This is probably the 1,678,934th post about Harry Potter in the last couple of months, but I wanted to post the HP article I wrote for my book column two years ago. Again, I re-worked it a bit, but more or less this is what I wrote for The Appalachian. This was right when Twilight started beating the shit out of everyone’s eyes in the media…
It’s time I address the phenomenon. The craze is a justified one, and I can no longer deny my love for it or its importance in the literary world.
Of course, I’m talking about Harry Potter. The Twilight scene is not one I can call my own. There’s something about those little wizards and witches, on the other hand, that gets to me.
The first time I read Harry Potter, I was 13 years old. I would bring The Sorcerer’s Stone to school every day and read it in class. That was in 2001, and J.K. Rowling had already published the 3 books that followed Stone. I had no idea that I was about to embark on an adventure that would change my life.
I’ve always loved to read, but in middle school it was harder for me to publicly enjoy such a hobby. I did it nonetheless, but it didn’t make me the most popular kid. I wasn’t thrown into a locker every day, but I did get a weird side-glance every now and then.
Harry Potter broke through that weird wall of middle school self-consciousness. My minimal caring about naysayers of the written word downgraded all the way to non-existent. HP was so universally awesome that I thought, “If you can’t enjoy reading this, you don’t have a soul.” That might be hyperbolic, but I stick to it.
With such a stunning, detailed storyline, I was hooked and didn’t care who knew it. I read Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, and The Goblet of Fire at an intense speed. I re-read them up until the summer of 2003 when Rowling published The Order of the Phoenix. At this point, I was pushing 16.
It seems juvenile. How could a 16-year-old still be interested in the happenings at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry? Simple. Because Rowling did something that children’s authors rarely do: she grew up with us.
Rowling hashed out Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s puberty in front of us. She grew darker, a la Empire Strikes Back, with the release of Phoenix and even more so by the time I had graduated high school with The Half-Blood Prince. She didn’t hold back on increasing language or intense, sometimes scary, themes. She knew that those of us who started reading when we were twelve were eighteen.
Summer of 2007 brought with it an epic moment in Harry Potter history: Rowling published The Deathly Hallows, the final installment of the series. I waited for my pre-ordered copy in the mail; I’d turned 20 a few days before.
On the sweet day it finally came, I locked myself in a room and read Hallows in thirteen hours. I cried the entire time. It wasn’t a first for me, as the series had induced many tears before. But this was different: a character I had grown up with was experiencing his final adventure, or at least the ones that Rowling would be writing about. It was the most bittersweet experience of my literary life.
The recurring themes of death and magic, love and family, and even good versus evil are presented differently in each novel, yet Rowling never falters from giving them value. There is a philosophy to them that is invisible to those who think them naïve or silly, but Harry Potter fans know differently. We know there is something undeniably profound about the King’s Cross scene in Hallows. We know that the mysterious veil hanging from the archway in the Ministry of Magic means something more than the average reader could ever comprehend.
A couple of months ago in a local breakfast joint, a friend turned to me and said that a man sitting in one of the booths “looked like that big guy from Harry Potter.” I looked up to find that the man indeed looked like Hagrid, like the way Rowling had described him through seven beautiful books. I smiled.
That moment only reminded me why Harry Potter is so different from everything else. The visuals are so intense, the world is so real, that it is impossible not to feel a part of it. Rowling created characters we could love and picture so vividly that we could find them sitting in a booth across from us if we looked hard enough.
I will most likely never understand what others see in another series that which I see in Harry Potter. But the point isn’t fighting over which series is the ultimate in literature. The point, readers, is passion.
I admit that I do not get glittering vampires, nor do I ever want to. I read the first chapter of Twilight in Amazon preview and had to force bile back down my throat, but that’s my opinion, not a demand on anyone else. I understand that those angsty, underdeveloped characters might be to someone else what the Potter characters have been to me.
No matter your chosen path, these authors have brought back the passion inside each and every one of us: the passion to get lost inside another world, to explore, to learn, and simply, to read. We owe them more than we imagine. (I also owe Stephanie Myer’s a punch to the face, but again… my opinion, man.)