Brock, Ted. "A Way with Wizards: Author J.K. Rowling Brings Bespectacled Harry Potter to Life." Modesto Bee 14 November 1999

I know Harry Potter. I mean, I've never met Harry Potter, the main character of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and the two books that preceded it, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." I do know Harry Potter, though.

I say this not only because my 9-year-old son, Bill, was Harry Potter for Halloween -- the young wizard with the goggle glasses, the cape, the wand and the lightning-bolt scar on his forehead. And not just because Bill wore his Harry outfit when we heard J.K. Rowling speak a couple of weeks ago at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa.

Rowling's appearance packed a standing-room-only crowd of 2,400 into the school's gym. She scolded them kiddingly for a minute or two, read to them, made them laugh, signed their books and sent them home in awe. She charmed them the way Harry Potter does in print.

As Rowling stepped down from the stage after her 20-minute talk, Bill turned to me and said, over the ovation, "Cool! The Quidditch World Cup." Quidditch, as Potter readers know, is THE sport among wizards and witches, played among four competitors on broomsticks in full flight, before a packed grandstand floating hundreds of feet above ground. Rowling let on during her talk that the title of book four (whose publication date is an agonizing eight months away, in July 2000) would not be "Harry Potter and the Quidditch World Cup," as reported on Nickelodeon's Web site.

But just the mention of an upcoming plot element was enough to get the crowd buzzing. I'd swear half the audience was grown-ups. OK, 40 percent, but that's as low as my crowd-o-meter is going. I wondered how many of these adults were Harry readers and / or, like me, were there to pay homage to the new patron saint of their kids' literary quest.

"My mom began reading the first book to me at bedtime," Bill said. "I promised her I'd read a chapter a day on my own and ended up reading three chapters a day." What impressed him about J.K. Rowling? "She wasn't anything like I expected," he said. "I thought she'd be in her 40s. She was younger. Before, I didn't really think she had an accent because in the book it doesn't seem like it."

Rowling had kept the Santa Rosa crowd waiting, even beyond the delay that caused chants of "J-K-ROW-ling" from an eager group of early arrivals in the middle of the room. It took one of the organizers to restore order: "We still have people we have to seat," said a woman from a local independent bookstore, "and it minimizes confusion if you would please not stomp your feet."

The girl sitting next to me was dressed in full witch regalia, as Harry Potter's schoolmate, Hermione Granger. How did she feel about being asked not to chant a name and stomp her feet. The girl: "This woman's got a medieval attitude about witches and wizards." We waited for J.K. Rowling.

Bill had engaged the woman on his left. They talked about Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry -- Harry Potter's school. Bill: "What house would you want to be in?" Woman: "I don't know if I'd want to be in Slytherin because they live down in the dungeon. I wouldn't mind being in Gryffindor." Bill: "Those were the people who founded Hogwarts." We waited some more for J.K. Rowling.

When the angular, wispy-haired blond author did stride confidently to the microphone, she acknowledged the wild welcome with, "Now I know what it's like to be a Spice Girl." And, "This is not very like the last time I was here, when there were about five people here. I'd like to know where all of you were then."

The best thing about this Harry Potter craze is that for all the running away these best sellers have been doing, Harry remains hype-proof. Time magazine put Harry on its cover. And a friend in LA tells me they have Harry Potter books at his supermarket check-out counter. Yet Rowling's publisher, Scholastic, had the good sense to low-key her tour, teaming with the independent booksellers' association. For all the hoopla her Santa Rosa appearance generated locally, the feeling inside the gym was of a warm, oversized book club.

For my part, the best piece of Harry hype came when Bill's mother told me he'd begun skipping recess to read. I now am a walking, talking advertisement for Rowling -- the best hero a parent, librarian or bookseller could imagine.

When she read a passage from "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" involving Harry Potter and Dobby, a house elf with a high-pitched voice, Rowling's reedy West Country accent was the only sound in the enormous room.

"I liked the reading because she made Dobby really sound like an elf," Bill said afterward. "When I read the book I try to imagine what the characters would sound like."

He enjoyed having his Harry Potter books signed by the author, he said, but the best part was getting to ask her a question: "Is it Draco (short a) or Draco (long a)?" Long a.

"Dad, she's super-nice," Bill said as we left the building. I tried to keep the interview going with Bill, but even the spell of J.K. Rowling didn't make it past the parking lot. Or did it? We'd driven a quiet mile and were stopped in a left-turn lane when Bill said, "I'm going to read these books to my kids." By streetlight, begging the red arrow not to turn green, I lunged for my notebook and wrote that one down.

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Original page date 24 March 2007; last updated 24 March 2007.