I was planning to do a post on the Royal Baby today, but I care far more for another British boy, and it being July 31st, I really would rather talk about him.
Happy Birthday Harry Potter!
As Joyce fans line up to celebrate Bloomsday every June 16th, Harry Potter fans continue to note and celebrate Harry’s Birthday every year. It has been over 6 years since the final book was released, but the fandom is alive and well. Perhaps not as active as they were back in the heyday, but still there nonetheless. There’s a local fish & chip shop here doing a 2 night HP trivia competition. There are special performances of HP-related music and plays in NYC, London, LA tonight.
It should also be noted that J.K. Rowling’s birthday is also July 31st, so Happy Birthday, Jo!
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the first book’s release, Scholastic has commissioned new paperback editions with new artwork. They just released the final cover image to celebrate today.
So what is it about this book series that has an enduring hold on people? Who better to answer this question than me? I reread these books every year at Christmas. I would say I’ve read the first four books maybe 30 times (each). I thought I would take today to share a
short account of the difference these books made in my life.
My first exposure to Harry Potter was actually through the first movie. There I was, firmly entrenched in the nadir of my life’s journey.
My mother died when I was 15, and that event had put me on a strange course in life, and led me to a pretty crippling bout with depression. My aunt and uncle were appointed my guardians (sound at all familiar?), and they were the first people to ever make it clear to me that I was not good enough as I was. They made me really feel the need for their approval, and (simultaneously) the complete absence of it. I went to a university I didn’t care for in an attempt to please them, but my perilous emotional state made excelling (or even passing my classes) a bleak proposition. They controlled the money, so as long as I was in school, I was under their control. So I left university halfway through my second year. I viewed this as temporary; I never wanted to not finish my degree. But life sort of spiraled after that.
So at 20, I was to be found living with a boyfriend who cheated on me, working two jobs to pay my bills, not reading or writing anymore (two activities that had truly defined my childhood), eating $1 frozen meals 3 times a day every day, wasting my entire life. It was the worst my life has ever been, and I’m pretty confident the worst my life will ever be. Depression is a hell of a thing for making you hopeless and bleak and like you’ll never be cheerful again.
Then I went to see this movie everyone was talking about. I didn’t know anything about the story, I didn’t even know it was about magic. I didn’t know Harry was a wizard until Harry knew. I remember that exact moment, and a sense of wonder that broke through the haze of my own desolate mind. Something literally clicked in my brain, and I remembered the amazing quality that stories have to take you out of your own experience and put you somewhere better.
I couldn’t afford to buy the books, as you might have guessed by the two jobs, $1 meals bit mentioned above. The next day, during my lunch break, I walked to Barnes & Noble and sat myself down in the kid’s section and started to read. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next, so I actually skipped the first book and started the second right away. I read every day on my lunch break–thank you B&N for not throwing me out–even though it was the holiday season at the Mall of America, and the crowds made me almost literally ill.
The only thing I asked for Christmas was the (then) 4 Harry Potter books. I remember my grandmother asked me if I wanted to wait until they came out in paperback. I laughed. I didn’t want to wait until Christmas, let alone longer.
My family obliged, thank god. I finished all four books in less than two weeks–impressive when you consider that I didn’t get holiday time off from either job. Then I read them again. And again.
At first, it was an escape. Nothing more, really. I could be completely immersed in a different world. I loved the idea of fate, the humor, the fact that every new chapter could mean a totally unexpected event (I remember gasping at Ron’s flying car, and when I got to Peter Pettigrew unmasked as Scabbers, I actually turned back the pages to see if I’d read it wrong.). As an escape, it worked. I wasn’t depressed anymore; no time for depression when you have an obsession.
Over time, I found communities of other Harry Potter fans. I found great friends (online, but still) to share this passion with. It’s a nerdy period of my life, with nerd keywords like fanfiction, chat room, role playing. It’s also the period in my life when I found my my joie de vivre. I found my passion again. For reading, for writing, for all the things about the written word and the process of storytelling that have been so important to me since. Not only did I read and reread Harry Potter, and read and write Harry Potter fanfiction, but I started reading again full stop. I read Jane Austen, Tolkien, Vonnegut, the Brontes, Nabokov, Dickens, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Bell Jar, Fahrenheit 451, and numerous other books that further expanded and changed my world view. It was this period in my life that defined who I became as an adult.
My first trip to New York City came when I wanted to see J.K. Rowling speak, so she’s responsible for that too. For my first views of the Empire State Building, Washington Square Park, my first proper English beans on toast, my first subway trip.
All the reading and writing also directly led to me going back to school; this time as an English major. It took me a long time to get back to a university that I liked, but once I did it I really did it right. I graduated with honors from one of the top 5 universities in the country. Harry Potter was the subject of my application essay.
The books led me to resume my own writing habit, and I’m now 65,000 words into my first novel. When I finish it, I’ll know that Harry Potter led me to that moment as well.
The books led me back into university, but they also led me to study abroad in London–the best 6 months of my entire life. During that time in the UK, I saw 10 countries, 11 plays, approximately 20 museums and 15 churches, participated in a two week program backstage at the Globe Theatre, and got to go inside the Gringott’s Building (across the street from my uni.).
In fact, Harry Potter led me to my entire obsession with British culture, so it also led to this blog. It has made an absolutely momentous impact on my life, and has shaped how I am and who I am today. No matter how long I live or how much I change in the course of my life, nothing is going to change how I feel about these books. They saved my life. Gave me a life worth living.
So Happy Birthday Harry, Happy Birthday Jo, and thank you both.