Friday, March 7, 2014

On Reading Harry Potter as an Adult

I was not one of the Harry Potter crowd growing up, which may surprise people as it really is right up my alley. But coming from a conservative home, my mother had enough reservations about it that I would have felt an enormous weight of wrong-doing had I ever brought into the house. I needed reasons to oppose it that sounded legitimate in my own ears, because the religious argument wasn't doing it for me. It even got to the point where I briefly crusaded against it, getting in a conflict with my best friend that lasted way too long (thank you for loving me anyway, Ginny) and haranguing innocent folks in the public library who were on what I viewed to be the opposing team. I am not proud of this period, but the truth was that I wanted to read them SO badly and if I couldn't, then no one else could either- so there. I was at the height of my emotional maturity then, obviously. No. I was a huge twit, but hey! We're talking ten-thirteen years old here; what do you want from me?

I ultimately did read them. I believe they were the first books that I ever smuggled and there were a few more over the years (His Dark Materials, anyone?). I read them in library visits, probably under covers, and even had a paperback copy that I kept in a box beneath my bed for a while. It was as much about not hurting my mother's feelings as anything. Either way, my readings were sporadic, at best. The second, equally bizarre part of this story is that I thoroughly enjoyed volumes four-six and yet never read the seventh book. It was a tragedy, but I was a denizen of tumblr at the time and by the time I got around to ever taking it out of the library, every element of surprise had been spoiled for me. I watched the movies and let it rest at that. Go ahead. Judge me. I judge myself.

About a year ago, my boyfriend pointed out that he had never actually read any of the Harry Potter books or seen the films. I insisted that he do so, perhaps a bit aggressively for someone with my track record. At the time, I may have not even taken time to wonder why I was so vehement about it, but now I realize that it is because, even though I do not have the relationship with the books that some do, I still recognize their power and value. As he started to sink into the wondrous wizarding world of Rowling's imagination I realized that I had an opportunity to make up for sins of the past and endeavored to give them a second, more focused, chance. I read books one through three in a flurry in the fall and then got around to book four in the past week. I will intersperse the last three between reads for the The Great Book Liberation Project and I have to say that I. cannot. wait. Twenty years old, sometimes feeling as if I have the world on my shoulders, Harry Potter transports me to a space where my greatest concern transforms into a fictional conflict with real-world applications and that is a rare and wonderful gift. Rowling's world is a safe place to arm yourself for reality, as Neil Gaiman so eloquently reminds (and lives by):

I feel privileged to be reading the books now and I don't truly feel that I have missed out on their goodness because I am only really getting into them at this age. If anything, I can appreciate them more. This is not to condescend to children, no, not at all. It is only to say that where I am, I have never needed fantasy so very badly and now that the world has shown itself so very complicated in its areas of gray, it is nice to be reminded that there are battles between good and evil where it is still worth taking sides. I am suddenly observant of things that children realize naturally: a good friend is more valuable than all of the power in the world, it is a responsibility to fight your own battle for the good of the over-arching war, a single candle can change the face of any amount of darkness.

There are two little girls playing by the table as I write this and as I look at them, I hope that the boy wizard is a part of their lives, that they can have their faith in magic renewed again and again by these wonderful books. Harry Potter is immortal because there is no age-limit when it comes to fighting to preserve goodness and warmth in this world. The frolicsome two by my table know it. Sometimes, grown-ups just need a little reminding.

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