Evidently it’s been 20 years since Harry Potter first exploded on the children’s literature scene. It doesn’t seem that long to me, and that’s probably because I was late to the Harry Potter party.
I was in college when it came out. I had plenty of other things to do. And let’s face it, paying attention to the latest and greatest in children’s literature wasn’t a high priority. My brother’s kids loved it–okay, their entire family loved it. So did a lot of other people. It was hard not to hear about Harry Potter.
And so I avoided it for quite a while. I tend to get a little snobbish about popular entertainment–if everyone loves it, then it can’t be that good. After all, most of the movies everyone loves leave me scratching my head over what the big deal is. Mass appeal has never been a recommendation for me. And I admit I’ve missed out on some good stories with that attitude.
So in my elitist snobbery, I can at least take consolation in the fact that I did become a Harry Potter fan before the movies came along. It was probably either my younger brother or moving in with my older brother’s family for a while that got me off the fence and into the books. And they were fun! There is so much to love about the Harry Potter world.
I remember especially finishing “The Goblet of Fire” and feeling the ground move beneath our collective feet. The gloves were coming off. Harry Potter was getting serious. Rowling had turned a corner, and it was delicious. The series got dark, but without crossing all the way over into dark and gritty. The sense of wonder was still there. The sense that goodness and decency would win in the end was still there. But the stakes were suddenly much higher, and we knew that defeating Voldemort would come at a cost.
Then along came the movies–or rather, with me, the movies followed close behind. They were good. They were fun. But they were limited. They couldn’t go as deep as the books could, but they were valiant try. Radcliff, Watson, and company became the de facto images in my mind as I read the latter end of the series, and that was fine. The movies have become the shortcuts back into the books. I can watch the movies and remember all the things I enjoyed in the books that didn’t make it in.
Harry Potter is very much a part of me now, and of my own family. I read all seven books to my kids (and Dumbledore’s voice nearly made me lose my own). I have a wand (thanks to my woodcraftsy brother). I don’t know what house I’m in. I don’t know which HP character I’m most like. Like most things I really love, my enjoyment is personal and mostly private. I don’t need all the pop culture trappings.
And while I of course love Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Snape, they are not my favorite characters. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Luna Lovegood, and Remus Lupin are more my style. And, I suppose, that’s an indication of the depth of Rowling’s world and storytelling. It’s big enough to give a reader room to walk around and explore outside of the immediate orbit of the main characters. There are characters of such variety that everyone can find someone they can relate to.
I’ve not tried to read anything else Rowling has written after “Deathly Hallows”. I’ve not even tried to watch “Fantastic Beasts”. Maybe it’s the old snobbery raising its head again. Maybe it’s the fear of disappointment. Perhaps it’s just my limited time. I don’t know. All I know is that if all I ever enjoy is Harry Potter, that is enough. Thanks, Ms. Rowling, for a magical ride.