Harry Potter casts a spell on grownups

People who have more in common with Dumbledore than with school-age wizards are leading the charge to the latest film

  • "When I read Harry Potter -- and I read it over and over and over again -- I get to escape," says Sarah Giannattasio, an adult Harry Potter fan. "Right now a lot of adults needs that escape. The economy bad. The world is not always the best place. ... It puts some fun into your life."
"When I read Harry Potter -- and I read it over and over and… (Jed Kirschbaum, The Baltimore…)
November 12, 2010|By Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun

When Kris Sankovich gets going about Harry Potter — and it doesn't take much — one might want to sit down, hold the phone away from the ear and prepare for the verbal equivalent of a thousand sloppy kisses, a gushing love letter to wizardry and magic, unleashed breathlessly — and with a fair amount of squealing.

"Haaaaarry!" she yelled the other day, remembering the opening this coming week of the latest movie in the series, " Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." "HARRY'S COMING!"

Sankovich, it should be noted, is old enough to be young Master Potter's grandwitch. But these days, it's not children, it's fans like her, with their mortgages, marriages and memory lapses, that galvanize the Potter empire — buying collector's edition books, ordering Hogwarts-wear, crowding online chat rooms, attending Potter conventions and, yes, buying advance tickets to the new film.

"It's sick for a 60-year-old to love Harry," the Fallston woman says. "But I do."

English publishers outed the graying Potter fans years ago by issuing versions of the books with adult covers, just so grownups could read them in public without embarrassment. By the time the last book came out in 2007, the publisher estimated that adult covers made up 60 percent of sales.

It's safe to assume that few curfews will be broken at the midnight premiere on Friday.

Kathy MacMillan, a 35-year-old from Owings Mills, will be there, along with two friends she met through a Harry Potter fan website. She might go on Saturday, too.

Sarah Giannattasio, a 31-year-old account clerk with Baltimore County government and an expectant mother, has called off Friday to attend the late show. She's also begun rereading all of the Potter books to prepare.

Karen Elliot, who's 55 and a computer consultant from Baltimore, will not be there this weekend — but only because it pains her that the series is concluding, and she wants to make it last. "It's sort of like a treat," she says, "that you're holding on to for when you really, really need it."

Sankovich will take in the movie this weekend with her daughter, Samantha, who at age 25 with a marketing job and a downtown apartment, shows strong symptoms of the family Potter-itis. One would think Sankovich would have invited her grandchildren, who range in age from 10 to 16, seemingly the target demographic for what's essentially a children's story. But like a lot of kids, they're sticking to video games and Justin Bieber, leaving Harry Potter, with no small amount of irony, to the fogies. "It's not their thing," she sighs.

Neither, apparently, is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Orlando, Fla., theme park that mother and daughter visited this fall, dragging along a less-enthusiastic husband and boyfriend.

If you want to hear a sexagenarian in ecstasy, ask Sankovich about the attraction.

"I'm telling you, when we got close, when we were walking up to it, I could just feel my stomach getting tight," she says. "When I saw the rooftop of Hogwarts with the snow cover, I got chills — and goose bumps. It was all that and more. … Just sooo, sooo good."

With enthusiasm like that, to say nothing of Giannattasio's owning a Gryffindor scarf, or the tribute tattoo on MacMillan's back, one might wonder what the draw is for folks more likely to identify with Dumbledore's wrinkles than the schoolyard capers of Harry, Ron and Hermione.

Giannattasio, who went out and bought the first book years ago after Rosie O'Donnell raved about it on her TV show, has proselytized ever since. Everyone knows her habit of buying a new Potter book, sitting down with it and then not getting up — except for bathroom breaks — until she's done. Her record is 11 hours — a shameful little fact her brother-in-law mentioned in his toast at her wedding.

With increasing responsibilities the deeper into adulthood she gets, and now with a baby on the way, she thinks Harry helps keep her in touch with what it's like to be a carefree kid.

"When I read Harry Potter — and I read it over and over and over again — I get to escape," she says. "Right now, a lot of adults need that escape. The economy is bad. The world is not always the best place. These books talk about good and bad, and they deal with those issues, but it's through a world of magic and wizarding. It puts some fun into your life."

Samantha Sankovich guesses she's about "5 percent embarrassed" to be so Harry-crazy. But for the most part, she really doesn't care if people understand why she's got a wand, some Harry glasses and a snow globe featuring the young wizard on a broomstick chasing the golden snitch.

"A lot of people think it's embarrassing," she says. "They grow up and think they have to hide their childhood. I don't."

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