NEW YORK — Someone should have slipped J.K. Rowling a bit of Veritaserum before her readings Tuesday and Wednesday night at Radio City Music Hall. Perhaps then Harry Potter fans could have gotten a better sneak peek at what’s to come in the much-anticipated book seven.
Though the reclusive author refrained from giving too many spoilers, she did reveal some details about the next and final book of the series during Q&A sessions on both nights and a news conference earlier Tuesday morning.
“I think some people will love it, and some people will loathe it,” she said. “I’m well into writing it now. To an extent, the pressure’s off, because this is the last book, so I feel quite liberated. It’s fun in a way that it hasn’t been before, because I’m finally doing my resolution. There’s still a lot to find out and expand on, and I will probably leave some loose ends, but there won’t be a book eight. I’ve plotted [the series] out, and I’d run out of plot if I pushed it past there. Sorry.”
Rowling made her first U.S. appearance in six years as part of a two-night star-studded event called “An Evening with Harry, Carrie & Garp,” which also featured readings from “Carrie” author Stephen King and “World According to Garp” scribe John Irving to benefit Doctors Without Borders and the Haven Foundation.
Kathy Bates introduced King on Tuesday night by jokingly referring to her infamous role in the film incarnation of King’s “Misery”: “I am his number-one fan.”
Jon Stewart introduced Rowling on Tuesday night, saying he was there because he has kids: a 2-year-old son and a 5-month-old daughter. “[My daughter’s] been in line for the new ’Harry Potter’ for the last three months,” Stewart said. “We miss her terribly, but I want that damn book.”
The readings drew crowds of 6,000 each night, raising a reported half-million dollars. Fans from all over the world showed up, including one who flew in from China. Both King and Irving acknowledged that Rowling was the real draw, joking that they were her opening acts, to which she responded, “That’s like being told the Beatles and the Stones are opening up for you!”
Whoopi Goldberg, who emceed both shows, said Rowling, King, and Irving should have been brought together long before: “If just one boy from Hogwarts had asked that poor girl — you know, the one from the prom? — out on a date, it would have saved a lot of grief. I’m just saying.” Then again, she attributed the screams in the audience to King fans whispering to Rowling fans, “Harry’s going to bite it.”
Rowling wouldn’t say if Harry Potter’s death were imminent, although she joked that King’s advice to her should be — as she said in a witchy voice — “Kill him.” And when asked which characters she’d invite to dinner, Rowling responded, “Harry … to apologize to him,” which elicited gasps and screams of “No!” from the audience. Of course, in typical Rowling fashion, she dodged the bullet by naming other names to the list instead of addressing Harry’s possible demise, except to add, “I know who dies.”
“I don’t always enjoy killing my characters,” she said. “I didn’t enjoy killing the character at the end of ’Half Blood Prince,’ but I had been planning that for years, so I’d already done my grieving when it came time to write it.”
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One of the questions brought up on Wednesday night — surprisingly, from author and audience member Salman Rushdie — addressed a murder committed by Severus Snape at the end of “Half Blood Prince,” and its true motivation: Could he have been acting as a double agent, or did he ultimately reveal where his allegiance lies? “Snape, unlikeable as he is, is essentially one of the good guys. Is Snape good or bad? In our opinion, everything follows from it,” Rushdie said. “Your opinion was correct,” Rowling responded vaguely, perhaps confirming that despite his actions, Snape is more Harry’s ally than he realizes. (Or perhaps not.)
Rowling did hint that Harry’s archrival, Draco Malfoy, who was supposed to commit that murder but failed at the last moment, has a chance at redemption.
“Harry believes that Draco, even given unlimited time, would not have killed,” she said. “But for Draco’s future, you’ll have to wait and see.”
As for the future of Harry’s best pals Hermione and Ron, Rowling hinted more romance was in the air for the would-be couple.
“Hermione most likely wants to see the three of them alive, unscathed and Voldemort finished, but I think she also wants to see herself closely entwined with another person,” Rowling teased. “I think you can probably guess.” To cheers in the audience, she responded in disbelief, “There are people who wanted Harry and Hermione. They’re still out there. Come on now.”
Though Rowling said she was amazed at the ’shipping wars — the “gang warfare” between fans who want certain relationships to happen between characters — she doesn’t need any more feedback about “weird couplings.” “Jane Austen probably got less feedback,” she joked.
Also to come in book seven is more information about the relationship between a wizard and his wand, Harry’s seemingly cruel Aunt Petunia (“There’s more to Aunt Petunia than meets the eye,” Rowling said), and Harry’s mom, Lily Potter.
Even though Rowling wrote the final chapter of the yet-untitled book seven back in 1990, and has steadily been working “towards the end I planned from the beginning,” she acknowledged that she’d made some “fairly major changes,” not the least of which is the title, which she claimed to have revised while in the shower on Wednesday afternoon, although she wouldn’t reveal either the new or old title. As for the plot, she said, “A couple of the characters I expected to survive have died, and one character got a reprieve … But you shouldn’t expect Dumbledore to do a Gandalf,” she noted, referring to a similar character in “The Lord of the Rings.”
She also said she won’t shy away from including more death scenes in the final book just because “fans accuse me of sadism.”
“I feel I’m toughening them up to go on to read John Irving’s and Stephen King’s books,” she said. “They’ve got to be toughened up somehow. It’s a cruel literary world out there. I’m doing them a favor!”
[This story was originally published at 2:37 p.m. ET on 08.02.2006]
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