When I was 8 years old, my mom bought me my first Harry Potter book. I’d always been a reader – I knew how to read at age 3, and have been devouring books ever since. I used to go to the library 3 times a week to take out new books to read. So when my mom heard about this smart and interesting children’s book series, she snatched it up for me.I instantly fell in love with the magic and adventure of Harry Potter. I made every stick a wand, I chanted spells, I used my imagination. I did book projects on it, and even made friends because of it. For every book, I went to the midnight release party; wand in hand, lightning bolt on forehead.When the first movie came out when I was 11, and had just entered middle school, I was beyond excitement. My mom ordered me and my friend Kim and her family tickets to the 8 PM show the day it came out, and we had to wait in line for two hours before it started. Every kid in town was there, and we all left discussing at length the differences between the book and the movie.Harry, Hermione, and Ron were there for me throughout all the difficult times in my childhood. The books were released, it felt, almost parallel to my life experiences. When Harry started at Hogwarts, he was 11, and when I read the first book, I was 9. It was only a couple of years of difference; but due to inevitable gaps of time between the books, Harry and I both found ourselves completing last year of high school (his being Hogwarts, mine being Schreiber High School on Long Island) at the same time. The 7th book came out when I was in my summer between my senior year of High School and my freshman year of college. So on July 21, 2007, I stood in line with all the other Muggles and Wizards at my local book store’s release and once again, started reading the minute the book was placed in my hand. I stayed up until 4 AM just reading.Now that I’ve graduated college, it feels like once again, Harry and I are completing our journeys hand-in-hand. When I arrived at American University, I learned that everyone loved Harry Potter in some regard – they read the books, or saw the movies, or (usually) both. This past November, I saw the 7th film at midnight with my three roommates – and everyone else from the American University community in the theater. We laughed and cried together, and left chatting excitedly about the choices of the movie versus the books and what the opening scene would be in the 8th and last film.
That – right there – is the first reason of why I fell in love Harry Potter. There is a real community of Potter fans – we go to the midnight book releases, and the midnight showings of the films. We discuss the plot lines and intricacies, and marvel at the genius of J.K. Rowling and how she so expertly weaved everything together, and thought about every single aspect of a character’s life – going far beyond what is simply written on the page. When I hear someone is a Harry Potter fan, we instantly start talking about it and before you know it, we’re completely comfortable with one another – once you’ve revealed how hard you cried with Dobby dies, or how much Fred and George Weasley make you laugh, you feel at ease talking about anything else.
But that isn’t the only reason I love Harry Potter. I love it because it turned a whole generation on to reading. When I asked my friends to just talk to me about Harry Potter, they sent me back wonderful paragraphs in droves.
Some talked about how their movie crushes changed over time:
“Yes, Rupert Grint got totally hot somewhere around #5, but can we please take a moment to focus on the Neville actor? He was looking pretty feminine in those first few films, Frankensteinish in #3/#4 (those teeth…) and boom!!, suddenly Neville is smokin’ hot! His hair has a Justin Bieberish sweep, someone had the decency to fix his teeth, and suddenly baby-cheeks-Longbottom is tall, dark, and handsome. Neville Longbottom: the Unrecognized Hottie.”
Some came to it late, but once they did, they never regretted it:
“I just didn’t see the appeal so I coolly ignored the books for a while. Until the third one came out, I decided, “Why not? I got a gift certificate to the mall might as well use it.” So I bought the first book and was immediately hooked. HP was kind of gateway book for me; after reading genuinely good writing, I was inspired to read more. In between books coming out, I got my hands on a lot of different books, which made me into the bookworm I am today, haha! HP always made me put anything else I was reading down though. …. JK Rowling is an incredible writer and her talent is probably the main reason why I stuck to HP. She created this really wonderful parallel world that was whacky but not terribly difficult to imagine to the point that you truly were waiting for an owl to come barreling through your window.”
Some bonded with family members…
“A while back, when I was still too young to read chapter books, my family was visiting second cousins a couple states away. My mom recommended this random British book to my mom, and suggested it would be great for her to read to my younger brother and I. The three of us would curl up together, and travel to Hogwarts and other places that would soon become so familiar to many. Halloween 1999, my kindergardener brother Harry Potter, complete with a plastic table cloth robe, and a real broom my mother had written Nimbus 3000 on. Now, they sell those costumes in bags, but back then he got many inquisitive stares.”
Some were disappointed in the condensed nature of the movies, but they loved the books because they grew up with them:
“I feel like I generally watch them out of obligation (and at this point, just so I can feel like there’s still some Potterdom to look forward to). I feel like I probably will like the seventh movie best when I eventually get around to watching it, just cause the main reason I don’t like the movies is that they’re too condensed. [...Part of what I love so much about the books is that I feel like they matured with me. The books start off fairly basic and by the end of the series, there's a whole (for lack of a better word) mythology to them, along with some major symbolism and allegory... They have such a broad appeal, even if you aren't into literature and reading for symbolism and things, the story is still massively entertaining and there's plenty to keep track of."
And one friend waited on the edge of her seat for new Potter material (books, movies) and talked about how strange it was that this was the last film... but she still has HP material to look forward to:
"It seems strange to me, though, that it is all coming to an end*. When I graduated high school the 7th book came out. And now that I have graduated college the last movie will premiere. It has almost been my security blanket through these years letting me know at these crossroads in my life that things, people, stories do live on even when the chapter ends. I could be one of those people that says they do not know what to do now that it is gone, but I know that the Harry Potter universe will never leave this Muggle. It will live on in her dreams, imaginations, and huge-ass library that will one day be my house. .... *LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7 coming out in December!!! Boo-Yah!"
