Will J.K. Rowling always just be H.J. Potter?

There it sat, a glossy sheen of red, patiently waiting to catch the eye of an early morning shopper breezing by the bookstore window. Those who had time to stop and look in approached the fiery red book with trepidation, taking the menacing cover as a warning sign.

 The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling’s highly anticipated new novel, is just that – an audacious book “vacant” of Harry Potter. No longer does his lopsided grin and tell-tale lightning bolt scar greet readers page after page. There is no chance to chortle at Ron’s attempts to impress Hermione with a poorly executed spell, or to nod along with Dumbledore’s wise words.

How can a Rowling reader survive in a Potter-less world?

Mike Hare, owner of local bookstore The Owl’s Nest, says he is anxious to seeBookstore owner Hare has committed to reading the first 50 pages of The Casual Vacancy, but he has to be “gripped” to finish the rest.

Photo by Anna Brooks what the world thinks of a “regular” book written by Rowling. He says that although most of the world might be “expecting something that’s a little more than regular,” it doesn’t mean she has to have a boggart or a bludger lurking behind every page.

“I am personally interested in (an) author with a sense of humor, who can make us keep turning those pages,” Hare says. “I want to see if all that is still there in this book. We will have to care about these new characters, because that’s what she’s done so well in the past.”

Calgarian, Chelsey Schafer grew up reading the Harry Potter series, and comments on her own curiosities about whether Rowling’s writing style will be just as engaging outside the walls of Hogwarts.

“I wonder how different it will be. It’s just like when an actor plays similar parts all the time, and then they suddenly go do a drama instead of a comedy,” Schafer says.

There are other fish in the sea

There is no doubt that The Casual Vacancy will sell well – in Britain alone, the book sold 2.6 million copies on the first day. It’s clear that Rowling has moved up and onwards, but will her curious readers be able to give the new book a fair chance?

Rowling admitted in a recent interview with ABC TV that she does miss writing Harry Potter and “being in that world,” but after 17 years it’s time to close the door and open the next one.

Diana Patterson, an English professor at Mount Royal University who has published numerous papers on Harry Potter, comments that people may be reviewing Rowling’s latest novel too quickly. She says that critics are simply coming to the hasty conclusion that “it is not Harry Potter,” rather than focusing on the actual content of the book.

“She decided this is what she wanted to write, and she can write whatever in the world she wants,” Patterson says. “She’s done with Harry Potter.”

Although Rowling may have put Harry behind bars, bookstore owner Hare added that audiences are still going to have “remarkably high expectations” for this new book.

“I think that there is a great deal of room for disappointment. But I think it’s wise for her to try something new,” Hare comments. “It’s good for the public at large because we’ll see if she can write a novel for adults. We also shouldn’t forget how many adults were reading Harry Potter and loving it.”

Schafer says that Rowling’s decision to gear her new novel towards an adult audience was a “business savvy” tactic. Whether it was intended or not, the “children that grew up reading Harry Potter are now adults,” and as fans are likely to continue to support her, Schafer says, even if Harry’s story is over.

“It’s kind of a nice place for her to be. She doesn’t need the money, so she can be free to write what she wants and not be scared that she won’t be a success,” adds Schafer.

Typecast tribulations

Fan Schafer tosses Harry Potter aside to give The Casual Vacancy a fair read.

Photo by Anna BrooksEven though money and status are not ever likely to be high on Rowling’s list of worries, The Casual Vacancy may inevitably end up smothered beneath the woolly confines of the Harry Potter blanket fans are so used to being tucked under.

Eileen Smith, senior executive assistant of the local nonprofit organization The Harry Potter Alliance, says via email that Rowling has been “painted as a young-adult fantasy writer.” She adds that Rowling’s new novel is likely to suffer from prejudiced criticism because it isn’t littered with magical quips and quirks.

“Comparing them is like comparing apples and screwdrivers. They are two completely different things and should be scrutinized on their own, not together,” Smith says. “Hopefully the critical world will be able to move beyond it at some point, but I don’t think that will happen with this book.”

Even if Rowling’s gravestone ends up reading “Here Lies Harry,” professor Patterson notes that Rowling is not the only author that has suffered from typecasting.

“Look at C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, for example. Tolkien was a very serious scholar that has written all kinds of wonderful material, but what do people remember him for? Lord of the Rings,’” she says.

So far, Rowling doesn’t seem to be letting the ghost of Harry Potter haunt future book endeavors, but as Patterson astutely remarks: “What people perceive as your best work – as opposed to what you think is your best work – clouds you forever.”

abrooks@cjournal.ca