Has Harry lost the magic?

The Harry Potter phenomenon may have hit a 'fifth-inning stretch.' Fans are tired of waiting for the fifth book.

The world of wizards, Quidditch, and Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans is just a week away from reappearing on the big screen.

A year ago, that would have sent young boys, like the flag footballers playing at this Arleta middle school field, flying to the nearest theater. But ask

these 12- and 13-year-olds about next week's opening of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," and it seems a game of flying broomsticks isn't high on their to-do lists.

"I'll go see it, I guess," says eighth-grader Spencer Brown, "but I didn't think the kids could act very well."

His friends agree. Seventh-grader Andrew Boggs wants to see the movie, but not as much as he did last year.

The reason is simple, parents say. "There's no new book to keep their interest in the series," says Spencer's mother, Barbara. "There's no pull for the kids to want to get back into the character."

While the opening of the second Harry Potter film will undoubtedly draw crowds and book sales remain strong, there's plenty of evidence suggesting the Harry Potter mania that soared even higher with last year's film is experiencing a "fifth-inning stretch." Fans are growing weary of waiting for the fifth installment.

When J.K. Rowling's first book was published in 1997, it inspired millions of kids and their parents across the globe to read about Harry, Hermione, and He Who Must Not be Named.

Three more books followed in short order, one released each year. But a fifth book that has been promised for almost two years still has no firm publication date.

Other series, such as the Lemony Snicket books (See story), are filling the gap.

"I don't sense there's a big rush to see this movie," says Pam Green, children's librarian at the Beverly Hills public library for 21 years.

Holding out for Book 5

She says interest in Rowling's first four books has waned as well. Harry Potter "is just not new anymore. Everyone has done it, read the existing books.... The kids are far more interested in the next book," she adds.

Ms. Green says her library ran a Harry Potter Club during the summer and fall of 2001. This year the library is not doing anything special. Green says part of the reason is the glut of merchandise. "The children are saturated with Harry Potter stuff," she says, but adds the main reason they've passed is that it's passé.

The Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) system has experienced the same lull in the Harry Potter craze. During November 2001, each of its 67 branches was required to run Harry Potter programs, ranging from mock Quidditch games to magic shows and crafts programs where children made their own wands.

This year, the branches are simply handing out Harry Potter bookmarks, says 29-year veteran, Ilene Abramson, who runs the children's services for the branches.

"Enthusiasm is a little lagging right now," she says with a small laugh.

Some observers say the book-first attitude among Harry Potter fans tells an important tale about the role of books versus films in our culture.

"The next [Harry Potter] book matters more than the next movie because reading is more personal," says Cynthia Leitich Smith, author and webmaster of a site for Children's Literature Resources.

"[It's] the magic of literature. Young readers enjoy fantasy stories on a very personal level."

No matter how skilled the effects or actors, she says, "film is a more intrusive art form. It serves up mood via music and beauty with an airbrush."

Ms. Leitich Smith says these fans don't need to see Harry's adventures play-acted for them. "In most ways that count, they're living by his side."

Publishers of the Harry Potter series say that while the film may not connect as strongly with Harry's fans, the books continue to appeal to people of all ages.

"Nothing has attracted the number of children and excited readers the way Harry Potter has," says Barbara Marcus, president of Scholastic Books. The American publisher of the Harry Potter series shipped 7 million books in the last quarter of 2001 and will ship approximately the same this year.

"There is no children's title that has ever sold close to that," adds Ms. Marcus.

According to Publishers Weekly, the Harry Potter books have experienced a small drop in sales in the past year, but have remained consistently at the top of all bestseller lists, both domestic and international.

"The books may not be quite at the peak they were when they were new, but they have held steady," says Diane Roback, children's book editor at Publishers Weekly in New York.

And the movie may be doing better than it appears from word of mouth.

Fandango, the nation's largest online ticketing company, won't release ticket sales for an individual film, but executives say that "Chamber of Secrets" has sold nearly twice the amount of advance tickets the first film had sold by this time last year.

"I'm seeing as far from ho-hum as you can get," says Art Levitt, president and CEO of Fandango. "I see really high demand for this movie."

But part of the reason for this increase may be that the number of theaters in the Fandango system increased from 5,500 to 7,500 over the past year and more Americans are comfortable ordering tickets online.

Will kids read if they can watch?

But while the current apathy among Potter fans may be wiped away when the film actually opens, some observers see another longer-term lull that may just be kicking in: "It's really hard to get kids to read a book if there's a movie about it," says librarian Green, even when the books are award-winning titles such as "Shiloh," or "Tuck Everlasting."

Some parents agree. Jacquie Boggs, mother to seventh-grader Andrew and second-grader Connor, says her younger son saw the first movie and it satisfied whatever interest he might have had in the Harry Potter series.

"He's not interested in the books, because now he thinks he knows what they're about. He probably won't read them now that he's seen the movie."

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