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The Case of the ‘Harry Potter’ Hacker: Is It William Safire?

Courtesy of Arthur A. Levine Books

The mystery surrounding the identity of the Harry Potter spoiler is almost as great as whether he has any idea what he’s talking about. What people seem to be taking on faith, though, are his proposed motives. In his clumsy words, “Harry Potter bring the youngs of our earth to Neo Paganism faith. So we make this spoiler to make reading of the upcoming book useless and boring.” Naturally, you’d expect some fundamentalist foreigner — perhaps a German, as he seems fond of quoting the new pope. But what if, like those suspiciously awkward-sounding anthrax letters, Gabriel’s garbled words — and maybe even his professed motives — are just meant to throw off the scent? We’ve rounded up some suspects who have made their anti-Rowling bile public, beginning with William Safire.

William Safire: Mr. Pedantic wrote a scathing Potter-hating column in the New York Times decrying the “infantilization” of America. “It’s about time Potter was pipped [narrowly defeated],” he wrote. That was in 2000. How angry is he seven years later? He has access to people in high places. And his alibi — Who, me? I’d never use such poor grammar! — is suspiciously convenient.

Suspense Writers and Their Publishers: Back when Harry Potter’s books started crowding out the Times best-seller lists (before the paper was forced to create a separate children’s list), also-ran Ed McBain complained that he and other writers had been “Pottered” off the list. Who are these other writers? And who are their editors? David Rosenthal, then the editor of Simon & Schuster, said that “It’s great, they’re getting kids to read. But, frankly, it’s time for them to get the hell out of the way.” Maybe he figured they needed a little push.

A.S. Byatt: Never shy about her own literary talents and an occasional best-selling writer herself, the British novelist famously delivered a long, Voldemoort-ish rant over Potter. “Miss Rowling’s magic world is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons and the exaggerated mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip.” Now that’s catty. Is she a righteous vigilante?

Theoretical Marxists: What would be trickier than extreme left-wingers masquerading as the religious right? Potential co-conspirators include postmodernist Andrew Blake, who wrote a 2002 book titled The Irresistible Rise of Harry Potter (with a golden pot of dollars plopped ominously on its cover) and Pierre Bruno, who wrote in Paris’ Libération that “Harry Potter is a sexist neo-conservative autocrat.” Come to think of it, Gabriel’s rant is just incoherent enough to be the work of a postmodern academic.

Alois Gmeiner: Then again, maybe it’s a double-trick, and the perp really is Austrian. In 2001, Gmeiner set up “The Anti–Harry Potter Hotline,” a phone number that asked callers to “Get it off your chest, tell us how much you hate Harry Potter.” The service then sneakily recorded the rants for a book Gmeiner was planning to write. “It’s the hype surrounding Harry Potter that gets on my nerves,” he told the papers. Gmeiner has a pretty extensive Website in German and seems tech-savvy enough to do the kind of hacking Gabriel did.

Either that, or it’s ol’ You-Know-Who. —Boris Kachka

The Case of the ‘Harry Potter’ Hacker: Is It William Safire?