NOTE: There are spoilers for every single Harry Potter book in this post. You have been duly warned.
I’m a nerd. We’ve all been aware of this for a while, right? What with my random asides about Lord of the Rings, my gigantic collection of Neil Gaiman paraphernalia, my obsession lately with George R.R. Martin (Although the ending of Game of Thrones made me want to light him on fire…), I have cut quite a swath through the science fiction/fantasy section of my local bookstores. Although honestly, a lot of them aren’t very good. They substitute bombast for emotion, and pyrotechnics for true feeling and connection between characters.
Enter Harry Potter. And the world suddenly changes.
I first became aware of Harry Potter through the Hartford Courant, at the age of thirteen. I was in my 8th grade English class, cutting up newspapers for a project with some friends. If I recall it correctly, I was probably wearing L.E.I. jeans, jelly sandals, a cardigan with the top button done in order to make me look like a hipster octogenarian, and my hair adorned with about five Hot Topic sparkly butterfly clips. Back when Hot Topic wasn’t just a breeding ground for Twilight fans, it honestly scared us to go in that store. Everything smelled like vinyl and misery and the teens manning the cash registers looked like they put “Human Pin Cushion” on their job resumes.
I grabbed the Arts section of the Courant to cut up when a picture of a boy with a lightening scar across his forehead jumped out at me. The title of the article was something along the lines of “Harry Potter Enchants Young Readers”. The article itself was more of an explanatory thing, about how the books were a publishing phenomenon in Europe and that the two released books were making their way to the States. It also had some stuff to say about the plot, but mostly I was interested in the idea of a boy who had no idea he was special suddenly find out that he was practically a Messiah to an entire group of people. How would an eleven year old kid deal with that? What kind of magic were they practicing? What the hell is a Hufflepuff? (shoutout to A Very Potter Musical. Just go to Youtube and watch it. You’ll thank me.)
A couple of months later, I was in the bookstore looking for books to read on the team’s 1999 trip to Europe. I spotted in a big display in the children’s section those Harry Potter books I had read about in that article. I waffled about taking one, then snapped up both books available at that time; Prisoner of Azkaban wasn’t due out until the fall.
There are pictures around my house of me toting those books everywhere we went in Europe. There is literally a picture of me on the floor of a gym, both books in hand, while a game was going on in the background. I finished both of them on the trip, and reread them over and over again. I couldn’t even handle how amazing they were. The character of Hermione, specifically, thrilled me. Finally, a girl in a fantasy series who didn’t need rescuing! If anything, she was the one rescuing the boys from all of their stupid mistakes! And Ron! A best friend who was far, far, far from being just ‘comic relief’! And Harry. Oh, Harry. With his green eyes so full of wonder and surprise. And Hagrid, and Voldemort (You-Know-Who, I mean), and McGonagall, and the Weasleys, and just…everything. And the books were funny, and scary, and intricate, and light, and philosophical.
I. Was. Obsessed.
When Prisoner of Azkaban came out that fall, I immediately forked over my money and devoured it, and learned the true allegiances of Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and the violent secret of Remus Lupin and the dementors. Again, I was stunned at the scope. JK Rowling, I later found out, majored in mythology and religion in her classes at university, and that knowledge of cultures and old religions really shines through in all of the Harry Potter books. You can see it in everything she does. Also, the entire book made me want to eat chocolate in the worst way.
In the spring of 2000, Goblet of Fire made its way to the US and once again I dragged my mom to the bookstore to buy it. I read it at the pool, in other people’s living rooms, outside in the shade of the trees. The books were getting longer and the stakes were quickly rising. I had heard for months that someone would die in the fourth book and was betting all of my money on Hagrid, but then was surprised to see Cedric fall during the Maze. The concept of different wizarding schools was something I fell in love with, and the romance between Ron and Hermione got to the point where not a few times I yelled at the book “JUST GET TOGETHER, YOU MORONS.”
Since all of these books were published in the states within two years, I assumed the fifth book in the series would come out sometime in the similar time frame. WRONG.
