What's next for hungry young bookworms?

| Sunday, July 8, 2007

When "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is released on July 21, it will mark the end of a remarkable run for writer J.K. Rowling. Her books have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide since "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" debuted a decade ago.

Rowling's determination to end the series will leave a vacuum. Another book, another series, undoubtedly will become the next must-read among the children's set.

Already a few books -- including Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," "Here, There Be Dragons" by James Owens and the "Stonewylde" series by Kit Berry -- are being touted as successors to Harry Potter's legacy. All have some element of fantasy, which means they are at best variations on the same theme, and at worst, imitators jumping on the bandwagon.

So it stands to reason that the next big thing "will be entirely different," says Lisa Dennis, the coordinator of the children's collection for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Dennis says that the children's market usually has one dominant genre. Before Harry Potter, the "Goosebumps" series, by R.L. Stine, captured the imaginations of children by way of its fanciful take on horror. Then Rowling shepherded a fantasy revival.

No one could have predicted either series would become so wildly popular, which is why Dennis anticipates a book or series coming out of left field.

"I think we're going to swing to some other sort of next big thing," Dennis says. "My only guess is that it will be something different and unexpected. If I had to guess, it might be something like a graphic novel."

While Rowling hasn't let on what her plans are, it is conceivable that her next book or series might become the new sensation. While there has been much speculation that "Deathly Hallows" might bring the demise of the beloved character, there's also some thought that Rowling might decide to feature other characters from her books. As J.R.R. Tolkien tried -- and mostly failed -- to recapture the wonder of Middle-earth, would Rowling dare revisit one of her characters?

Elisa Beshero-Bondar, an assistant professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, wouldn't mind Rowling revisiting the character of Hermione Granger.

"Hermione is this character with a lot of potential," says Beshero-Bondar, who teaches a course in fantasy and romance at the university. "But pretty much, kind of to my surprise, this epic cycle of Harry Potter has been kind of Harry-centered. To the extent that he's flying around on the Quidditch field, sometimes I think I'm reading about a football player and his popularity and the highs and lows of his life."

Beshero-Bondar realizes that there may be no incentive for Rowling to revisit the Hogwarts gang. Instead, she might mimic Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin, the author of the "Earthsea" series.

"If she's going to follow their direction, then Rowling will probably write within her own secondary universe," Beshero-Bondar says. "That's exactly what Le Guin keeps doing, revisiting 'Earthsea.' And that's what Tolkien was doing throughout his life, developing the back story of Middle Earth, to the extent that he has so many papers and so much that never appeared during his life that Christopher Tolkien can go and publish all this stuff from his dad's desk and make a fortune. ... What about the story of Albus Dumbledore as a young man, or something like that?"

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