Sunday, July 22

My Time With Harry

"I think you'd really like this book, Ms. Sangster..."

It was 1998, and I was working at a private elementary school as a teaching assistant. One of my favorite students was a charming little third grader, Allie, whose family had recently relocated to the States from Britain for her father's job. I adored her--of course I did; I'm a raging anglophile--but it wasn't just her citizenship that drew us together; it was also our shared love for reading. One day, she gave a book report on a little novel she had been sent from relatives in England entitled Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. She spoke of it with such enthusiasm that most of the kids in the class were anxious to read it, but Allie informed us that no, we couldn't all borrow her copy; however, we were in luck, the book had just been released in the U.S.

As a grad student, I was always happy for reading that was, shall we say, less challenging than my school reading (or "brain candy," as we scholars say), so I took Allie's recommendation and went to the bookstore to pick it up. I had a heck of a time finding it, though, because there was no such book as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. One salesperson suggested that perhaps I was referring to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone? They didn't have it in stock, but would I like to order one?

I didn't actually get around to reading the book for a while...but after a couple of months, I heard kids around the school talking about this boy wizard named Harry who had to live under the stairs. I heard teachers at lunch discuss how surprised they were at how much they enjoyed the book. Copies of the book were getting traded around, and the school librarian was working on getting several in. Hmmm...I thought. Maybe I better read this book.

And that is how it time with Harry.

I must admit that the first book didn't rock my world or anything. I thought it was a sweet story but not terribly complex. It was certainly no Hobbit, a comparison I had heard a couple of times. I had no idea that it would just keep getting better and better and better until I was an addicted Potter junkie, hanging outside bookstores at God-awful hours to purchase each book the minute it was released, waiting until my dealers, Barnes and Noble, provided me with my next hit.

The next summer I was hired to teach a summer reading workshop for fifth- and sixth-graders. I was allowed to pick any book I wanted, and when I put Harry Potter down on the book order form, my supervisor eyed it suspiciously. "I've never heard of this book." Neither, it seemed had the educational world. There were no teacher's guides for Harry Potter, so I had to make up my own quizzes, pick out my own vocabulary words from each chapter, and write all of the discussion and essay questions. (Why did I not try to get all this published? Well--hindsight being 20/20 and all...)

The book was a big hit with the kids (duh.), and while we were reading it, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was released. The next day, all six of my students showed up with the sequel. Apparently, we were going to read the second one as well.

And this is why I loved Harry...he got kids reading. There were no whines of, "This book is too long!" or, "Why do we have to read this?!" Kids just read. And read and read. It also made me kind of sad, though...I mean, there are so many good books out there, but many kids acted as though they were making an exception for Harry Potter. Kind of like: reading still sucks, but we will read Harry Potter. Well, at least Harry was better than some of the other crap that kids-who-don't-like-to-read read. Captain Underpants was dead. Long live Harry Potter!

It wasn't until Prisoner of Azkaban that our relationship went to the next level. It wasn't just about the kids anymore. Me and Harry--we had a thang goin' on. By then, there was talk of a movie. I didn't know how to feel about this--on the one hand I was excited to see these beloved characters come to life on the screen, but on the other, I was afraid that the kids would stop reading. Would I start hearing, "But why do we have to read this book...there's a movie!" What I should have realized was that the books would always come out before the movies, and patience is not a virtue that I, nor most children, have. We all just kept on reading.

I remember the day that Goblet of Fire came out...I had the day off, and I was at the bookstore bright and early, where a tired looking salesperson handed me a copy off of a giant pallet behind the cash register. I couldn't even make it home. I went next door to the coffee shop and tore through the first several chapters over a latte and bagel. I saw someone I knew there, and they tried to strike up a friendly conversation. It was all I could do not to shout at them, "Can't you see I'm READING for the LOVE OF GOD!!" This was the first time I tried to make the book last...tried to stop myself from downing the whole book in one gulp. It was a useless effort. The book called to me from the closet where I had hidden it, and I finished it that night.

The Order of the Phoenix came out the day I was out of town for a bridal shower. I figured I would have to hold off until Monday to buy the book, but Saturday morning my best friend handed me the copy she had ordered to be delivered for me. "I knew you wouldn't be able to focus without it," she said. She is a very good friend. Foolish, perhaps, because they had to tear the book out of my hands to get me to start preparing for the shower. I should probably also mention that this shower was my own.

