Monday, July 18, 2011

Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone was published in 1997, I was thirteen years old. At that point, I had just finished the Lord of the Rings for the first time, and was reading Feist’s Serpent War Saga. I was at that weird stage of adjustment from preteen to teenager, where I took myself too seriously and was “too old” for kids books. So I scoffed at Harry Potter; for two years.

I did not jump on board with the series until I was 15. Too many people told me that the series was worth reading for me to ignore it. So I picked up the books (at that point the first three were out), and I read them all in about a week.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was the first book I ever bought at a midnight release. Not because I really couldn’t wait. But because I was working at a summer camp at the time and I always had Friday nights off, since I was “barn staff” and it got me off camp, so I could eat real food, and go to my second favorite place in the world. A bookstore. The trip involved an hour drive (two hours in the car), and copious amounts of time in a bookstore, typically I would hide from the kids in the history section.

So in that way, Harry Potter became a tradition. Every summer, I would be at camp and go to the midnight release party with the lucky coworkers who could get the night off (and all of the barn staff) and we would read our copies, and talk about the book. It gave us something to bond over, and it was fun. I cried when I finished the sixth book, I absolutely bawled when I finished the seventh.

It’s odd to think about how this book corresponds with important dates in my own life (or really that of the people in my generation). At 16, I went to my first midnight premier (possibly because it was the first time I really had the money to spend). It was also my first summer as full time camp staff, and the year I moved out of my parent’s house.

The last book in the series came out, my last year at summer camp. The year I graduated from College. Harry Potter is an adult, with kids at the end of that book. I am an adult with bills, facing a serious injury, that needed surgery, without health insurance at the end of that summer.

And now, the series is over. I went and saw the last movie (twice) this weekend. Normally I wouldn’t go see a movie twice, but I am glad I did. I caught a lot more the second time, as there was a person bawling behind me for the entire movie the first time.

I have read a lot of speculation as to why/how Harry Potter became as much of a popular culture phenomenon that it did. It certainly was the only book I could walk up to anyone at the summer camp I lived in at the time it came out, and ask anyone about it, and they would at least know what I am talking about.

Maybe it’s the underdog story. When you start out, Harry is an eleven year old boy, who is smallish, bullied by his cousin, who lives under the staircase, meant to defeat the ultimate evil. Or the fact that he is a bit of a rule breaker, with a good heart. I don’t think anyone has the answers. There is no hard and fast rule as to what will make a series a great success.

I am not sure how much I can learn from these books as far as a writer goes. They don’t do that much right. They are entertaining. They tell a good story. They are easy to read. They have an evil villain who has no real reason for being evil. There is a lot of stuff randomly thrown into the last book (where did that wand lore come from).

Harry Potter has been around for half of my life. I was thirteen when the first book came out, and am 26 now, and it is with a great deal of fondness that I say goodbye, perhaps until one day when I can pass the books along, with Lord of the Rings, and the Dealing with Dragons series, and maybe the people I pass it on to will get as much out of it as I did. Or maybe they will wonder whats the point. Perhaps its like Star Wars, you have to grow up with it for it to mean anything at all.


  1. Yeah, I'm from the Star Wars generation. It was THE phenomenon when I was a kid. I've read all the Harry Potter books, seen most of the movies, and been to the theme park, but I can't say they define a moment in time for me -- not the way something can when you are young and still learning about the world.

    Very cool what Rowling was able to accomplish.

  2. Man, I was in my twenties when that book came out. I've heard a lot of talk about the generation that grew up with Harry. I wonder how long the Potter books will last? I do love them so I hope a while.