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April 12, 2013

’’Have you guys heard about these dementors?’’: On Reading the Harry Potter Series Years Too Late

From J.K. Rowling’s dedication of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: The dedication of this book is... to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end.

Finally, a book dedicated to me, as I did indeed stick with Harry from his cupboard on Privet Drive to the very end. My journey with Harry, however, was a bit unusual, as I started just before Christmas 2012 and wrapped it up in March of 2013. The first book, as you may know, was released in England in 1997. You might say I'm a bit behind the times.

I finally took up the series on a whim. I'd read the first book just to see what it was about --- mostly under duress from a date shocked I hadn't read it. I read the second because the first was enjoyable enough. Between the third and fourth books, I became addicted and there was no turning back.

But this was a journey taken alone and in a very different manner from the millions who beat me to the punch. Like Harry entering the wizarding world, I was surrounded by those who already seemed to know everything that was new to me. At brunch, it was all I could do not to slam my hand on the table and shout: "Have you guys heard about these dementors? What is going on?" I resisted, because of course they had. Just as Harry was alone on Privet Drive each summer, I had no one to share my thoughts.

Harry's original fans spent years reading and re-reading the books, dissecting each one before the next one was released. They absorbed every detail and debated clues, prophecies and signs. Me? I tore through them back to back, losing the opportunity to really internalize and obsess over and discuss every detail. I found myself having to stop to think where I had seen names or places referenced before. I didn't go on Mugglenet (side note: this exists!?) and discuss every bit of minutia, keeping it all fresh in my mind.

While the rest of the world donned costumes and attended crowded bookstore parties upon the eve of each release, I missed out, oblivious to the excitement that I should have been a part of. My release parties were simply finishing one book, logging on to Amazon and having the next book magically sent to my Kindle and immediately opened. But at least no waiting or even leaving my couch! I may have missed the parties, but I also didn't suffer the agonizing multi-year wait between books other Potter fans suffered. 

It's strange to think that while the rest of world lugged heavy hardback books through the streets, school buses and subways, I only had to carry my much lighter Kindle --- certainly not an option in 1997. I am convinced had I been forced to shoulder the burden of the large hardback editions for years, I would have biceps and a rippling six pack. So, thanks for nothing, Amazon.

Other, non-muscle related issues arose from reading the series years later. For instance, my feelings for the actors --- though I had only seen the fourth film, I generally knew the cast --- greatly influenced my feelings for the characters, especially Bellatrix.  I absolutely love her because of a deep, potentially unhealthy appreciation of Helena Bonham Carter. Bellatrix in the book has no redeeming qualities and isn't even as interesting a character as other Death Eaters. She has no doubts like the Malfoys. She doesn't have a character arch like Kreacher. She's a lean, mean, evil machine. However, I couldn't get enough of Bellatrix Lestrange as I pictured a wild haired Helena flicking a wand about. If I ever have children, I better not have a daughter. She may be saddled with one very murderous name.

My perception of Dumbledore's sexuality was certainly altered by headlines stating that Rowling had declared he was gay. Suddenly, I found myself wondering if Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald were more than just friends. Sure, the text may lend itself to that interpretation, but not exclusively.  If this had not been planted in my mind, would I have still come to the same interpretation? Impossible to say.

I now love Harry Potter, Hermione, Ron, Sirius, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Dobby, Hogwarts, Gryffindor, quidditch and, yes, Bellatrix. They may have been a part of my life for only a matter of months instead of years and on a grey screen instead of the page, but I grew to love these characters and places deeply. All the rapturous synonyms people ascribe to the series are true. It is by turns exciting, intriguing, dark, funny, sweet, redemptive and beautifully sad. Well worth a belated read.

In life, we do not have a Time Turner like Hermione in HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN. We have to accept the things that happened, much as Harry had to learn to accept the events of his life. There is no changing them. I will therefore not waste time wishing I had read the books alongside everyone else, but rather be grateful that I was able to share in the joy of Rowling's work at all. It's what Harry would want, I'm sure.

Now, please pass the butterbeer and chocolate frogs. I have eight movies to watch.