The Trouble With Harry

This is the column I promised I'd never write. Years ago in SFX 69, I rambled on about a certain young wizard with a scar on his forehead and an unhealthy fondness for hanging around in the bestseller lists. Never again, I vowed. Little did I know that in late 2005 I would fall into the power of the Dark Lord Voldegollancz and spend eight months writing a (nonfiction) book provisionally titled The Boy Wizard's Bum. I'm sorry, I'll type that again: The End of Harry Potter?

How do these things begin? In a haze of beer fumes and diplomatic amnesia, since the project was sparked at last year's World SF Convention in Glasgow. There I bumped into Malcolm Edwards, now a big man at Orion Books but long ago a humble fanzine editor who used to publish my articles. Old Langford's Career Tip #42: identify people who in future decades will be major publishers with power over the Gollancz SF imprint, write for their fanzines, and one day they may remember you.

Malcolm pioneered Gollancz's line of small-format hardbacks, mostly parodies written by Adam "A R R R" Roberts, and my Discworld quizbooks reappeared in this packaging (fortunately not bylined D R R R Langford). So, prophetically, did the "Barry Trotter" parodies by someone with a name very like Gerbil. Following that alcoholic Worldcon encounter, I tottered home with a severe hangover and vague plans for a Potter-related book which Gollancz could flog to the frenzied hordes awaiting the final volume of J K Rowling's fantasy saga.

Of course, a dedicated Rowling-watcher would have known that this project was fated to happen. Orion Books, named for a famous constellation, has a logo featuring stars and a dog which is presumably Sirius, the nearby Dog Star, and of course Sirius is the name of a Potterverse character. (So, come to think of it, is Bellatrix – another star in Orion.) Therefore Rowling must have planned the Orion connection all along!

Logical analysis like this is all too common in the wonderful world of HP fandom, where I dutifully pickled my brain for many months. Savants out there have proved by geometric logic that Severus Snape is a vampire, and that characters X or Y (but especially D) can't possibly be dead no matter how patiently and repeatedly the author explains that yes, they really are. Somewhere, I'm sure, there's a small but fanatical cult for whom it is an article of faith that – thanks to serious overuse of a Time-turner – Hermione Granger is Lord Voldemort's granny.

Of course my project was shrouded in deadly secrecy, for fear that someone else would scoop the idea of publishing a book about what happens or might happen in Harry Potter Volume Seven. But there was a leak! While I and my literary agent, even in private emails, were carefully referring to the work in progress by subtle code phrases like Hewlett Packard or HP Sauce, Gollancz blithely blew the gaff in their forthcoming-books catalogue.

Perhaps this was in fact a satanically cunning ploy, like the document "hidden" in plain view in Poe's famous story "The Purloined Letter". After all, who in the world actually reads publishers' catalogues? The answer turned out to be: J K Rowling's agents.

Stern legal warnings were issued, slightly reducing my enjoyment of the free booze at the 2006 Clarke Award ceremony, where this alarming news reached me. While I gibbered, Gollancz were reassuring; my book was all fair comment, and the title was chosen for safety. We knew that Harry Potter and the Ivory Tower, a US book of academic essays, had had to rebrand itself as the totally different The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter. For this very reason, The End of Harry Potter? had deliberately not been called Harry Potter and the End Of.

Still, it feeds an author's natural paranoia to have m'learned friends scrutinizing his work for naughty infractions. Thanks to legal consultations and printing delays, the book missed its October release date and (writing in November) I'm still nervously waiting. A finished copy has been sighted at the Gollancz office, but not here ...

What's actually in there? After so much hassle, my mind is a blank. I'm pretty sure it contains words, many of them arranged into sentences, but the contents have no doubt settled during transit. May contain nuts.

David Langford feels strangely compelled to end this column with the word "scar".

[Later: I wrote this at incredible speed, since I naturally wanted to mention my own book in the SFX column while it was still newly published. But the information that it had in fact been released (the publisher neglected to tell me, but Amazon started to fill orders) arrived all too close to the column deadline. Not having seen a copy, I was still under the impression that TEoHP? would appear in Gollancz's patent small-hardback format as originally planned: hence the (as it turned out) slightly pointless digression about this. So it goes.]