When I was in the third grade, a literary phenomenon swept through my classroom. Everywhere I looked, someone was holding a copy of this book called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Kids that I didn’t even know could read were flipping through the pages with incredible speed. Everyone loved this Harry Potter, whoever he was.
Me? I stuck to my Sherlock Holmes anthologies. I never really liked reading books that were deemed “grade level appropriate,” so I skipped anything and everything my teacher recommended and headed straight for the “Big Kids’ Books” in the library. Looking back, I was a bit of a snob.
Ok, a big snob.
As the years went on and 11th birthdays approached, kids were joking about waiting for their Hogwarts letters and, occasionally, some disappointed student came to class moping that they weren’t Muggleborn like they’d hoped. I consoled my friends as best I could, having no idea what the word “Muggleborn” even meant. They were wishing Quidditch was an actual sport in PE, eating jellybeans that tasted like puke (someone offered me one of those Bertie’s Beans once and it was vomit flavored. I never ate another one, not even when someone assured me they knew it was a “normal” flavor). In middle school, we had a horrible substitute teacher for a month who never showed up on time. To signal her arrival, the class appointed look out would clear their throat in an annoying high pitch voice and say “Hem hem.” All activity in the class stopped, and I couldn’t figure out why (after starting the fifth book, I will say, the woman really did bear a remarkable resemblance to Umbridge). After the release of the 6th book, I saw people walking around in black and wearing RIP DUMBLEDORE shirts—I had no idea what the hell was going on.
So, my freshman year of college, I decided to remedy this and added numbers 65 and 69 to my list. I was going to read all the books and watch all the movies, without fail. W atching the movies proved easier than reading the books, thanks to the ABC Family Harry Potter Weekend Movie Marathons, but eventually I scrounged up a copy of the first book, thanks to my friend Victoria, and read it.
The first book got me through a very dark period—the one where I was in journalism school. First semester midterms were fast approaching and I was bloody miserable with everything. The book had been sitting on my desk for almost a week before I decided to take a break from studying and do a little recreational reading. It was a good thing too, because I’m pretty sure my brain would have exploded if I hadn’t.
I liked it well enough. The concept of an 11-year-old with a horrible life being plucked out of his abusive home situation and being whisked into a magical world where fantastical things happen and he has a famous history he didn’t even know about is brilliant. What kid doesn’t, at one point or another in their life, wish that they could be someone else or that they could have magical powers?
Harry Potter got both. People, for the most part, love him in the Wizarding World and he’s a Wizard.
Plus, he managed to get a way with a ton of stuff no child should ever have in a magical castle, temporarily prevented an evil megalomaniac from coming back, saved the Sorcerer’s Stone, and made a couple friends along the way. Even though he had to go back to the Dursleys in the end, a part of me went “awwww” when I was done reading.
The other wondered why I couldn’t have been lucky enough to receive a Hogwarts letter on my 11th birthday—then I wouldn’t have to worry about journalism midterms.
I have to say though, I kind of like the movie better. I don’t know why, but it was more enjoyable for me than reading the book. It was the same with the second book, which I managed to pick up a year after reading the first. Again, I liked it well enough. Professor Lockhart’s character in the book was so much better than in the film. And Dobby—I love Dobby. Who couldn’t love a House Elf (except maybe Kreacher)?
But I liked watching the movie better.
Then, a few months later, I found a copy of the third book, which I only finished last week.
I loved it.
The characters are growing up now, which you can really tell in this book. Hermione especially. Her character, in my opinion, is starting to grow from “useful but kind of annoying” to “pretty cool.” While she didn’t really appear to often in this one, she was crucial to the end of the book with her Time Turner and logical reasoning. And I loved that Rowling introduced characters that could actually tell Harry about what his parents were like when they were in school. Remus Lupin and Sirius Black are two of my favorite characters at this point. It was a hundred times better than the movie, especially the scene in the Shrieking Shack, where Remus and Sirius explain their rivalry with Snape, why Snape hates Remus so much, and what really happened the night Harry’s parents died, thanks to Peter Pettigrew (whose animagus form is very fitting, I think).