I attended my first bookstore release party for The Half-Blood Prince. It was pretty cool, what with all the costumes and stuff, but really, I was only there for the book. I had it read by the following morning and then had to keep my damn mouth shut for days until my friends caught up, even though I wanted to scream at them, "Dumbledore is DEAD! NOOOOOoooooooo!" But even more horrible than Dumbledore's death was the fact that Snape killed him. Because I love Snape. He is my favorite Harry Potter character. And I never believed he was truly evil. But how could this be when he had killed Dumbledore? I immediately started analyzing the situation (because, you know, that's why I have an advanced degree in literature...), trying to work out every scenario where Snape was redeemable. Because he had to be HAD TO BE good; otherwise, my love of the Harry Potter universe would crumble and fade.

And how the hell was I expected to wait two years to find out?



I'll leave you some space.

Go ahead, stop now if you are still reading the book...I'll wait.

Here is a funny picture of my baby sleeping....

Dum, dee-dum.....

OKAY, here I go!


Friday night we went to the Grand Hallows ball at Borders. I'd like to say I dressed in a cool costume, or that I took part in the Harry Potter spelling bee, but no, once again I was only there because I was desperate to get my hands on the next book, and I didn't trust the post office to deliver it to me at the crack of dawn on Saturday. Because if I had to wait for the postman...well, things might have gotten ugly. At the "ball" there was also a debate about whether Snape was loyal or not...I started to sit in on that, but then I realized that my powers of rhetoric were probably too magnificent for a group of children and tweens, and I didn't want to make anybody cry, so Matilda and I showed our support for Snape through the use of visuals...

I was really nervous about this because if Snape turned out to be evil, well...the book might have ended up in the fireplace just like when I was 13 and Little Women ended up ablaze when Jo turned down Laurie and Laurie ended up marrying that stupid bitch Amy and I just couldn't handle it, couldn't stand to look at the book anymore, and threw it into the fireplace in a fit of rage. Not that I advocate the burning of books--it's just that, well, I get angry sometimes, OKAY?!

And I love Severus Snape. I loved him before the first movie came out, and then they went and cast Alan Rickman in the part and I was officially smitten...I also love Alan Rickman. That deep voice, those intense eyes...(shudder). They can try and ug him up all they want...that man is still a sexy beast!

From book one I knew, deep in my heart, that Snape was just misunderstood. Sure he treated Harry like crap, but c'mon! does everyone have to adore Harry? And then when we find out that Snape was tormented by that mean bully James Potter, I wanted to bundle Snape up into my arms and tell him, "It's'll end up a powerful wizard and a teacher someday, and that ass-hat will end up DEAD!"

Ian asked me recently if I would do Snape, and my immediate response was "Hell, yes, I would!" I would sneak down to his dungeon and clear everything off his desk with a sweep of my arm and crawl up and ask him for the "special" potion. Rrowr! But sadly, he wouldn't have me because he was so in love with Lily Potter that he could never love another woman.

I cried like a damn baby when we found out why Snape really was loyal, why he protected Harry even though he hated him, why he was such a sad and angry man. Twoo wove! He loved Lily since he was nine years old! It just tears at my heart! And his final words..."" So that he could see Lily in Harry's eyes before he died. Okay, shit, I'm crying again.

I just want to give J.K. Rowling a big fat smooch for ending the series the way she did. It was so intensely satisfying...not just because I was RIGHT about Snape but because things seemed to work out just as they should have. Not too happy, not too sad. In the end, she proved that despite being wizards and witches, all of the characters were very much human, with their human flaws and their human hearts.

I'm sad now that my time with Harry has ended. There are a lot of people saying the same thing--what will we do with no Harry? I console myself, though, with the thought that in a few years, Matilda will be old enough for Harry, and I will get to start all over again with The Sorcerer's Stone...I will lie next to my daughter and open to the first page--"Chapter One..."


ErinBW said...

Nicely said.

BellWookie said...

yup. you just made me tear up remembering it. man, that was an amazing book.

Doug said...

Harry Potter? Is that some kind of parody of Harry Plopper, alter ego of Spider-Pig from The Simpsons Movie? The round glasses do look like the ones the pig wore in the film.

Must be big; this Simpsons pig rip-off made the cover of Entertainment Weekly within a week of the Simpsons themselves being on the cover.

Eh, I guess if you go for that reading stuff there might be something in these... what are they called again?--books?

Maybe someday we'll be able to download them into our iPods. Then they'll be huge.

bubandpie said...

How I love this post. How I love it.

Were you disappointed that Snape got so little screen time in the final book (and such an ignominious death)? Or was his vindication worth the wait?