Thursday, July 14, 2005
Confessions of a grown-up Harry Potter fan
It's not just kids who've fallen under the spell of the boy wizard.
Special to The Roanoke Times
"To Harry Potter - the boy who lived!"
With those words, at the end of the first chapter of the very first Harry Potter book, author J.K. Rowling had me hooked.
It was the summer of 2001. I was spending a lazy day at a friend's house in Blacksburg when she pulled "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" off the bookshelf and insisted on reading the first chapter aloud.
"The boy who lived." It was a thought that stuck with me long after the afternoon passed and I headed home. The book got added to my long to-be-read list and I forgot about it.
Fast forward to later that summer, when I accompanied my then-sweetheart to Miami. I was 19 years old; it was the first time I had 1) seen the ocean, and 2) been on flat land. There were many new things to see and experience. Unfortunately, one of them was my beau's death-defying driving.
I decided to borrow a book from his mother and do some nice, safe reading. Scanning the titles, I saw that she had all of the Harry Potter books that had been published thus far. I picked up "Sorcerer's Stone" for the second time.
In one week, I read all the way from "Sorcerer's Stone" through "The Goblet of Fire." That's roughly 1,819 pages - a little extreme, even for the English major I was.
The magical world of Hogwarts bewitched me from the very beginning. It's a cliche, but it's true: I couldn't put the books down.
That is when I joined Harry's devoted grown-up fans. Don't get me wrong; I'm not the most extreme Potter fan in Roanoke. I don't sleep between licensed Harry Potter sheets, cast spells or have a huge crush on Daniel Radcliffe (the actor who plays Harry Potter in the movies). I haven't even dressed up as a Hogwarts character.
I say that because my black Roanoke College graduation robe taunts me from its place in my closet. I know I could whip up a Hermione costume in no time flat - and one of these days I just might do it.
Being a dedicated Harry Potter fan means I stand in lots of lines. Lines for midnight book launchings, lines for movie premieres. When the July 16 publication date for the newest book, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," was announced back in December, I marched straight into a bookstore and reserved my copy.
They hadn't even started their reservation list. Since they did, I've gone back twice to make double-sure I'm on it.
Back in 2001, I was waiting - in a line, of course - to see "Sorcerer's Stone" at the cinema with college friends. We all had our fears that the book would be somehow damaged in translation to the big screen. With Chris Columbus (director of "Home Alone," "Jingle all the Way" and "Monkeybone,") at the helm, I was afraid the source material would be ruined by the usual schmaltz and pratfalls of his movies.
Happily, I wasn't disappointed. I gasped along with everyone else at the first shot of Diagon Alley. It was all there, and painstakingly brought to life: Ollivander's Wand Shop, Platform 9 3/4 , the Hogwarts Express and, most importantly, Hogwarts itself, with its shifting staircases and mysterious corridors.
I left the theater that night brimful of the same wonderment I feel when reading Harry Potter. The novels transport me to my childhood. My hometown library is in a turn-of-the-century house with dark wood paneling and creaky staircases, and I spent many a summer afternoon there reading stories.
Science fiction and fantasy have never really held my attention; they just seemed so unrealistic. The magic of the Potter novels is that their entire wizarding world is concealed from our normal, boring, everyday universe.
Muggles (nonmagic folk in Potter language) are known for their single-minded, unimaginative view of the world. Everything is simple and logical. Cars don't fly, fireplaces aren't used as a means of travel, a broom is meant only for sweeping. But in Harry's world, if you dash at the wall between Platforms 9 and 10 at King's Cross Station, you pass through it and end up in a place that exists only for those who know how to get there.
A sense of wonderment is not the only reason to love Harry, however. His is the classic story of the underdog. No matter what his advantages as a wizard, he still spent the first 10 years of his life poor and unloved in a childhood not unlike that of an orphan in a Victorian novel.
He is unwanted and invisible to his aunt and uncle, who have tried to squeeze every drop of joy and imagination out of him, lest he be led to magic.
What will happen to him? Only J.K. Rowling knows. But I can tell you this: I'll be in that bookstore line in the first hours of Saturday morning, waiting to find out.