Boyd Tonkin: A Week in Books

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The Independent Culture

This summer will see the end of a decade-long adventure whose twists and turns have gripped and shocked the nation - and the world. It all began so hopefully. The plucky young spellbinder shook off a murky past to do brave deeds among the gloomy Gothic towers ruled by bizarre rituals and peopled by misfits and grotesques. Our hero cultivated the dark arts, but only in order to do good. Then, in later episodes, the mood soured. The wizard leader fell out with loyal chums and picked quarrels with shadowy foes. His charm hardened into a tetchy arrogance, and he even discovered a special relationship with an alien aggressor whose values he had once disdained. As followers of this epic of lost illusions await the final act, we know that it has to end in tears.

So much for our soon-to-be former prime minister. The Blair era began in mid-1997 along with the Harry Potter decade, and the former will close as the latter does - most probably, shortly before the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on 21 July. Some critics have seized on the coincidence to present the Potter vogue as the ultimate showpiece of New Labour culture: full of dramatic gestures, uplifting rhetoric and wholesome sentiments, but driven in the end by the iron logic of the marketplace.

JK Rowling's own affiliations add extra spice to this tale. She is, famously, a friend not of the tarnished boy magician but of Gordon and Sarah Brown. When the Chancellor published a paving-stone of Speeches 1997-2006, she duly contributed a preface along with other Brown boosters, from Nelson Mandela to Alan Greenspan. (The pair share a publisher, Bloomsbury.) It praised his family policies, and argued that they would have eased her own tough times as a single mother.

Now Rowling finds herself in a position to do a larger favour for her pal. The intense global interest in the denouement of the Potter series means that Deathly Hallows will make a louder noise than ever. A few supportive words, with the ears of the world listening, could heighten the "Brown Bounce" sought by the incoming premier. Will she succumb? Probably not: Rowling has managed her public profile with awesome shrewdness and discretion. What's remarkable is that, if she chose, she could wield such influence.

So far, she has used fame wisely. Her wittily ingenious website (jkrowling.com) allows readers to learn - or believe that they learn - something new about her ideas, feelings and methods at regular intervals. And when she makes the site into a soapbox, she does so responsibly. Her rant against the skinny cult and fashion victimhood dreams of a fad-free future where her daughters will not "give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do".

In terms of quick, cheap popularity, a touch of that stardust eloquence could turn her newly-crowned friend's cabinet into a ministry of magic. It almost certainly won't happen. Still, Rowling would hardly be human if she did not dream of the post-Potter distances her voice might carry. And she must, surely, have studied the speckled record of the only other British author to have forsaken a world-conquering character while still barely 40: her Edinburgh predecessor, Conan Doyle, who "killed" Sherlock Holmes in 1893, only to revive him with The Hound of the Baskervilles.

She will find plenty of nasty pitfalls to avoid in Conan Doyle's second act, but useful lessons too. Yet Rowling, with sales of 300 million, is a bigger worldwide celebrity than Holmes's begetter ever was. After Deathly Hallows, she will enter truly unmapped territory. Perhaps, just for once, she could compare notes with the tired sorcerer who, at the same time, will shut the magic door of Number 10 and re-join the Muggle world.

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