Sunday, July 17, 2011

My World With Harry Potter

It was my mother who picked it up.

We were at a bookstore, the summer before fifth grade. I was walking through the aisles buried under a tower of books when my mother came to me, book in hand and said, “I think you’ll like this one.” I stared at the cover and just looked back at her, skeptical. She knew what I was thinking: “Sorcerer’s stone? What kinda crap is that?” But she insisted, telling me to read the back cover, saying it sounded “different.” She put it on top of my pile of books, and I decided to give in.

A few weeks later, having already read the rest of the books I chose on my own—none of which I remember, by the way—I decided to read the book my mother had pushed on me.

And so it began.

If I look back, I realize my friendship with Harry Potter couldn’t have had more perfect timing. I first traveled to Hogwarts just months before my life changed dramatically and forever. My friendship with Harry survived my parents’ separation. My friendship with Harry ignited my relationship with my best friend. My friendship with Harry supported me through my sister’s rehab, through my years in high school, guided me through the application process for college. Harry joined me in my new life in the States, has been the topic of many conversations with the first person I've fallen in love with, and Harry’s been the friend I’ve defended against many the ignorant Muggle. First and foremost, Harry Potter and the beautiful world J.K. Rowling created not only became a part of who I am today—it encouraged who I am, it influenced what I thought, and it guided me from one point to the next.

It’s true that these books pushed many people of all ages to read. Jo Rowling made people love to read. Reading was suddenly “in” again. But I’ve always loved to read. My sister has always loved to read. My father encouraged it, and my mother taught us how. So Rowling didn’t make me want to begin to read. Harry Potter isn’t the only character I know and love. It definitely isn’t the only source of literature on my bookcase and isn’t the only influence in my writing. But now, in my early 20s, Harry Potter stands next to my copies of Lolita and American Psycho. Harry Potter shares the space with Holden Caulfield and Atticus Finch. Jo Rowling joins a list of personal literary gods along with Kerouac, Augusten Burroughs and Joan Didion. For me, Harry Potter will truly live forever.

There are few things I loved when I was young that I still cherish. Peter Pan, for example, which for me is the most genius story ever written. Anything by Roald Dahl, which for me will always be crucial for a healthy childhood. And many will never understand. To many, “Harry Potter” is a story of flying broomsticks and talking spiders. But to those of us who get it, this story will always be woven into our own lives. To those of us who understand, these characters will always be true friends.

Like all (or most of) the other Harry Potter book lovers, I found myself watching the films and thinking, “That is NOT the way it happened.” I always grew impatient mid-film, wondering, “Why didn’t they include this scene?” “Why didn’t they focus on this character?” I would talk and complain and explain and elaborate on things movie-goers didn’t see, things they couldn’t even begin to imagine. But through all the complaining, I knew that even from the very beginning, the films won me over, too.

I didn’t grow up with other Harry Potter fans. It wasn’t until years later that I began to meet people who loved the wizarding world as much as I did, who took refuge in it as constantly as myself. And through the years, I have read and reread the books. My copy of “Goblet of Fire” is faded and bent and extremely beloved. My copy of “Prisoner of Azkaban” has been on airplanes and roadtrips multiple times. And “Deathly Hallows,” I’ll just say it, might as well have been a Kleenex, splotched and invaded by my heavy tears.

When the final book was released, I mourned like the rest of the Potterheads—but there was still time, I knew, because a part of me loved the films, as well. It’s amazing how committed the team behind the movies was, and I can imagine, will always be. It’s truly a series of films that grew with intensity and magic. Its music, especially “Hedwig’s Theme” by master of sound John Williams; its special effects, which captured and gave life to our favorite things, like the Thestrals and the Marauder’s Map; the mesmerizing photography and style of direction, which changed year to year. The writing and interpretation, which must be one of the hardest jobs in the world to take on. And more impressively so, the series of film featured actors who were brilliant from the very beginning and others who grew—quite literally—before us, and through time, embodied the characters we had fallen in love with and also the characters Jo made us hate (Umbridge, anyone?). These are not just movies we love because they come from books we love. They are also wonderful films that stand on their own.

A week before Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part I premiered, I called up my boyfriend in tears. He was instantly worried, and asked me what was wrong. I could barely speak. I finally told him, “I just can’t believe it’s almost over.” I joked about it afterwards. I tweeted about it, and was a bit embarrassed by how honest the call had been, how vulnerable I had sounded. But my boyfriend knew then, and he understands now, that to me, this isn’t the end of just anything. This is the end to something that for many years gave me something to look forward to. It’s true… Harry Potter will always be there. I can always go back, and I can always daydream about what it would be like to have a Pensieve or wish I could have an hour of fun with Felix Felicis. But in many ways, it’s also the end to a story that changed many lives.

Sometimes I think how amazing it must be to be Jo Rowling and still have that story running through your mind. Because I know it must never stop. This is her world, and these are her people, and in the mind of Jo Rowling, they will always keep on. Jo will see their children, will imagine their future adventures, will be there to see them die. And I think that’s what got me the most about Harry Potter… As a writer, it gives one hope. That after so many years of history, after decades of literature, there is still the possibility of an original idea. Still the possibility of a magical, shockingly intricate, original idea.

I loved Deathly Hallows Part II. There are things they had to change, there are things they had to cut out, there are things that were slightly flawed, but everything worked. And I, of course, was a mess. As soon as the movie started, there were tears. When I saw Dobby’s grave, there were tears. When McGonagall defended Harry, there were tears. When Hogwarts started defending itself, good God, were there tears. Neville Longbottom, the boy whose significance the films could never even begin to explain, made me sob. There was so much to take in. I wanted to watch the scene—that crucial scene when Molly Weasley says the one curse word in the whole seven-book series, when murdering Bellatrix. I couldn’t wait to see the Gringotts dragon or Ron and Hermione’s kiss. But throughout the whole movie, I was dreading one thing: Snape’s death. Alan Rickman made me love Severus Snape the way Jo Rowling never could. He was exceptional. He was heartbreaking and perfect.

There is not much to say about this film in particular as there is to say about the experience and phenomenon Harry Potter is as a whole.

I grew up with Harry Potter. I grew up with these kids. I read the first book just a few months before I turned eleven and have to admit, for a while there, I thought maybe, just maybe, I would too get an owl, I would too get my letter. I know. It seems silly. But the thing about these books, the thing about these movies is… they make you believe. They make you wonder. They make you think, maybe we Muggles really don’t look at anything closely. A couple of weeks ago, there was a cat standing just outside my front door. It was just sitting there and staring, and when I opened the door, it didn’t budge. It simply stared. It startled me, and someone told me jokingly, “Hey. It might be Minerva McGonagall.” Oh, don’t you dare kid, I thought. Don’t you dare kid. So after all these years, I still wonder. After all these years, I’m still in love. Even now, I find myself looking at the books on my shelf and there’s an ache inside of me. I miss everything. So, so much. And so I go back, and I’m so thankful for literature and music and film, because they all allow us to always go back. To feel what we felt at the beginning. To rediscover. Today, I pity everyone who has missed out on this experience. And of course, after all these years I thank my mom for choosing that one book and realize, Mothers really are always right.