Sunday, May 20, 2007

More about Harry Potter

It's all coming back to me:

I started reading Harry Potter when I was buying some books at the fabulous Community Bookstore (click here, too) in Park Slope--hi, Katharine!--and I saw the first book on display at the cash register. At this point the first three books had been published but only the first one was in paperback.

I had heard vaguely about this new series, which wasn't huge huge yet, and decided to pick up a copy and see what all the fuss was about. I do this from time to time, read a Steven King or a Harlequin Romance, just to see the formula. Usually I don't get hooked. This time I did, especially because the first one, as I've said before, is so amusing. Remember when you didn't know what Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans were? All those clever flavors, some delicious, some odd, some simply revolting. It was all fresh then, new, and not as dark as later books.

(My objection to the first movie was that director Chris Colombus was so intent on making the movie true to the book that he forgot all the humor; I laughed exactly once the entire two and a half hours, when Dumbledore, he of the sweet tooth, talks about not eating said Every Flavor Beans because he'd eaten a vomit-flavored one once and was forever soured on them.)

So I bought the next couple of books in hardcover, claiming they were for 2-year-old Lily when she was old enough to enjoy them. Dave was not fooled. I finished them over the next few weeks and joined the growing crowd of people waiting for book four. The first movie was released around that time, too, I think. Dave resisted reading HP at all until he saw the third movie a couple of years later, when he finally caved. Book three is the best, in my opinion.

Giving in fully to the series took me until book six, though. Katherine at the Community Bookstore was among the first to host Harry Potter parties the night of the fourth book's release in 2000, but I was still humorless then and it didn't occur to me to go, even to gawk, or to order it in advance. Turns out my mom was a fan, too, and I watched as my step-father ordered it on Amazon so she could read it the very first day it was released. How indulgent, I thought snottily, but she was thrilled.

But Heidi, my dear neighbor upstairs, had her copy delivered that Saturday, too, and generously let me read it first because she was saving it for her vacation a week later. I devoured it over the next few days, very proud of myself because I caught the editing mistake at the end when Voldemort's wand kicks out the ghostly images of the people he's killed in order of the last first, and they are out of order. JRK had it right originally: first Lily appears, then James, who was killed before her, but her editor made her switch it. Later editions corrected the mistake.

Anyway, so of course I ordered it on Amazon the next time. But sure enough, I had to go to Boston for a funeral that very day and the book was delivered an hour after I had left for Port Authority. Very annoying, especially considering I had two long bus rides that could have been put to excellent use. I did sit across from a guy who worked at Scholastic who I seem to remember said was getting his copy on Monday.

By book six I had given in completely. I went up to the Community Bookstore around 8pm the night of its release and helped set up. Katherine had picked up some candy molds of various sizes and spent days making hundreds of green and gold chocolate frogs, which she served free with butterbeer (lots of recipes online). She decorated the window with the colors of the four houses and displayed all the books except the new one, which would be revealed at midnight. She brought in her enormous lizard to stand in as a baby Hungarian Horntail dragon. And just outside the store she set up a professional photographer with a backdrop and lights so people in line could have their picture taken while they waited. There were other entertainments, too, music and jugglers and so forth, and just after midnight, a readaloud of the first chapter.

We were set up by 11:30 and I was paid for my services with a copy of the book. I tucked it discretely under my arm as I passed by the waiting throng--the line stretched all the way to Garfield Place and around the corner toward Prospect Park--and held off until I got to Union Street, two blocks away, where I cracked it open and read it under the street lights as I slowly walked the rest of the way home. I wasn't much fun the next day, which we spent on Long Island with Dave's mom. I read at stop lights, I read during the previews of the movie (Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which amused because we saw it on Long Island and barely anyone laughed and Dave and I cracked up constantly; this seems to happen to us a lot when we see movies on Long Island), and I read all night until I had finished it early Sunday morning.

The next trick was to find someone to talk to about it who had also read it quickly. No one had, yet. Naturally I called my niece, but my sister was reading it first and I was firmly told to keep my mouth shut. That Wednesday I mentioned it my therapist but she cut me off fast, too, saying, I haven't read book six yet, so if Harry Potter is the metaphor for your life it's just going to have to wait. I brought her my copy the next week. She has read the Tolkien series a million times and says HP is very derivative. I have not and didn't see much of the movies, so I can't attest to that. Of course HP is derivative of everything.

Here are some good HP sites: the leaky cauldron and mugglenet are the best fan sites. The founders of both sites (the head of mugglenet has turned this site into a six-figure job) had a great interview with JRK the afternoon after book six was released and it's well-worth reading. JRK of course has her own site, also a good read and a little less chaotic than the other two. The owner of the movies, Warner Brothers, also has a site.

Finally, and I do think this is all I'll post about this, at least until July 21, if you want to read some really good child-adult literature, try Philip Pullman, the His Dark Materials triology. These books tell an amazing story with extraordinary, gorgeous writing, full of all the nuance and choice and problems of life that you find in true literature. Pullman is dealing with Big Issues here, he says this is his attempt to rebut C.S. Lewis. Love conquers all, too, but it's the act of making love that saves the world in the end. They've done a play outside of London and are making a movie. And it sure is wonderful to see another strong girl. More strong girls in literature, I say!

PS -- one final thought: Is it clear that Hermione isn't just smart, she works like a friggin' dog? Everyone says how smart she is, but she works harder than anyone at Hogwarts at her schoolwork. You go, girl.

1 comment:

  1. Apparently the Bertie Botts trivia obsessed have found an inconsistency in one of the HP books. Dumbledore couldn't have tasted the jelly beans in his youth which was over a century ago, since they were not invented yet.


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