Everytime I read the books today, I get something more out of it. The emotional moments are raw and real, and I can appreciate them now more at age 21 than I ever could at age 15. It means something different to every Potterhead, but these books changed our lives - they turned us onto reading, or gave us a community, or even just made us smile.
Only just getting started! Below the cut:
- The Movies
- The best characters (and a teeny bit of Feminism! Of course. This is me we're talking about.)
- A Very Potter Musical & Fan Fiction
- J.K. Rowling/Pottermore and the future of Potterheads
Of course, the movies were and are a major part of the Harry Potter fan experience. Love them or hate them - or only love some of them - they have done a really great job telling a complex story in detail so that those who haven't read the books can experience Rowling's magical universe (although, really, it's so much more magical when you can imagine it and see it - but that's just me). The actors were so perfectly, perfectly cast - of course, Daniel Radcliffe was a magnificent Harry, Rupert a terrific Ron, and Emma an amazing Hermione. But everyone from Harry to Professor Sprout was a perfect fit for their roles. And the best part is, when you hear them speak about their experiences, or talk about how excited they were to audition for the role, you can hear the excitement they have about this series and this project and these characters. They became real friends while shooting, and enjoyed themselves. They did a magnificent job at playing both the funniest moments and the saddest, the scariest and the most light-hearted. The design of the films was impeccable - it made fans feel as though they were really there from the moment the first film started. They brought the world of Harry Potter to a real, tangible thing - and, of course, it goes without saying that all I want in this universe is to visit Harry Potter World in Florida.
Of course, Rowling is to be credited with creating such realistic, timeless, and wonderful characters. I'm not going to say each one is perfect or without flaws, but there is one in particular that I think is just such a bad ass: Ginevra Weasley. In November, Feministing ran a love letter to Harry's future Mrs., and I found my self going "HELL YEAH!" The whole time. She refuses to let her brothers give her crap about dating a couple of different boys and informs them that they have no control over her love life. She's on the Gryffindor Quidditch Team, she's politically active in Dumbledore's Army, and later in life becomes a professional Quidditch player and a writer for the Daily Prophet. She's awesome. She's not the only feminist heroine: Hermione may be a bit of a know-it-all, but her smarts save the trio a number of times. She knows her stuff, is fiercely loyal, and doesn't just wait around for Ron to ask her to the Yule Ball - she's going with Viktor Krum, thank you very much, and if you wanted to take her, you should have plucked up the courage to ask her earlier. Molly Weasley appears to be an underappreciated mother, which is somewhat true, but she is also one of the only female members of The Order of the Pheonix and the one who takes out Bellatrix Lestrange, screaming, "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!" - Molly is a great mom to not only her own children but to Harry, sending him Christmas gifts since she knows he is an orphan who doesn't really have family to send him gifts (aside from his Aunt, Uncle and Dudley - who are not exactly Harry's biggest fans). Professor McGonagall is both a strict, fair teacher and kind - she is understanding while being a stickler for the rules. She loves her job as a teacher and is an amazing protector of Hogwarts and her students. Now, do I have issues with some of the portrayals of some women in the book? Sure, I wish Lily Potter had a little more depth, or that Lavender Brown wasn't portrayed as such a complete biddy. But there's only so much that Rowling could go into and accomplish, and I think she did a beautiful job of giving young girls some magnificent feminist icons to look up to. (Edit: Jezebel also published a great piece on this today. Read it!)
One of my favorite things about the Potterverse, though, is that there is so much for fans to expand upon, parody, and have fun with. Any great series, in my opinion, leaves a little wiggle room for fans to play around with - and oh, play Around we did. There's A Very Potter Musical, A Very Potter Sequel, Potter Puppet Pals, a number of different songs and drawings and cartoons, and, of course, fan fiction (which Time has a great article out on). These characters will live on forever because we make them. To Potter fans, Horcruxes and Dolores Umbridge will always be a source of hilarity, and Snape imitations will never get old. These things always start out the same - a bunch of fans want to share their jokes (or, in AVPM/AVPS' case, songs) with fellow fans - to enjoy all the nerdiness that comes with being a die-hard Harry Potter fan and embrace it wholeheartedly.
So, what's next? Rowling has said she will not write another Harry Potter book, and frankly, I believe her - sadly enough. She has, however, just announced her new site Pottermore, which will unite fans in a new, interactive reading experience with Rowling herself; who will reveal new details about the Harry Potter universe never before told. Of course, all of the Potter fans will continue their voracious appetite for reading, and their love of the characters and stories that got them hooked on the first place. (For 3 books for the Hogwarts Grad on NPR, click here!)
Here's to the magic and wonder of the world of Harry Potter. When the lights dim in the theater at my midnight showing, my heart will soar at the final music and I will laugh and cry and forget, just for one second, that I am a Muggle. But the story of Rowling's impact on this generation and beyond isn't over yet - in fact, it's only just beginning.
(Special thanks to my friends who gave me the material at the top of this piece - Sarah Thornbourough, Erica Sailor, Molly Freidman, Lauria Chin, and Melanie Davidoff. You guys are as fabulous as Harry is angsty in Book 5.)