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Winter 2008 (March 17, 2008)

Cheryl Klein and the Book of Secrets

By Danny LaChance ’01
Cheryl Klein '00

As continuity editor for the Harry Potter series, Cheryl Klein ’00 may be the world’s greatest expert on all things Hogwarts

It should have been an editor’s dream.

In the early morning hours of July 21, 2007, Cheryl Klein ’00, an editor at the publishing company Scholastic, was standing on the Prince Street subway platform in lower Manhattan. She had just come from the midnight release party for the Harry Potter series’ final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And there, standing all around her, New Yorkers were hunched over the opening pages of the book she had been working on for months, unable to wait until they got home to find out what would finally become of their bespectacled hero.

But Klein didn’t feel the sense of accomplishment you might expect to come from having helped edit a book that boasted an unprecedented first print run of 12 million copies. After months of closely guarding the final twists and turns of the Potter saga—a job that involved couriering author J. K. Rowling’s manuscript on a flight from London to New York and following Fort Knox–like security procedures at the office to ensure that the book’s contents weren’t leaked prior to its release—Klein felt shocked to see the book in the hands of so many Muggles (people who don’t have magical powers, that is).

“I kept looking around, thinking, ‘Are you allowed to have that?’ ” she says. “It took a conscious sort of calming down for me to relax and not be freaked out that other people had this book.” Indeed, for years, as Klein worked on the final three books of the Potter series, her family and friends have known better than to ask her to reveal anything. If people did ask, she would say: “You don’t want me to tell you. You want J. K. Rowling to tell you.” The answer was hard to dispute.

The most harrowing moments of guarding the book’s secrets came when Klein personally had to transport the manuscript from one location to another. For security reasons, manuscripts were never shipped or sent over the Internet. “It was always a bizarre, delightful secret to know that I was transporting the manuscripts through some of the world’s busiest airports and nobody had a clue,” Klein says. Twice security guards stopped her. Once, with Order of the Phoenix in tow, she hesitated when a security agent asked her to open her bag. “The guard jumped in and said, ‘What? What? You’ve got something there you don’t want me to see?’ ” So she unzipped her backpack, hoping to defuse the situation. “He looked inside,” Klein recalls, “and I could see him think, ‘Huh. A big stack of paper. Big deal.’ ”

Now that the book has been out for months, the sight of its telltale orange cover no longer causes her to do a double take. And Klein has turned her attention to editing other books for children and young adults.

She’s been working in the field since she graduated from Carleton. Hired as an editorial assistant at the Scholastic imprint Arthur A. Levine Books, the American publisher of the Harry Potter series, Klein found herself in the right place at the right time. The fifth Potter book was under way, and Levine decided that Rowling’s world had grown so large that it needed someone to keep track of the minutiae. Klein was tapped for the job.

“The Harry Potter series takes big, important things and makes them human and approachable; it thinks about them with a sense of humor and respect,” says Cheryl Klein ’00. “That seems like Carleton to me.”

Assuming the role of the series’ chief Potterologist, as Time magazine dubbed her, Klein was responsible for ensuring that the elaborate world Rowling had created—with a complex cast of characters, a thorough set of magical rules, and a language of its own—was as consistent as possible. If the incantation Alohomora! was used to unlock a door, she had to be sure it wasn’t used later to make someone dance uncontrollably (that’s Tarantallegra!). She kept track of the characters’ class schedules and made sure each character was matched up with the correct Patronus, the force that wizards conjure to help them fight off enemies. She even monitored wand lengths and which hand each character would use to wield a wand. Says Klein, “I’ve made multiple charts of the departments on each floor of the Ministry of Magic, the owners of various wands, the locations of Horcruxes”—objects bewitched by the dark wizard Voldemort in his quest for immortality.

She had lots of help. Fans of the series, some as young as six or seven, are obsessed with the details. They write to Klein and her colleagues whenever they spot the tiniest hole in the fabric of Rowling’s universe. She can’t count the number of letters she’s received from children who have pointed out that on page 157 of early editions of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Percy Weasley is referred to as Perry (the error is corrected in later editions).

Klein’s role may seem mechanical—better suited for an accountant than an English major—but the former Carletonian copy editor doesn’t see a sharp divide between punctuation and poetics. Details that seem minor nevertheless convey meaning, she says. “For instance, Death appears in the last book as a character and we had to decide whether or not the word had to be capitalized,” she explains. Decisions like that, made in consultation with Rowling, reminded Klein that the work isn’t pedantry.

“You’re applying analytic thoughts to decide what emotion people should be feeling,” she says. “It’s being scientific about emotions.”

Rowling was receptive to painstaking feedback from members of the American and British editorial staffs, Klein says: “If we pointed out something that seemed a little odd, she’d often say, ‘Oh no, let me fix it.’ ” Klein remembers pausing while she was reading an original manuscript in which Harry “smirked.” “We said, ‘Hmm, we thought he was having a nice moment with his friends there—should he really be smirking?’ ” Rowling changed the word to smile.

“People often are surprised to hear that we edited the books at that level or even that we edit them at all. They think Rowling is too powerful to accept any editing,” Klein says. “But good writers know that editors are trying to help their stories be the best they can be, and she was always thoughtful and appreciative of our comments.”

Klein, who was promoted to senior editor in fall 2007, realizes that, in all likelihood, she has edited the most popular books of her career. That won’t make her work in publishing any less satisfying, she says. Among her current projects is a Japanese martial arts fantasy called Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. “It’s got wonderful characters, fascinating magic, and terrific action scenes,” she says. “I’m just as enthusiastic about it and my other projects as I am about Harry. Even if they don’t sell 12 million copies, I’m still going to love them.”

Web Extra: Check out Klein's editing web site “Talking Books.”

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