certain characters? What did Harry's parents do for a living? How will Harry spend Christmas?

Everyone has a theory, and things have gotten to the point that the series' author, J.K. Rowling, has a whole section on her Web site devoted to various rumors - or "rumours" as they say in her native England.

"Let's face it," she wrote. "It wouldn't be a new Harry Potter book if hoaxers didn't pop up regularly on the net claiming to know new characters or plot-lines ... I can't waste time denying each and every lunatic rumour, because I've got editing to do! So let's agree here and now that each of these 'claims' comes with a free barrel of salt and rise together above the madness."

But dear, dear Rowling, don't you know that wild speculation and unfounded rumors are half the fun?

That's why discussion forums on Harry Potter Web sites are filled to bursting with fans discussing the latest theories. There's even a site devoted solely to rumors: harrypotterrumors.net.

Nancy Eames, children's library manager at the Main Branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, has been spreading one herself after she heard that Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge will be replaced in the new book.

"I've been calling myself Minister of Magic," she said. "I've been telling everyone that I'm replacing Cornelius."

Much of the gossip seems to be coming from adults, she said.

"The kids I know who are big fans, they don't seem to speculate as much as the adults do," Ms. Eames said.

And the adults seem to bring that "adultness" to their theorizing, said Jennie Levine, curator for historical manuscripts at the University of Maryland who helped start a Harry Potter Web site, www.sugarquill.net.

"Some of the adult discussions, some of it is like hard-core literary analysis stuff, where I think a lot of the kids are, 'I think this is going to happen because it should.'‚óŹ"

It's been two years since the last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. But let's not forget that it was three years between books before that, a span that was rife with wonderings.

"Those three years ... they were pretty crazy in terms of rumors," Ms. Levine said.

Not that this should be surprising. The same thing happens for other books and movies that have hard-core followers.

"Movies that are coming out next Christmas and next summer, you've already got rumors for them," said Charles Coletta, a Bowling Green State University instructor who uses the first Harry Potter book in his contemporary popular literature course.

"People have been waiting. They've been waiting for this moment," he said. "I think that's just the nature of the thing."

All this is fueled by the fact that the public knows nearly nothing about the upcoming book. All the secrecy surrounding it is admirable for those who want to avoid spoilers, but it will all be forgotten tomorrow.

"By midnight Saturday, half the world will have sped-read through the book and then it won't be a secret anymore," Ms. Levine said.

Some people already are thinking beyond this book. One discussion forum off the Web site www.the-leaky-cauldron.org had fans suggesting possible titles for the final book in the series: Harry Potter and the Unfortunate Hairdo. Harry Potter and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Harry Potter and the Hardy Boys.

Our favorite? Harry Potter and the Extremely Exhausted Author.

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:

ryansmith@theblade.com

or 419-724-6103.



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