Dumbledore. Hogwarts‘ venerated and feared headmaster. Harry‘s wizard studies are punctuated by clashes with a delicious assortment of baddies. overshzulowed by the evil presence of Voldemort (shhhh... !) Sorry. The One That Must Not Be Named . . .

()nly sea creatures and cave dwellers can have failed to register the hype surrounding the books. Potter-mania is everywhere. Yet Harry‘s appeal among the young isn‘t restricted to the level of escapism. In one recent Scholastic internet poll. over 25.000 schoolchildren clicked on to register how much they identified with the trainee wizard and his allies. l assembled a group of Perth nine—year-olds to aid me in my quest to illuminate this phenomenon.

‘I really enjoy the Harry Potter books because I can imagine everything around him and when I try to stop I can’t because there‘s always something happening.‘ said Suzanne Iispley.

‘It makes me think I'm magicf said Richard Martin. ‘When I first read it I tried to open locked doors by spells but it didn‘t work.‘

‘I love Harry Potter.‘ said Sophie Workman. ‘He is such a funny. mysterious. magical boy. I am very pleased with JK Rowling.‘

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‘There is one thing wrong 'When I first read it I tried to open though. admitted lzila Legge. locked doors spefls but it didn't WOI‘k.' Richard Martin, aged nine.

thoughtfully. “Once you've started reading. you can‘t stop.’

Much the wiser. I rewarded the children with a selection of chocolate frogs and every- llavour beans before hurrying to Platform Nine and Three Quarters to catch the Hogwarts express. In a rare interview Rowling once advanced her own theory that children related to Harry's growing power in an adult world. ‘The idea that we could have a child who escapes from the adult world and goes somewhere where he has power both literally and metaphorically really appealed to me.‘ she revealed.

Helen (ialbraith. a play therapist with I‘idinburgh‘s Sheltered Families project agrees. ‘Harry‘s very small. he’s been bullied. he comes from a family that doesn’t love him] she says. ‘The fact that he overcomes these problems and manages to become powerful and to conquer evil really resonates with children. They don‘t always feel powerful or understood or in control.'

Rowling's work ranks alongside the likes of Tolkien. Lewis and (‘arroll in that it seems to hold equal appeal for grown-up children as well as tinies. The sight of Muggl men and women queuing nervously at last year Iidinburgh Festival book-signing was unforgettable. wrote it entirely for myself.’ Rowling has said of her series. ‘It is my sense of humour in the books. not what I think children will find ftmny and I suppose that would explain some of the appeal to adults.‘

While Helen Galbraith feels the books have potential to be used in her work with children. she admits to having

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devoured them with great enjoyment herself. ‘What impresses me about the books is the surreal. dark. horrible stuff.‘ she laughs. ‘A lot of children's books are a bit sweet and sugary.’ Yet not all the interest surrounding Rowling‘s series has been favourable. In the States a number of Christian fundamentalist groups perceived Hogwarts‘ magic charms and incantations to be based on Wicca. a pagan religion. Terror at the prospect of their children turning to the dark side of the force led to the biggest mass burning of an imported cultural item since Sinead O‘ Connor made her little Papalfaux pus. Intrigued by the allegations. I borrowed a Nimbus 2()()() broomstick and flew to the kingdom of Fife where a Dunfermline Wiccan known

to refute the knee-jerk Bible- : belt hysteria. ‘I‘ve read all of the " Harry Potter books and I can safely say that they are as accurate to Wiccan rituals as a statement that the sky is red with green polka dots.’ Moonbird told me. ‘Wiccans do cast spells but they tend to be personalised. I‘ve never ended up with a strange liquid that'll turn you invisible or turn the drinker into a frog. We do also use brooms but I‘ve never heard of someone flying one and as for flying cars . .

So there. ()r. as Professor Dumbledore would say: ‘Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!’

Love him or fear him irrationally. Harry will be difficult to ignore this summer. His fourth adventure has yet to be released from the vaults of Gringott‘s bank (its title is a closely guarded secret) and yet advance sales mean it has already joined its predecessors in top tens worldwide. Ms Rowling. evidently bemused by her new-found superstardom. is working on the final three books of the series. With .. her hugely popular creation / approaching mid-adolescence and / its accompanying problems. the author will have her work cut out for her. How. for example does a teenage wizard cope with acne. body changes and falling in love‘.’

Harry Potter IV is published Sat 8 Jul

'A funny, mysterious, magical boy'