Some of you will think this is the post in which this blog, a blog primarily about historical fiction, jumps the shark. After all, I’m pretty sure that even though Harry Potter is insanely popular, no one would classify his story as history. But there are many, many ways in which history and children’s literature intersect.
But first I need to tell you my Harry Potter story. There have been a lot of people talking this weekend about their love for Harry. And maybe my story is just like theirs. And maybe not.
I first discovered Harry the summer before my junior year of college, 1999. I wanted something light before heading back to Hendrix, and I was starting to hear some buzz so I picked up Sorcerer’s Stone in paperback. I liked it, but wasn’t quite head over heels yet. A few weeks later, my boyfriend bought me Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban as an anniversary present. That’s when the books went to a new level.
But something else pushed them over the top too–my copies got passed around to my core group of friends, the Galloway Girls. They were the only books that all six of us, six women with very different tastes, had read. And we kept talking about them.
Fast forward to the summer of 2000. The Enchanted Forest (now tragically out of business) was hosting a release party for Goblet of Fire. I really wanted to go, but it was a party at a children’s book store. I wasn’t a child. But! My favorite nephew, Bobby, was a big fan of the books. His dad had been reading them to him at bed time. So, being the good aunt that I am, I offered to take Bobby to the party. It was all about him, of course.
I should better explain my friendship with Bobby and his family. We’re not blood-related at all. His parents and my parents became good friends through church. I was Bobby’s first babysitter–and he was really the first kid I had known since he was in utero. The only words that really work to explain us is aunt and nephew.
We had a great time at the party! This was before the era of midnight releases, so it was actually a morning party. They had folks dressed as characters, crafts (wands and brooms!) and a creature feature from the Dallas Zoo. Bobby was not quite 8, so these characters were very, very real to him. When we finally spotted the kid dressed as Harry, Bobby looked at me with his eyes wide: “Is that the REAL Harry Potter?” I said yes. He said “Do you think we can get a picture?”
His dad told me later: “After you left, Bobby said: ‘That was the Best Day of My Entire Life.” That made me feel pretty good–after all, I had a pretty good time too.
I wound up attending release parties for all of the remaining books, though I never dressed up and only waited in line for my copy once. For Order of the Phonenix, I went to a party at my favorite book store in Raleigh. It was one of the last things I did before moving back to Texas.
For Half Blood Prince, I just happened to be arriving in Portland the day of the release. Which meant that I was able to go to Powell’s gigantic block party. It was AWESOME. I have never seen so many people excited about a book in the same place. Since it was the start of vacation, I didn’t buy the book until I got home. Otherwise, I knew I would be no fun on the trip (and mom, a non-reader, would not have understood). It was torture to fly home and see everyone else in the world reading it but me. But I took an extra day off of work and caught up at home.
For Deathly Hallows, I went to a party at a local Barnes and Noble, but headed home at midnight. Early the next morning, I picked up my reserved copy at my dad’s store, got a large coffee, and went home to read. There were a lot of tears.
When the first movie came out, Bobby’s family and my family saw it together. It was very nice of all the movies to come out either very close to Thanksgiving or in the summer. In 2001, I was living in North Carolina for grad school, so we watched it together when I was home for the holiday. We saw Chamber of Secrets with our families, as well as Prisoner of Azkaban.
When Goblet of Fire came out, there was a big debate about whether or not Bobby’s little sister was old enough for Goblet of Fire. Her mom decided no, so Bobby and I went by ourselves to that one. And we’ve seen every other movie, just us, ever since. Sometimes we’ve seen it separately before seeing it together, but we’ve always seen it together. Before each movie came out, I’d have this fear: would this be the year that Bobby said he didn’t want to go with me? After all, we all know the horror stories about teenagers–surely, one day, I would be judged no longer cool. But he never said “not this time.”
Bobby is about to start his senior year of high school. It is truly hard to believe that the little guy pictured above is now taller than I am, dating cute girls and driving. Seeing the last movie was loaded with meaning and emotion for me. It wasn’t just about Harry’s story, but my story. Memories of passing one set of books around the college dorm. Memories of watching this really cool kid grow up. We made plans to see it on Sunday. As I told some friends, “there is a good possibility that I will be a complete and blubbering idiot throughout most of the movie.” Because let’s be honest here: I was tearing up just thinking about watching it. When we were driving to the theater, I told Bobby: “I have two requests. #1: We have to take pictures. #2: I will probably cry a lot and you can’t make fun of me.”
The showing we aimed for, IMAX 3D,was sold out even though we got there way early. Oops. So we waited an hour and a half and watched it in 3D. I did cry, but I don’t think I ever turned into the blubbering idiot I feared. And the whole day was deeply satisfying.
So how is Harry historic? Frankly, I don’t think we’ll ever see a literary phenomenon like this again. Can you imagine families buying multiple copies of a book ever again? Or staying up till midnight to get it? The timing was incredible–just as the internet was taking off, but before e-readers dominated the marketplace. Though there were plenty of online communities for books, there were none like the Harry Potter community.
This blog is really all about how childhood reading shapes us as adults. An entire generation of kids, kids like Bobby, have grown up with Harry. Harry is a profound part of their personal history. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. We don’t know what kinds of lives these kids will lead. But if Harry’s their role model, well, I think our future is looking pretty bright.