Up until a couple of months ago I hadn’t read any of the Harry Potter books. For someone of my generation, the generation that was allegedly supposed to have grown up with the books, this is a bit of a shameful fact. (I also haven’t read any Shakespeare works in their entirety except for Romeo and Juliet and, a few semesters ago, I read A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the first time for a class. Don’t tell anyone in the department though, I’ll get expelled.)
I have my reasons why, stupid as they may be, but I’ll tell you anyway. There are a multitude of factors that contributed to my avoidance of the series in both book and movie form: First, my introduction to the series, as I remember it, was terrible. When the first movie came out my aunt took my cousin and I to see it at a theatre in a mall. What mall? I don’t remember. What I do remember is sitting there, my cousin to the right of me, my aunt to the left, and a large dark screen in front of me in a large dark theatre (Then again, everything seems exceptionally large when you’re small.) I was easily scared back then: afraid of the dark and everything and anything that might lurk in it. And the movie, with its large gothic castle and its piano theme (which eerily reminded me of the music that would sometimes play in horror films that my cousin would show me), the mentions of trolls and magical enemies that fed on the blood of unicorns and murdered without remorse, left me feeling uneasy.
As if that weren’t enough, during our viewing the projector malfunctioned. Suddenly the looming faces began to stop and stutter and their voices deepened considerably. I was terrified. I was so sure that this meant that the theatre was going to blow up and we were all going to die. (I knew nothing of projectors or logic back then) but eventually, as you might imagine, everything started working again and we were able to finish the film. But unfortunately I was alienated by the experience.
Flash-forward a few years and I’m sitting in my elementary school classroom where quite a few students are reading Harry Potter. This population consisted of people I didn’t like and people it wasn’t “cool” to like. (even though those people had more friends than me—not exactly impressive considering that any number is greater than 0. My own ignorance was astounding. Eventually I realized I’d never be cool and ever since my quality of life has greatly improved.)
I’d tried to read the books on several occasions. I certainly owned several copies of different ones in the series, but you see I faced another problem: I had an aversion to reading.
I understand this sounds peculiar coming from an English major. I’m sure you’d expect me to tell you that books were my friends growing up and I just couldn’t keep my nose out of them. You’d be wrong. I preferred drawing. I also preferred writing my own stories to reading others which sounds very narcissistic and maybe I was. I just loved to create things. What I hated was being forced to read. Reading, to me, became a chore. It was something that the teacher assigned for a designated period of time where all students had to shut up and look down at a book while the teacher did whatever they did during these unusually quiet periods. This was known as “silent reading time”. Whispering or doodling was frowned upon and in some cases accompanied by a letter to my parents that told just how disruptive and poorly behaved I was and that my drawing in class had gotten out of control. When I got home I’d be in trouble. On several occasions I was strictly reminded that it was silent reading time, not drawing time.
At home, the books I read were mostly selected by my mom – chapter books, she insisted, particularly those about Ramona Quimby (whom I despised) which I was to read aloud so she could make sure I was reading correctly. I hated reading aloud and I would intentionally sound as monotonous as possible, every word escaping my lips in a disinterested slur. That is, until my mom told me I needed to be clearer and read the passage again, much to my chagrin.
When I returned to school, books were assigned for us to do book reports on and answer test questions about. To me this just meant more work. Saying all this it seems hilariously ironic that years later I would become an English major and voluntarily write about assigned readings. That just goes to show the power and influence of a few encouraging teachers on a young writer and creative mind.
Mind you, I never hated reading. It just took me a while to get started on a book or series. I would find any excuse to put it off, as you can plainly see. But once I did start reading I enjoyed myself as much as anyone else. As I developed this particular aversion at this stage of my life, the Harry Potter phenomenon seemed more and more distant and hard to understand to me – here were all these kids, all around my age, willingly reading large, thick books (or so they seemed to me at the time, as did any “chapter book”) and talking excitedly about them. I thought, in a very Dursley-like fashion, that they were all a bunch of weirdos. (Quite hypocritical coming from someone as strange as I in my own peculiarities)
I looked with a raised eyebrow at middle school classmates waving sticks around during P.E. and shouting out spells and incantations.
“Expelliarmus!” cried Jazell, waving a dirty stick she had found on the ground.
