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April 12, 2013

Missing the Mania: Reading Harry Potter After the Hype

From J.K. Rowling’s dedication of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: The dedication of this book is... to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end.

Finally, a book dedicated to me, as I did indeed stick with Harry from his cupboard on Privet Drive to the very end. My journey with Harry, however, was a bit different that the average Potter fan's of my age group, as I started just before Christmas 2012 and wrapped it up in March of 2013. The first book was released in England in 1997. You might say I'm a bit behind the times.

It wasn't necessarily an easy decision, as the series is pretty massive. Staring down seven long books was intimidating; plus the books and even the films had already been released. I did decide to dive in, however, and this led to some interesting revelations about reading widely read, completed series years later.

Like Harry entering the wizarding world, I was surrounded by those who already seemed to know everything that was new to me. At brunch, it was all I could do not to slam my hand on the table and shout: "Have you guys heard about these dementors? What is going on?" I resisted, because of course they had. Just as Harry was alone on Privet Drive each summer, I had no one to share my thoughts.

Absorbing the many details that became important proved to be a challenge. Other fans spent years reading and re-reading the books, dissecting each one before the next one was released. They watched the films. They absorbed every detail and debated clues, prophecies and signs. Me? I tore through them back to back, losing the opportunity to really internalize and obsess over every detail. I found myself having to stop to think where I had seen names or places referenced before.

I remember the rest of the world donning costumes and attending crowded bookstore parties upon the eve of each release. I, however, missed out, oblivious to the excitement that I should have been a part of. My release parties were simply finishing one book, logging on to Amazon and having the next book magically sent to my Kindle and immediately opened. But at least no waiting! I may have missed the parties, but I also didn't suffer the agonizing multi-year wait between books other Potter fans suffered. 

It's strange to think that while the rest of world lugged heavy hardback books through the streets, school buses and subways, I only had to carry my much lighter Kindle --- certainly not an option in 1997. I am convinced had I been forced to shoulder the burden of the large hardback editions for years, I would have biceps and a rippling six pack. So, thanks for nothing, Amazon.

Even the movies impacted my reading. Though I had only seen the fourth film, I generally knew the cast which influenced my feelings for the characters, especially Bellatrix.  I absolutely love her because of a deep, potentially unhealthy appreciation of Helena Bonham Carter. Bellatrix in the book really has no redeeming qualities and isn't even as interesting a character as some other bad guys, the Death Eaters. Others had doubts, complexities and whole character arcs, but not Bellatrix. She's a lean, mean, evil machine. Nonetheless, I couldn't get enough of Bellatrix Lestrange as I pictured a wild haired Helena flicking a wand about. If I ever have children, I better not have a daughter. She may be saddled with one very murderous name.

Media coverage altered my perception of Dumbledore's sexuality because of headlines stating that Rowling had declared he was gay. Suddenly, I found myself wondering if Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald were more than just friends. Sure, the text may lend itself to that interpretation, but not exclusively.  If this had not been planted in my mind, would I have still come to the same interpretation? Impossible to say.

I now love Harry Potter, Hermione, Ron, Sirius, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Dobby, Hogwarts, Gryffindor, quidditch and, yes, Bellatrix. They may have been a part of my life for only a matter of months instead of years and on a grey screen instead of the page, but I grew to love these characters and places deeply. All the rapturous synonyms people ascribe to the series are true. It is by turns exciting, intriguing, dark, funny, sweet, redemptive and beautifully sad. Well worth a belated read.

In life, we do not have a Time Turner like Hermione in HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN. If you haven't read the books, believe me a Time Turner would be useful. However, we have to accept the things that happened, much as Harry had to learn to accept the events of his life. There is no changing them. I will therefore not waste time wishing I had read the books alongside everyone else, but rather be grateful that I was able to share in the joy of Rowling's work at all. It's what Harry would want, I'm sure.

Now, please pass the butterbeer and chocolate frogs. I have eight movies to watch.

How about you? Have you read a series years after it was completed? Do you feel like you've missed out in participating in the excitement or do you prefer reading the series straight through??