Freshman Emerson Spartz went on a business trip to Scotland last summer. His business: interviewing Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling—at her invitation—on the release date of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth book in the phenomenally successful series.
How did an 18-year-old from LaPorte in northwest Indiana come to merit such an honor? By heading www.mugglenet.com, one of the world’s most popular, sophisticated and financially successful Harry Potter fansites.
Rowling calls the site one of her favorites and admits to browsing and even posting comments on it. She personally telephoned Spartz to invite him to the book launch.
“Hello, Emerson? this is Jo,” is how Spartz recalls the conversation beginning (the J.K. in Rowling’s name stands for Joanne Kathleen). The author later told him she was worried that he would think the call was a prank, but Spartz says he immediately recognized her Scottish accent.
The freshman says he launched Mugglenet (in the Potter books and movies, Muggles are people without magical abilities) when he was 12 and just starting home-schooling.
“I was bored, and I found this personal website maker online. At the time, I was really into Harry Potter, so it just made sense.”
The site took off five years ago, he says, when he recruited his first two staff members. Today he oversees more than 100 people who help run the site from around the world—all volunteers and mostly high school and college students. The site averages between 5 million and 6 million hits per day and generates ad revenue in excess of six figures a year, according to its founder. [WHERE DOES MONEY GO?]
Rowling’s invitation was to come to Scotland for a private interview—"a chat" is how she termed it—on the July 16th release date of Half-Blood Prince.
Spartz says the festivities began Friday night at Edinburgh Castle, near Rowling’s home. He and other kids and teens who had been invited were treated to a great-hall-style banquet followed by a party that culminated with a midnight reading from the new book by Rowling herself.
Around 1 a.m. he was handed his copy of the new book and ran—literally—back to his hotel room to read it. Twelve hours later, he turned the last page and lay down for a 25-minute nap before rushing off to interview the author.
Spartz says they spent much of the time discussing plot and character details: motives, relationships (a fierce and not-too-friendly online debate has been raging over which girl Harry should end up with), and what color eyes Harry’s best friend, Ron, has. More serious topics were also addressed, he says, from recent world events (The Half-Blood Prince opens with a series of terrorist-type attacks on the non-wizarding world) to morals and whether the series is too dark.
Spartz’s work with Mugglenet has led him to enviable positions for Potter fans before. He says he attended the London release of the fifth Potter book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and visited the movie set of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, due out this November. He has also participated in movie premieres in London and New York.
Spartz says Mugglenet has given him “a little experience” in business management, which he intends to study at Notre Dame while continuing to work on the website. But Potter fans at Notre Dame may be disappointed to learn that he currently has no plans to start a fan club here.
"I"m not quite the fan that I used to be," he says. “I read the first four books between 10 and 20 times each. I’ve read the sixth book twice, but mostly because I had to for the site.”
These days, he says, he prefers nonfiction. Among his favorite topics: economics and globalization.