‘What in the hell is that?’ I thought incredulously to myself.
It wasn’t until around high school when everyone was getting hyped about the final movies that I decided to finally relent and revisit the films that I had avoided growing up. I still had Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on VHS and the rest I had to either buy or rent from Blockbuster (remember those? They lasted longer than you think!)
One by one I watched each of the films and in doing so realized something rather exciting and alarming all at once: I had fallen in love. Six movies (and a strange attraction to Alan Rickman) later
and I was suddenly practically obsessed with this world that I had for so long rejected and now was kicking myself for doing so (bad Dobby!). I had missed out on so many adventures, friends and milestones. There had been an entire wonderful, fantastical world at my fingertips and I had only just discovered it right as it was about to end. It was heartbreaking to say the least.
I fell hard and fast, seeing the final movies, squealing excitedly with my mom who looked on amusedly, buying merchandise and talking with fellow fans online, all at once. I was sad it was over when for me the story had only just begun. What was I to do now? I suddenly wanted to read the books but the timing wasn’t right for me. School had just begun to really take over a lot of my time and reading was beginning to feel like a chore again.
Luckily for me, something amazing was happening. News broke online that J.K. Rowling was going to be launching a website for Harry Potter fans and dedicated readers called Pottermore. My friends and I were overwhelmingly excited. When Pottermore first launched in beta you had to answer questions about the books within a certain timeframe to be allowed to register. Where my friends and I lived, in the southeastern United States, this meant staying up until the early morning hours (at worst around 3am) to answer a question about one of the books before the question expired. I was part of a Facebook group called Dumbledore’s Army and we worked together to get each other in. Having not read any of the books but eager to get in I relied heavily on other members. It was a remarkable experience. For those of us who couldn’t stay up until question time we were able to leave our emails and temporary account passwords for other members to register for us. There was a real sense of teamwork and “no fan left behind”. You might call this cheating (and you’re right) but I call it being clever and resourceful (and possibly a Gryffindor).
I was excited to brew potions, fight in duels, find out what my wand was made out of (Vine, dragon heart-string core, 13 inches, unyielding), and learn that every component had a meaning! (Its like a horoscope only less credible and yet somehow more satisfying)
I wasn’t too enthused about my house sorting at first, however. I had pinned myself as being a Ravenclaw and several Buzzfeed-style quizzes confirmed this belief (When has Buzzfeed ever been wrong about anything?) Upon being sorted, I was, much to my disappointment, not a Ravenclaw, nor was I a Slytherin which I was sure was the next possible option. I was a Gryffindor. After a few minutes of having an identity crisis I came to accept that I am indeed a Gryffindor through and through, or, as a friend put it, I “bleed red and gold”.
You may be wondering why I’m telling you all of this – to give an idea of where I started with my relationship to the series and where I am now. A fangirl. That’s right. No shame. Fangirl. (take THAT younger me!)
Of course, with a new movie on the horizon (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, based on the book by Newt Scamander, due for release in 2016) and the recent opening of the second Harry Potter-themed addition to Universal Studios, Orlando, Diagon Alley, I figured it no better time to start finally reading. My beginnings within this fandom are quite different from many of my peers and definitely attest to the importance of different forms of media and their roles in storytelling and introducing certain stories to new audiences. What began with a love of movies and of games has led to a developing love of the books that inspired them all.
Currently, I have read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, if you’re particular) and am in the process of reading Chamber of Secrets. Because I have entered this world and, subsequently, this fandom in reverse, I feel like I’m gaining rather than losing anything. I see the books as an expansion of the world I was introduced to in the movies. I’m learning more rather than seeing less. As I learn, I hope to include you all in my journey. I’m sure if you were part of the reason why the books became popular in the first place, you’ll remember your first time reading and the feelings it gave you. I’m getting those feelings now as an adult which is an incredible experience. It’s always nice to feel that sense of magic that we think we lose as children. We don’t. It just needs to be rediscovered.
So feel free to join me, be you a wise Ravenclaw, a bold Gryffindor, a loyal Hufflepuff, or a clever Slytherin. I’m reading along with a friends and I invite you to join us and do the same! Read along and discuss your feelings and impressions either newly visiting or revisiting these books. Hogwarts is a place where you will always be welcome.