Thankfully the movies were coming out by this point so I could be satisfied with those. The first two films are an exercise in slavish faithfulness to a text, but I still quite enjoyed them. The three main actors were adorable and earnest, and the British royalty in the supporting parts were as good as I could expect them to be. A few of my friends grumbled about some plot points that were left out, but honestly, they were both almost 3 hours with the cuts. What did you expect?
(Also, Sean Biggerstaff as Oliver Wood? Why, hello there.)
Three years later, I queued up with four of my friends in our local Borders to await the midnight release of Order of the Phoenix. I remember sitting on my butt in one of the alcoves of the store, debating the death of another character and trying to figure out who would die in this one. We also all swore that this would be the book where Ron and Hermione would finally get together, or Cho and Harry. When we received our copies, we all traipsed to Jaime’s house and sprawled across her bedroom, reading intently until we fell asleep. The end of the first chapter, where it is revealed Arabella Figg is a witch, got the best reactions. I finished it first and screeched, and then one by one the other girls realized the same thing, resulting in rolling screams and “Oh my God”‘s.
I came home that day after having stayed up most of the night to read, and my mother eventually almost picked me up and threw me into bed after I deliriously kept trying to steal the book from her to finish it up. She told me to get some rest and that it would be waiting for me after I got up. Fool. Harry Potter waits for no one. I drifted off to sleep around 4 in the afternoon and woke up at 11 PM. I found the book and plowed through the ending, and nearly woke the entire house with my screams after the death of Sirius Black. I believe more than a few F-bombs were unceremoniously dropped. I was gutted. That book also introduced the world to the most vile and disgusting female creation in a children’s novel (well, aside from Bella Swan. ZING.) Dolores Umbridge was something out of my worst nightmares. I must not tell lies, indeed.
Two years went by, and the film of Prisoner of Azkaban made its way to the theaters, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, and the changes made from book to film stunned me but also kind of thrilled me. I had been looking forward to a new director in the franchise, and he really made his mark with the changes in cinematography and mood. The series also brought in Gary Oldman and David Thewlis as Sirius Black and Lupin, and despite the pretty insane change to their ages (Sirius/Lupin are supposed to be in their late 20s, early 30s, and Gary Oldman is pushing 50 at the moment) they did great jobs with it. The series was quickly turning into “What British Actor Can We Put In This Thing”, but I didn’t mind. Not one bit.
Then, Half-Blood Prince. I remember I didn’t get a chance to buy this one until about 2 weeks after its initial release, due to just overall business in that part of the summer. By the time I got it, all of my friends had read it, and except for a mild spoiler I received from a friend (actually, I called her and begged “Please tell me Harry and Ginny end up together!!!”) i managed to keep my ears fairly empty of info about it. The Harry/Ginny coupling made perfect sense, and the guilt and inner monologues of Harry trying to talk himself out of his crush were pure gold. If the sixth movie dropped the ball on anything, it was their relationship. You get so much more of a sense of his love for her in the book, especially all of the descriptions of Ginny being catlike, and the smell of her hair. There’s a definite sexuality to the books that the movies kind of glaze over.
Also, the death of Dumbledore hit me like a punch in the stomach. Especially by Snape of all people. I will go to my grave absolutely hating Snape. Even the 7th book didn’t give me much sympathy for him. As my friend Lindsay said, “A crush doesn’t excuse torturing kids, dude.”
And then, the summer of 2007 hit like a freight train. I was done with college, making plans to move to NYC in the near future. My sister had just gotten engaged. Order of the Phoenix was in theaters. And at midnight on July 21st, I waited in line with a friend to receive my copy of the final book, The Deathly Hallows.
I ended up getting home from the release party at around 3 in the morning. I put the book on my desk with a promise to begin reading the instant I woke up. I sat on my bed, and looked back at the book. “Just the first chapter,” I told myself.
Six hours later, I threw the book down. I was delirious, and my eyes hurt from crying.
At the age of thirteen, I heard about a book with a magical boy who survives unspeakable loss. At 21 years old, I finished the story. My childhood as I knew it was over.
And this weekend, I experienced the same sort of loss as I sat in a theater at 10:30 at night, and saw the final Harry Potter film.