After finishing the third one, I could wait to read the next; which I finished the other day.
If I wasn’t into the series before, I’m completely hooked now.
I’m finally starting to see what others love about this series. My friends, and everyone else from my generation, were growing up with the characters. Everything is becoming much more “real” for everyone, especially where the new dangers and threats are concerned. Harry and his friends are maturing like their real world counterparts reading through the adventures would have (and still are, if the kids sitting at the next table over in the library are any indication) and they’re starting to have the same adolescent problems that readers would be facing; especially Hermione, who’s dealing with appearance issues and, what every 13/14-year-old girl has trouble with at one point or another, boys. It’s clear that she likes Ron, but Ron’s completely clueless because, being an adolescent boy, he can’t really figure these things out yet, even if someone spells it out for him. The same can be said for Harry, who doesn’t really figure out why Ginny can’t talk around him and couldn’t work up the courage to ask Cho to the ball before Cedric did. Poor guy.
Fred and George also show a lot of growth that some of the older readers can relate to. Pretty soon, they’ll be done with school and they’ll need to do something, anything, with their lives. Their situation mirrors my senior year of high school: you’ve got an idea of what you really want to do, and you know you could do it; but certain family members have another, completely different idea. And then “senioritis” starts to kick in and you could really care less about anything even remotely related to school. I like the idea of a joke shop for them; it’s right up their ally. I really can’t picture them doing anything else.
Rowling also addressed two really big motifs in this book that I found interesting: equality and slavery. The House Elves, which are an integral part of Wizarding life from the looks of things, are essentially slaves. While some are lucky, like the Hogwarts’ Elves who clearly love what they do and have a good environment, some aren’t, like poor Dobby when he was living with the Malfoys. I’m really happy Rowling brought Dobby back in this book (I love how he thinks that socks should be mismatched!) and that he’s the oddball in House Elf society that absolutely loves his freedom and galleon a week paycheck while the other Elves think that being free is the worst possible thing that could ever happen to them (poor, alcoholic Winky). The situation with the House Elves also touches a bit on cultural differences and progressive thinking. Hermione, coming from the Muggle world, has the same view of slavery most everyone in the world does: it’s wrong and a violation of basic human (or creature, in this case) rights. Since the House Elves are human-like in the way they walk, perform tasks, and talk (even if their speech is a little weird) is very humanesque, so their enslavement and poor treatement is a problem in Hermione’s eyes. People who’ve grown up in the Wizarding World don’t see House Elf enslavement as a problem, something that really irks Hermione who wants to try and change the system. Then there’s the difference between human culture and elf culture, because the elves don’t see a problem with serving Wizards because that is what they are meant to do, whether they get paid or not. It’s their lives, and it’s what they enjoy. Even Dobby said that he didn’t want too much free time, when Dumbledore offered him vacation time as a benefit of working at Hogwarts, because elves aren’t meant to do nothing, they enjoy working. He also accepted less money, because there’s really no need for him to have it. So while SPEW is a creative idea on Hermione’s part, I don’t think it will really go anywhere, unfortunately. I do, however, think that it could influence her future career—perhaps Wizarding Law is in her future after Hogwarts.
Like Prisoner of Azkaban, I enjoyed this book much more than the movie. I especially liked the beginning, where the Weasleys tried to get through the fireplace in the Durselys house and got stuck because it’s an electric hearth. Even better was the Ten-Ton Tongue Toffee scene where Fred(?) dropped the candies on purpose so Dudley would eat one. I don’t remember anything like that in the movie, and I really wish it had been because it was one of my favorite scenes.
So, that’s where I am with the books. I’m halfway through The Order of the Phoenix, so I might post something about that so far. Overall, I think I’m going to like the last couple of books a lot better than the movies, especially because this is where things in the series really start taking off.
While I may not have been swept up in the Harry Potter Phenomenon in the third grade, I’m certainly caught up in it now.
Better late than never, right?