The SpyGlass

- tHe MaD hAtTeR, column editor


The hAtTeR has been delighted with the flurry of Potter memorabilia that is popping up like magic in retail outlets of all kinds across the continent –- he's sighted action figures, pewter and plastic Christmas tree ornaments, notebooks, journals, trivia games, diaries, calendars, pens, bookmarks, bookends, puzzles, mini snow globes, stickers, gift bags and giftwrap too!  
But it was with glee that he read a report filed by The Washington Post's Jura Koncius, writing from High Point, North Carolina, the mecca of the U.S. furniture industry, which offered the ultimate Harry stocking stuffer. "The Hogwarts Wizard's Loft Bed," wrote Koncius, "cast a spell over [this fall's] trade fair." The 23-piece line of furniture, made by P.J. Kids LLC of Princeton, New Jersey, includes a loft bed with dresser and bookcase "covered with a Tudor-style canvas castle with a tower on the side and a peaked canopy over the bed." There's also a Nimbus 2000 Coat Rack, Great Hall Reading Room Chair, a Dormitory Table with four crested chairs, and an "embossed leather wizard's trunk." The prices range from $90.00 to $2,000.00 U.S. The line was also supposedly featured on the cover of an F.A.O. Schwarz holiday catalogue and rumour has it that it was the furniture magnate's 10-year-old who urged his father to get the license.
The hAtTeR has also heard that our dear friends at Warner Brothers are stitching away at the line of Harry clothing for the Back-to-School market. And for those whose tastes run to gourmet eats, the hAtTeR has been told to keep his eye on Oddz On who will soon be marketing Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, including such tempting flavours as black pepper and sardine! The hAtTeR hopes that Spyglass readers are taking note and preparing a little gift package for yours truly to find under his Womping Willow!


Readers in Japan, so the hAtTeR has recently learned, are way behind the rest of us and will have a lot of reading to catch up on. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second book in the series, was officially released on September 14th. Pre-release sales figures were estimated at 500,000, an unprecedented figure. Sales for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (U.S. title: Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone), released in December 1999, were nearing the million mark or so, the hAtTeR hears. Returned reader postcards, a system unique to Japan, whereby cards asking for reader opinions on the book just bought are placed in all copies sold, suggest that Harry's peak audience in Japan is women in their twenties to thirties. What a lot of naughty cradle-snatchers!


The hAtTeR's international connections have been watching with fascination the launch of Harry Potter in Beijing! On October 6th, the first three books in J.K. Rowling's series were released, the biggest publishing event in the People's Republic since The Thoughts of Chairman Mao. The People's Literature Publishing House in Beijing worked feverishly over the summer to translate, market and distribute the first three Potter books in a boxed set with a first run of 600,000 volumes, the largest first printing ever, say the hAtTeR's sources, for a commercial release in China. Not only has the Chinese publishing house had to deal with the threat of bootleg translations filtering into bookstores illegally, but they also had to convince Chinese censors that all the sorcery in the Potter books was not going to foster a belief in the occult. According to Ma Ainong of People's Literature Publishing, books that inspire the imagination are too few: "Bringing Harry Potter to China is a kind of breakthrough."


It's a good thing those censors haven't been reading The Onion, a news source which those close to the hAtTeR assure him is every bit as reliable as News of the Weird or The New York Post's "Page Six". The hAtTeR had been tipped off that there was an astounding article on the secret satanic plot hidden in the depths of Rowling's novels, and the online journal urban has been working to de-bunk this most provocative parody of Pottermania. The Onion's article has certainly caught the eye of the Religious Right. The hAtTeR thinks you should make up your own mind–in the interest of critical freedom. Check it out!


Forgetting the muddle of the presidential race, children's books did make their own mark in this year's political arena. In an October 8 debate between New York senatorial candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rick Lazio, Clinton responded to a question about her legitimacy as a resident of the state with a reference to writer E.B. White. In a post-debate spin session, New York governor and Lazio supporter George Pataki said, "Mrs. Clinton quoted some guy, Wyatt or somebody—I don't think he was from Brooklyn—with some definition of a New Yorker that she must have read somewhere." He continued, "I don't know who that guy was. I don't know what he wrote. I don't know where he was from. But it sure doesn't sound to me like that guy was a New Yorker or understood New York the way we do."
In addition to writing two of the hAtTeR's all-time favourites, Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, White was, in fact, a native of Mount Vernon, N.Y., contributed to the New Yorker for many years and wrote an elegy to New York City called Here Is New York. Turns out that Pataki should indeed have known who E.B. White was! His daughter took him to task when he got home, reminding him that he had read Charlotte's Web aloud to her when she was a little girl. Pataki's office later issued a statement saying, "The Governor values learning. He thinks everyone should be reading Charlotte's Web to their kids." The hAtTeR is just glad that the much-better read Mrs. Clinton won the race.
Meanwhile, the hAtTeR must remind readers that when presidential candidate George W. Bush was asked what his favourite book was when he was a child, he cited The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, which was published in 1969, a year after Bush graduated from college.


It was with great distress that the hAtTeR opened his morning paper to discover that Winnie-the-Pooh is suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and could be prone to Tourette's Syndrome, that Eeyore has chronic depression and that Christopher Robin is in the midst of a gender-identity crisis -- or so a supposedly reputable group of Canadian doctors has concluded in a psychological assessment of A. A. Milne's children's books. The Hundred Acre Wood, conclude these researchers, is full of characters afflicted by obsessive-compulsive behaviour, anxiety, dyslexia and severe depression. "It is clear to our group of modern neurodevelopmentalists that these are, in fact, stories of Seriously Troubled Individuals, many of whom meet [medically standard] criteria for significant disorders," says the article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, reporting a study designed by pediatricians at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
"We have done an exhaustive review of the works of A.A. Milne and offer our conclusions about the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood in hopes that our observations will help the medical community understand that there is a Dark Underside to this world," the article reads. Never fear, the hAtTeR cautions, this is an article that is merely supposed to add a little jollification to the journal's more serious fare. The authors had such fun that they are preparing to take on Eloise next and suggest that Nanny might have a little drinking problem. Ha, Ha, Ha! says the hAtTeR. Quel blague! NOT!

Have you got something you want to share among friends? Something you might not want just anyone to know? Contact me, the MaD hAtTeR . I promise to be really discreet and it'll be for my eyes only!

Volume 4, Issue 3, The Looking Glass, 2000

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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

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