Those adorable kids from the first movie were no longer little. They were grown, mature adults, with extraordinary acting skills, and they reached through the screen and ripped my heart out. It was an ache in my gut that I have not experienced since i saw the third installment of Lord of the Rings several years ago. The amount of ugly crying I did in that film had previously been unmatched, until this weekend. Also, Alan Rickman is God. We just all play in his sandbox.
The movie was different from the book in a variety of ways, but that didn’t make it unfaithful, for the tone of the books and the magic of what JK Rowling had and has achieved shone through regardless. And the epilogue? Pitch perfect. Thank God they did reshoots!
I’m nearly 26 years old. I’m not supposed to cry at children’s books. But then again, when I first picked up this series, I was a child myself. It thrills me that at most of the midnight screenings across the country, the real die-hards were not little kids or teenagers. They were adults my age who had literally grown up along with Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Neville (NEVILLE!!!), Luna, and Ginny. They fell in love, fell out of it, experienced loss, fought with their friends, laughed a lot, and cried a lot.
All of this, plus some magic.
Only those who have read the books know the terror of Avada Kedavra, the hilarity of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes (and the sock in the gut at the death of Fred and the mutilation of George), the profound heroic sacrifice of a Patronus in the shape of a doe, the lunacy of Professor Trelawney’s Divination classes, and of course the plight of a Hippogriff named Buckbeak. We know how to silence a three-headed dog named Fluffy and also that Devil’s Snare is ‘deadly fun but will sulk in the sun’. We know that only a true Gryffindor can pull a sword out of the hat (Team Neville for LIFE.). We know what breaks a Polyjuice Potion, and how to crack open an egg for a Triwizard Challenge. We also know that the Sorting Hat takes your wishes into account; if you don’t want to be in Slytherin, just say so. Repeatedly. We know the difference between Wizard’s Chess and Stupid Muggle Chess. We know to never, ever, EVER call someone a “Mudblood.”
We know how to play Quidditch, and it is not something you can play in a field somewhere and attempt to make it a Division 1 sport. Are you kidding me? What the hell is the point of a Quidditch game without real flying?! Quidditch is for Wizards Only.
We felt joy at the blossoming love between Harry and Ginny, a pairing some saw coming and others didn’t. We felt fear and sadness at the deaths of people we had come to care about, and outrage at the behaviors of Cornelius Fudge, Bellatrix Lestrange and Dolores Umbridge.
The beautiful and flawed and complex and sheer loveliness of the relationship between Ron and Hermione. A real, honest-to-God love story, where they grow and mature together until they know each other inside and out, which can drive each other bonkers and make each other jealous as hell, but at the same time it proves that they literally cannot survive without each other. Their coming together in the seventh book literally made me jump up and down in my bed with glee. (“Is this the moment?” Harry asked weakly.) They compliment each other so elegantly and intelligently, and to see that epilogue, rendered so gorgeously by JK Rowling, really just thrilled me like nothing else.
Harry Potter was my gateway drug to other forms of literature that I had known nothing about. Were it not for Harry Potter, I would not have sat in a theater and seen a trailer for a movie about a little man who needs to destroy a Ring of Power, and thought to myself, “That looks really cool, plus Elijah Wood is in it.” I would never have fallen in love with Middle Earth if it weren’t for the cupboard in Little Whinging, Surrey. I also would never have known the worlds of Winterfell and King’s Landing if it weren’t for Harry. Nor the worlds of Avalon, or Narnia, or Arbonne, or Al-Rassan.
I would not have reached into the caverns of my soul and realized, with a shock and a few humongous crocodile tears, that the real reason I was put on this earth was not to entertain, but to educate.
And all it took for this little chubby girl, wandering around a bookstore, trying to find something to read on the buses between Valenciennes and Paris, was stumbling upon a boy with a lightening scar, flying to the rescue. A boy who grew up with the worst of mankind’s evil imprinted on his very soul, and made the choice to fight it.
Thank you, thank you, thank you Harry.
Although, I suspect millions of other kids my age feel the same.
PS. JK Rowling, if you ever deign to read this…new book? Please? Pretty please?
PPS. When did Matthew Lewis (Neville in the movies) get so hot? Can someone explain this to me?