Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Meeting Harry Potter's Maker

On Friday, Oct. 19, Paul and I went to Carnegie Hall to watch J.K. Rowling read from the final installment of Harry Potter. I’d entered the two of us in a sweepstakes for the event months ago, and Paul was one of the lucky winners (there were only 1,000 in the whole country) of a pair of tickets.

In addition to seeing Rowling and going to Carnegie Hall for the first time (without practicing, I might add), we were each going to receive a signed copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I was most excited about adding that to my collection, but the reading turned out to be pretty fun, too. The hall was packed with children and their parents, some of whom had flown in from states that are not a part of the continental U.S. I have to admit that I got the chills when Rowling finally came onto the stage and sat on the throne that had been set out for her. Subtle. She got a standing ovation and told everyone to sit down before we made her cry. I’d gotten the impression from Angela, Paul’s sister, that she’d be a pompous ice queen, but she wasn’t really. You could tell she was proud of herself, but she also seemed genuinely touched by the near hysteria she incites. And she was really funny when she spoke to us, in that dry, droll British sort of way.

She read to us the scene in The Deathly Hallows where Ron comes back to find Hermione and Harry in the woods. Rowling used different voices for the three characters, and she was really good. She should be narrating her own audio books.

After Rowling finished reading, a Q&A session began. One by one, prescreened question-askers went up near the stage and nervously read their questions to Rowling, who leaned forward intently from her throne to hear them. I don’t know if she knew what the questions would be in advance, although she seemed to consider each one carefully before answering. That was the case when a little girl asked her whether Dumbledore had found love as a young man. We all know now that Rowling answered with the revelation that she’d always imagined Dumbledore to be gay (with an unrequited crush on Grindelwald no less), but when she announced this to us--kind of in a chuckling, halting, “should I admit this or not” sort of way--we were shocked. There was a collective gasp, and then everyone started clapping and cheering.

Rowling’s last act of the night was no small feat: She had to sign 2,000 copies of her book, one for each person in the audience. As luck would have it, the line started forming on the other side of the auditorium, and Paul and I would be one of the last ones to get our books. While we waited for our row to be called, I took a nap and Paul broke out his PSP. Forty-five minutes later, it was finally our turn. As we stood on the line, I tried to think of something profound to say to Rowling--something witty and memorable that would express my admiration for what she has accomplished. I’d finally decided on something like “I can’t wait for your next book [wink],” but never got a chance to say this because the young girl directly ahead of me in line stole my thunder by bursting into tears upon approaching Rowling’s table. Rowling actually stood up and gave the girl a hug across the table, which was really sweet, but I knew I couldn’t beat that. So when my turn came, I just said, “Hi” and smiled, and she said, “Hi” and smiled back warmly. I liked that she made an effort to look me in the eye when she spoke to me, even as she was frantically scribbling away. Before I could add anything else, one of the Scholastic handlers hurried me down the line to pick up my book. (Rowling was signing the books and stacking them on the side of the table.) Then another Scholastic handler told me (nicely) to get out. So that was my big meeting with J.K. Rowling. (Or Jo, as I feel I can now call her.)

After the event, Paul and I went to visit Angela at her apartment and drop off Paul’s copy of the book with her, since she’s the biggest Harry Potter fan we know and deserves a signed copy--unlike Paul, who has read zero Harry Potter books (but has watched all the movies). We told Angela that Dumbledore was gay, and she didn’t believe us at first. (She had to believe us the next morning, when every news medium in the country confirmed this.) I still can’t believe all the controversy that’s sprung up as a result of Rowling’s admission. It seems a lot of people are wondering why she’s outing Dumbledore now, and jumping to the conclusion that she’s a gay rights advocate. She was only answering a little girl’s question, people! I doubt she had an agenda. And even if she did, who cares?

As for my signed copy, it now sits rather inconspicuously on my bookshelf. I just checked eBay and discovered that other signed books from the event are going for more than $2,000. The thought of turning in mine for that amount is so tempting, but I won’t do it. It’s like owning a J.R.R. Tolkien-autographed edition of The Hobbit--how could I sell that?

And anyway, it might be worth more later. (Just kidding, Jo!)