*This is a post from earlier this year that is close to my heart. I thought I would cross-post it here, just for kicks:
July 13, 2011
I know that I technically addressed this already, but in my last post on this topic, I avoided something that needed said. So, for those Potter-philes who like reminiscing, this part of the post might interest you. For those who don’t care to know about my own journey, but are still in a celebratory mood, please see the videos I’m posting with this.
Alright, now, the part I’ve been avoiding. This weekend marks the culmination of a ten-year, international phenomenon that changed the face of the publishing industry and made passionate readers out of millions of children, right on the cusp of the Internet’s world take-over. (Thank you, Jo, for that. You had no idea in 1999 what a blessing that would be). “The Harry Potter Phenomenon,” as it’s been called in the media for years, seized most of the world’s attention in one fashion or another, but for those of us who were coming into pre-adolescence in the late 1990’s–those who proudly call ourselves “The Original Potter Generation”–Harry Potter was more than a phenomenon. It was the sweet spot on our childhoods.
Harry’s defenders often point out how many members of that original generation call themselves readers today because of the series. I was not one of those children–I was an avid reader long before I met Harry–but that doesn’t mean that the series wasn’t a landmark moment in my reading life. In fact, I think that the love of reading that accompanied me onto the Hogwarts Express for the first time made the experience even more special, in its own way.
For me, Harry Potter was that book that every reader, somewhere deep down, is hoping to find at least once in their lives. It was the book that some part of us has an eye out for every time we walk through a bookstore or library: that book that cuts across the defenses of even the most seasoned reader, reaches for his or her heart, and keeps its hold long after he or she closes the back cover. I might have never found the first book in my life to fit that description if it hadn’t been for the combination of an enthusiastic friend and my middle school library.
In 1999, everyone was talking about Harry Potter, but it took a little while for all of that talk to reach me in any real way. I was twelve years old and knee-deep in “Dear America” and “The Royal Diaries.” I didn’t consider myself a “fantasy” person. I was aware of Harry, certainly, but not necessarily interested in making friends. That was all well and good for the Elves, Dwarves and Dragons crowd, but I just didn’t see what a book about a wizard school and I had to do with each other.
Then Ashli made Harry’s acquaintance, and –God bless her heart–decided to introduce us. One of a small group of close friends that I had in middle school, Ashlli Bueche and I shared a love of reading from the beginning, and her accounts of the story that was then unfolding, one book release at a time, did what the growing media attention surrounding the books could not: it captured my curiosity.
I have a shadowy memory of the two of us standing along one wall of the library, trying to keep up as she enthusiastically explained what Voldermort (“Voldermort? What? Who’s that?”) had been up to in most recent book. Needless to say I didn’t understand a single thing she told me, but her excitement was enough to persuade me to give the wizard book a shot.
Not long after that conversation I was back in the library for my school’s annual book fair. I picked up one of my beloved Historical novels and grabbed a copy of The Sorcerer’s Stone while I was at it. (I didn’t know this then, but I would eventually develop a distaste for the American title after learning that it had been altered for U.S. readers, and start referring to it by its true title, Philosopher’s Stone.)
My love of the Harry Potter series has taught me a few things about myself as a human being in the last dozen years or so, and Lesson One came within the first chapter of Philosopher’s Stone. Sitting in the back of my father’s car, wondering who all of these odd people were and what on earth was going on with all of the owls, I discovered that I am, indeed, a “fantasy” person. At least I am when that fantasy involves a world that draws you into its embrace from the first page and keeps a relentless hold on your imagination for over a decade. Yeah, in the case, I’m a fantasy person.
I remember the day that I finished the first Harry Potter novel. Still reeling from the Quirrell twist and trying to imagine what could possibly come next now that Voldermort was once again at large, I was too caught up to realize what had really happened to me in the course of the book, but in retrospect, I believe I can articulate it. I fell in love. I fell hard for this engrossing world and its sweeping struggles of courage and good vs. evil and community and the destructive power of prejudice and a thousand other echoes of real human experience. I made a hundred life-long friends, and became deeply invested in each of their fates. I went from an outsider to a card-carrying citizen of the Wizarding World; from a “Muggle” seeing strange things on the nightly news to a sympathizing soldier, digging in my heels for the coming war.
I could probably write a short book of my own about my journey with the series and everything that it has given me, and I have a sinking feeling that this is not the last time that I will attempt to put my feelings for “Harry” into words, but this little walk down Diagon Alley (which, at 12, I skimmed over too fast and thus read as “Dragon Alley”, just like I called Hermione “Herm-own” until I saw the first movie) is getting a bit long. So, just one more thing before I go.
There are plenty of things that I can thank the Harry Potter series for, but the sweetest and most unexpected items on that list are actually human beings: friendships that have been deepened or even created thanks to a shared love of this strange and lovely world. In the past five years, I have discovered that my personal list of fellow Potter-phies that started all those years ago with Ashli has expanded to include two of my close college friends (a Mr. Sam Sgroi and a Mrs. Ruby Walton-Dalton, both of whom I intend to meet in Florida for a Butterbeer one day) and the lovely and brilliant Miss Amelie Schmidt, a bright spot that my life would not have without the fascinating—and sometimes terrifying—world of Harry Potter fanfiction. Thank you, all of you, from the bottom of my heart, for the shared joy. If there’s one thing that both the novels and the massive fandom that’s grown up around them has shown us all, it’s that everything is better in community.
So, Mr. Potter, I fear I must apologize for snubbing you at first, but I can promise that my prejudice against wizards has been thoroughly and effectively cured.
This weekend will be a time for memories, celebration, and yes, maybe even a tear or two. But for those who have taken a small orphan with broken glasses and a funny-looking scar forever into our hearts, it won’t truly be good-by. We’ll still meet and talk and read and remember. We’ll still argue about how things “should” have ended and theorize about unanswered questions. And eventually, many of us will introduce our own children to Harry, and let them fall in love with the written word and the power of story, God-wiling, for the rest of their lives.
No matter what they say, your first love never really dies. And this member of the Original Potter Generation is hoping and praying that the first real, passionate affair of her literary life never cools off completely.
See you on the flip side, Harry. Thanks for everything, Jo.