Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Harry Potter Problem

This past week, I had the complete and utter pleasure of re-reading the 7th Harry Potter book. And my, my, I had forgotten how completely and utterly the entire series had sucked me in and drowned me in a sea of happiness. I know, that sounds really pathetic. And, while I consider myself well-read and versed in a whole range of literature, and can analyze Faulkner and Fitzgerald with the best of them, and was quietly devastated by Woolf and Cather, I don't think any book has wreaked such havoc on my emotions as the Harry Potter series has. And, believe me, I say that with much trepidation, as I am, admittedly, a little of a book snob (but you know this already).

I've already come forth with my latent love for one Ronald Weasley (and I'll never forgive that brainy, stuck-up Hermione Granger for stealing him from me), but when I wrote about that, I really was laughing at myself. A few months ago, being years removed from Harry Potter (I read the l final book when it first came out, and never turned back) gave me enough distance to remember the silly obsession.

Time Magazine, September 1999.
My love affair with Harry Potter began not with the first book, but with the second. My mother bought it for me at the old Bickerton & Ripley bookstore on Main st in Edgartown while we were on vacation. I remember thinking the cover with the red bird was kind of weird, and that I hated science fiction, but my mom insisted, she'd heard it was a good book. I was eleven years old. I began reading, and reading, and reading, and I was so engrossed I would make myself put it down just so it would last a little bit longer. When we got home from the Vineyard, I bought the first book and gulped that one down too. I was so excited to see advertisements in Borders for the third book, due out the first week of September. I was so jealous of my best friend, Kristin, whose mom went out and bought her the book on our first day of 6th grade. I didn't want anyone else to have him. I wanted Harry Potter to be all for me, my world, my secret. I constantly created new characters and plotlines that interwove with Rowling's own perfected, intricate story. And then, suddenly, Harry Potter was everywhere, and everyone loved him, and Rowling sold out and the books went to Hollywood, which upset my 13-year-old self oh so much.

Nevertheless, my passion stayed true, right until the end. I refused to see the movies (which was what I considered, at the time, to be a symbol of a "pure" fan...oh the irony...I have since seen a few of them), I read most of the books three, four, five times each. As I grew older, however, and the space between book releases became greater, I would lose interest, be reabsorbed into my own teenage dramas, far away from the non-existant magical world I had spent much of my pre-adolescence so enamored with. I was 19 years old when the 7th book came out, and I started reading around the clock-- a week before it was launched I re-read numbers 5 and 6 (just, you know, because my obsession had reared its ugly head to refresh my memory), and by the time 7 was in my hands (and in the hands of my dad, brother, and sister...that's right, we bought 4 copies), I couldn't put the damn thing down to save my life. In fact, when my high school boyfriend and I broke up later that year, this was one of his issues with me: "this summer you didn't even want to talk to me! All you wanted to do was read Harry Potter!" Which was a little of an exaggeration, if you ask me, but that's a story not for this blog.

But then it was over, the entire nerve-grating adventure, done forever without even possibility of returning for an eighth novel. I closed the last book, sorely disappointed that the entire series never addressed anything about what I considered at the time to be "real life" topics: sex, drugs, and religion. For instance, why do they have Christmas, Easter and Godparents, but no mention of whether or not they are Christians? Surely, for all the philosophical blah-blah that happens in the series, you would think it might have come up. I decided Rowling was one of two things: too exhausted to touch on religion (despite the fact that she so painstakingly included the two largest Christian holidays and the addition of a Christian tradition of Godparentage), or she had a mental lapse and forgot about it. And where was the steam? Where was the sex? You mean to tell me that they keep all these high school age kids pent up in a magical castle and none of them are doing the no-pants dance? Then what the hell was the room of requirement for? I was so upset that only "snogging" was involved. Rowling was so quick to sensor herself. No stirrings bigger than "a feeling behind the navel." Even butterbeer had to be corrected (because no one can have 13 year olds drinking), only house elves can get drunk off of it. How convenient. Don't crucify me! I was an advanced reader. Everything I learned about sex at an early age was from the thick adult contemporary novels I stole from my parents' nightstands and hid under my bed (Summer Sisters..what a steamy read, even still. To think that I read that one when I was 12!).
When I read it this time around, however, I was caught in the stranglehold again. At times I belly-laughed, at others I was breathless with fear, and at others still, I sobbed. And I finally saw that Rowling was not writing about "normal" teenage life. She was writing about love and friendship and the struggle between good and evil, and a teenager finding the moral, righteous path. It's about fear and conquering fear and knowing when to trust and when not to trust. It's about understanding that nobody, not even Harry's beloved, wise Dumbledore, can be a perfect human being, and understanding that just because you are flawed, this doesn't mean that you won't be forgiven. This was a series of books that shaped out entire generation and showed us how much fun you can have with your imagination, and under all of that fantastic imagination, there is real heart and lessons to be learned. And oh, how I still wish I could be Ron Weasley's American girlfriend and have a wand and go to Hogwarts and ride on a broomstick!

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