The master of Silliman — not Slytherin — College, determination by several “Harry Potter” fanatics, and an “Accio!” summoning charm was all it took to bring Arthur Levine, editor of the “Harry Potter” series, to a jam-packed Silliman College Master’s Tea yesterday afternoon.
Levine, the publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books, a division of Scholastic, has worked with “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling from her humble beginnings. As editor, he is charged with many tasks, including serving as the first reader of Rowling’s manuscripts and guiding the appearance of the U.S. version of the book series that has become the most successful in history.
More than 100 students flocked to hear Levine discuss the series and many were on the edges of their seats, cheering at any mention of the similarities between Yale and Hogwarts and pleading for insight into the seventh and final “Harry Potter” novel, which will be published in two years.
“My suitemate said, ‘Oh my god, he may know the ending of the seventh book. We have to go!’” Beth Reisfeld ’09 said.
Levine seemed to especially move students when he explained that, even prior to reading Rowling’s manuscript, he had a dream of publishing a children’s novel that would remain a favorite through adulthood.
“I adored this,” Michelle Wofsey ’08 said. “It was so much more than I expected. What he had to say about the publishing world and that he went in to it with such a pure aim and clear vision, and wasn’t in it for the money, kind of brought tears to my eyes.”
But for those who were shocked and saddened at the death of Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” Levine offered empathy, but little hope.
“First, I felt just shock, and then I felt there’s no way, just no way, Dumbledore couldn’t be dead,” Levine said. “So I thought, ‘What’s the trick?’ but unfortunately J.K. Rowling doesn’t do that. She’s writing about war and in war people die. They are not protected by their office and the esteem in which they are held. She wouldn’t compromise that idea by easily bringing him back.”
Levine also discussed what he saw as the essence of the Potter series beyond “Avada Kedabra” curses, Qudditch tournaments and enormous, half-giant professors.
“I think that there is a lot of metaphorical truth in the books, and I think that particularly when she talks about things like the protection of love,” Levine said. “I think the reading experience is more rich and complex than just a bunch of fun, funky magical effects.”
Levine, who said he regularly speaks to Rowling and visits her home in Edinburgh, Scotland, said he has always adored the author’s work. He called Rowling “brilliant,” saying she strikes him as someone who could have been his pal in high school.
Though his work on the “Harry Potter” series will end soon, Levine surprised some when he said he has no intention of ending his partnership with Rowling.
“I think I’ll have complex feelings about [the last book],” Levine said. “It’s clearly the series that I will be best known for. But it won’t be, it’s not the end of my career. It’s not the last thing J.K. Rowling will write either, and my relationship with her will continue.”
Few in the audience were more excited to meet Levine than Sudipta Bandyopadhyay ’08, one of only 10 winners out of 12,000 entries of the national “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” Essay Contest. Bandyopadhyay won a trip to London and a seat at a book reading by Rowling.
“I’m so excited about this,” Bandyopadhyay said. “He’s like the first American to read each ‘Harry Potter.’ God, I’m so jealous!”
Bandyopadhyay, who wrote his award-winning essay on the lure of a “charm that could compel a wicked man to experience the painful suffering of his victims,” contacted Levine this summer with the idea of attending a Tea at Yale. Levine quickly accepted, Bandyopadhyay said.
“There is a Facebook group called ‘I chose Yale because it’s like Hogwarts’,” Bandyopadhyay said. “It’s kind of a fitting place [for Levine to come to] with Yale having so many similarities to Hogwarts. My joke is that Silliman is Gryffindor and Timothy Dwight is Slytherin. The master is just like Professor McGonagall.”
Silliman Master Judith Krauss said the Tea was an important way for students to learn about publishing and editing through the “Harry Potter” platform.
“I think what stood out the most for me was his reflection from the Potter books that one can build one’s own family; that it’s not just the family one is born into,” Krauss said. “I think that’s exactly what the residential college system is about.”
Pointing to an ominous painting hanging on the wall in Krauss’ living room, Levine agreed that the Hogwarts School of Witchraft and Wizardry shares many characteristics with Yale.
“I swear that portrait over there waved at me during the talk,” he said. “This is the closest you can get to Hogwarts in the United States.”