x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

When the spell starts to wear off ...

One moment it was Pokemon, the next it was boy wizards. What is next in store for the kiddies?

Daniel Radcliffe may need that magic wand if he wants to continue his Harry Potter-level success.
Daniel Radcliffe may need that magic wand if he wants to continue his Harry Potter-level success.

One of the nicest little earners in pop-cultural history is entering the home straight this week. In a whirl of hormones and horcruxes, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens in cinemas around the world. It was the penultimate book in JK Rowling's staggeringly popular series and will be the antepenultimate film: Warner Bros, presumably swayed by the $900 million (Dh3.3 billion) that the previous instalment took worldwide, is splitting the last novel into two parts for its cinematic incarnation, so there's a couple more years of fresh Potter product still to come.

It's strange, though, to think what the world will look like once this freakish episode has finally run its course. Enough has been written about how Potter got children reading, or how he united a global generation in a vague, perverse desire for an English boarding school education. Yet none of it really captures the weirdness of the phenomenon. As I remember it, one moment children were collecting Pokémon and happy-slapping one another, and the next they were all peacefully in thrall to the Enid Blytonish adventures of a boy wizard. It was like waking up in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers: the world had been taken over by pod people, forming midnight queues outside disbelieving bookshops and reading children's books the size of cereal packets while their fellow commuters blushed.

Even more surreal, at least from my point of view, was the fact that the suburban weakling at the heart of all this had been given my face. It's true: for years I haven't been able to enter a lending library in the UK without getting stared at with a frank combination of pity and awe. In Japan, strangers have come up to me whispering the cherished name. I am, it appears, the entire planet's idea of what an implausible hero looks like. Give me some superpowers and a thrilling destiny and I'll be set, chiz chiz.

Perhaps it's churlish to complain about this. Few literary characters have found themselves the object of such intense romantic speculation - and so much eye-watering fan fiction - as Harry Potter. If I never found a way to capitalise on any of it, the blame can hardly be laid at Rowling's door. What's more, I'm reluctant to press my wife on precisely what first recommended me to her; I haven't ruled out a Potter connection and I'd prefer not to have my suspicions confirmed. (Ach, but the dreams, the dreams! My own phizog, jaggedly scarred, smirking its confiding smirk back at me... Twisting to deliver its spell: "Obliviate...")

And so I regard the passing of the Potter age with some rather complex emotions. The same seems to go in exaggerated form for the young actors who have become so rich off the back of it. What will become of them? Daniel Radcliffe, we know, is looking over his shoulder at the young bucks coming out of drama school. "They've been learning dance or singing and all that stuff," he told Esquire magazine recently, "and I'm going to need to compete with them because I won't have Harry Potter as my safety net any more."

Rupert Grint, who plays Harry's friend Ron Weasley, sounds even more anxious. "I don't know if I'm good enough to have a long career," he told the Daily Mail. "I've got a bit of an inferiority complex about my acting." As for Emma Watson, she seems actively to hanker for obscurity. She's off to study in America, and has tried to keep her destination secret (Radcliffe, the fink, says she's accepted a place at Brown). "I'm doing this because I want to be normal," she told Teen Vogue. "I really want anonymity."

All three seem to accept that their period of enchantment is drawing to a close, that their fairy gold may be about to turn back to dead leaves and that they must shore up their lives against the coming day. Good luck to them. None of them can act especially well and only Watson could be said to have good looks on her side, but they're appealing scamps all the same. Radcliffe, it was rumoured, used to catch some fairly nasty bullying over his role in the series. One unconfirmed anecdote had him locked in a school cupboard while his persecutors shouted: "Magic yourself out of that, Potter!" No wonder he's jumpy now. Here's hoping he finds a source of power that's really his own.