Legend has it that at the height of Charles Dickens’ popularity, American readers waited on the docks of New York City’s southern tip for shipments of the latest section of his then-current novel. In modern times a few books crept into subsets of our culture when we weren’t looking. After the release of the third and final installment of Lord of the Rings graffiti appeared on New York subways proclaiming, “Frodo Lives!” Yet I can not recall any other book in my lifetime that gripped the imagination of the reading public like the Harry Potter series. For over a decade (well, the frenzy didn’t really start until Prisoner of Azkaban) Harry Potter entranced the world’s readers. He appealed to people across the globe and in every age group.It was like nothing we had ever seen. And boy, was it fun!
I know I’ve written about this experience before, but it bears repeating. I was teaching seventh grade for the first and only time of my career. I noticed lots of kids walking around campus with a nose stuck in a Harry Potter book. In truth, I noticed Harry Potter books the year before but the numbers weren’t large enough to make me ask about them. But this year was different. The books were prevalent throughout the school. One particular day one of my students, a young lady named Savannah walked by me while she was reading Prisoner of Azkaban. I asked her what was the appeal. She asked if I read any of the books, to which I answered no. In truth, I was a literary snob thanks in part to my high school English teacher. Great literature had to stand the test of time so it could be vetted properly. I had no desire to read modern works. They were just pop-fiction, after all. (Thank goodness I changed because I was a total fool back then!) When Savannah heard my response she, knowing my Alphaness, became an Alpha herself and insisted I start reading Harry Potter immediately! I laugh about it now because she wasn’t trying to be disrespectful at all. She felt so compelled that I should read those books that she gave me a dose of my own medicine, put her foot down, and MADE me go buy the book. Thank you, Savannah, where ever you are!
I drove to Barnes and Noble after work and bought Sorcerer’s Stone. It took about three hours to read. As soon as I finished, I drove back to Barnes and Noble and bought Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban. I was hooked! The following night I read book 2 with book 3 on the third night. I would have to wait two months for the release of Goblet of Fire. Starting with that book and with every subsequent release, I attended the midnight release parties. The week Order of the Phoenix was released I was on vacation at Walt Disney World. The first day we were there I ventured out to find the nearest book store. On release night I left my family (I was unmarried at the time and traveling with my parents, my brother, and his family) at Epcot at 4:00 p.m. and drove to Walden’s Books to get in line. I was number three. For the release of Half Blood Prince I was number two. For Deathly Hallows I was number five. My dedication to that series would never be questioned.
The first six books I read at least thirty times each. Excessive, right? But one must remember that there was a mystery to solve. In fact, each book had several parallel storylines that required extreme attention to detail. And the series as a whole was one giant mystery: Why did Voldemort want to kill Harry and why did Harry survive the killing curse? With each passing volume Jo perfected her craft. Even in the early titles the clues were subtly hidden, sometimes even in plain view. For example, did you recognize that every time Ron tried to use hyperbole to joke about their current situation that he was actually telling you what was about to occur? Or that whenever a character was interrupted we were being pointed to valuable information to resolve the plot? Even the etymologies of the characters’ names needed our attention. Voldemort was derived from French, meaning “flight from death.” Dumbledore was an ancient Anglo Saxon word meaning “bumblebee.” Albus taught transfiguration, yet we were never told what he transformed himself into. Now you know! Rita Skeeter….That hussy needed a good throat punch. The word skeeter is a colloquial form of “mosquito.” She was certainly a blood sucker. The list can go on and on.
Deathly Hallows I read only twice. The night the book was released, July 21, 2007, I bought my copy and started reading in the van while my dad drove all of us home (Again, I wasn’t married at the time). When we got home at 12:45 a.m. I went up to bed and continued reading until 8:00 a.m. when I went to the bathroom and then headed downstairs to make myself a bagel for breakfast. Then, it was time to sprawl out on the couch and finish reading. At 1:15 on Saturday afternoon, I finished the book. I wept. I wept the way I did when I mourned the death of my grandfather. For the first time in nearly eight years of my life I would no longer have a new Harry Potter book to look forward to. The mystery was solved. All the characters would now move on with their lives and I would no longer be a part of them. It would be seven years before I could bring myself to read Deathly Hallows again.
There will be those among us who will never understand how any sane person can have such a strong emotional connection to a book. But they have never allowed themselves to be immersed in a story, to live vicariously through the lives of characters who are more real to us than the people we see in our lives every day. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were our friends and our family. We knew their secret thoughts and deeds when others did not. We felt Harry’s fear of death each time his life was in danger and we cheered him on when he showed the courage of a true Gryffindor and faced that fear head on. We wondered if we would have the courage to do the same. For those people who have only seen the movies, I feel bad for them. The movies are wonderful representations of the highlights of the stories, but watching a director’s vision and an actor’s interpretation is not the same as becoming a part of the story in your mind, your heart, and your soul. As much as many of you will love Alan Rickman’s Snape for his secretive heroism, those of us who knew Snape long before Rickman sawthe true tragedy of a man who desperately wanted to love someone who couldn’t love him in return. We saw the young man who was bullied incessantly by a boy many saw a hero and the resulting depression that lead him to trust in a demon who promised power to seek revenge on those who hurt him. Yet we knew the true tragedy was in what Snape could have been had life not dealt him a terrible hand and a lonely fate. Of all the characters in the series, I love Snape most. It is true that many times he did not deserve love but at all times he desperately needed it.
Remus, Tonks, Fred, George, Minerva, Albus, Percy, Molly, Arthur, Sirius, Doby, Myrtle, Sir Nicholas, Rubeus, Kreacher, Lily, James, Seamus, Dean, Oliver, Lavender,Colin, Lee, Angelina, Firenze, Grawp, Buckbeak, Draco, Severus, Gilderoy, Alastor, Sybill, Rosmerta, Victor, Cedric, Fleur, Aberforth, Godric, Rowena, Salazar, Helga, Bill, Xenophilius, Olivander, Ginny, Neville, Luna, Ron, Hermione, Harry. Look at those names. If each and everyone of them puts a huge smile across your face, you understand the joy of those books. You lived the adventure and fought back the Dementors and Death Eaters at the Battle of Hogwarts. You died with Harry in the Dark Forest and you chose to return to finish the quest because you knew the people you loved were worth fighting for. You, my friend, are a Harry Potter fan.
I’m thrilled to see new Harry Potter fans in today’s generation of kids. My oldest son is hooked on the series. I admit that he watched the movies first, but when he finally took my advice and started reading them he couldn’t stop. He asks me lots of questions, most of which have to do with why important parts were left out of the movies. I told him to think of the movies and the books as separate universes.
We are happy to see the stories in the movies, but we are blessed to LIVE the story in the books. The smile on his face assured me he understood. Welcome to the Club, Phillip!