I’ve been staring at this blank page for at least ten minutes now. Reaching back fourteen years into one’s memories isn’t an easy task, and it’s only grown exponentially more difficult because of the subject matter.
Harry Potter. I’ve known this name for the last fourteen years and I feel safe in assuming that I will know this name until the day I die. It’s been a week since the last film was released, and it still doesn’t seem real.
To be honest, I didn’t discover it in some touching, memorable way. I was 10 years old in 1998, the year Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was first published in the United States, and I didn’t encounter the books until the following year. We had a Scholastic book fair at my school in the fall of 1999, and I couldn’t find anything worth my $20.I found myself in front of a table with a wizard hat and a stack of auburn hardcover books. After a few minutes, I walked out of the book fair with Sorcerer’s Stone tucked under my arm.
I didn’t read it for a few weeks. Believe it or not, I was too obsessed with the Shakespeare for Children collection that my mom had just bought me. A month later, I finally took it off my shelf and read it in one sitting. I was impressed–I’d never read a book like it before. I remember wishing it had a sequel, but I wasn’t engrossed enough to start asking around.
When Chamber of Secrets was released, I had no idea.
Christmas of 1999 came around, and an aunt in Toronto gave me the first three books as a present. It was the first time I’d ever seen the British covers and I thought they were brilliant. I was hooked. I read Prisoner of Azkaban so many times that it literally split in half and I lost about 30 pages in the middle. I was a girl entranced by a world I never thought possible.
I was 12 years old when Goblet of Fire came out, in the middle of some hellish school years. Books became my refuge. I took strength from Harry’s own challenges–if he could deal with a dark wizard trying to kill him for no apparent reason, then I could certainly ignore the constant barbs and torment that my classmates insisted on dishing out. Even then, I think I already knew that Harry wasn’t going to be just another fad. Jo Rowling’s talent far surpassed her writing: it was in her clear understanding of people and her faith in their own choices that shone on each page. It was the first book series I’d ever read and followed avidly.
Every Potter fan in my generation will remember the agonizing wait between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. By that time, the internet had already begun to grow, and I remember typing “Harry Potter next book” into my AOL search engine. My surprise at finding out the series had been optioned for a film was glorious. I’d never imagined that it would be possible. Yes, I quickly grew obsessed with Dan, Rupert and Emma. It was so surreal to me that the characters I’d laughed and cried over were going to be real people, showing me exactly what had happened in the books. I was so nervous that they wouldn’t live up to the Harry, Ron and Hermione I had in my head that I didn’t even consider the casting for the adults. I don’t think I was ever really disappointed in anything the movies did, beyond how they dealt with the Marauders. And to have such a glorious visual representation of the books I loved so much is something I’ll always be grateful for.
I watched Chamber of Secrets with my high school friends on my fourteenth birthday. Eight years later, it’s still one of my most precious memories. Like Harry, I was on the verge of happiness, finally carving out my own identity after years of uncertainty.
Order of the Phoenix was my favourite book before Deathly Hallows was published. I couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason behind my love until around two years ago. Harry’s inner struggles matched mine almost exactly: I was coming to terms with changes in my life that I had no control over. I didn’t know whether I wanted to fight back or just passively accept that my life would never be the way I imagined. Harry, Ron and Hermione were facing a world that rejected them because of fear. I breathed fear. It was my constant companion. They showed me that it was possible to be different, to use that fear and transform it into strength. Even the story behind how I got my copy was bursting with that inner confidence and strength I craved: my mom convinced the manager at a local bookstore to give her a copy a few hours before midnight since we would be out of town the next day. She didn’t back down because she knew how much I wanted that book, and she refused to take no for an answer. I think about that night now and feel a surge of gratefulness that I have her for a mother.
I was a freshman in university when Half-Blood Prince was released. My aunt in the States had bought me a copy so my mom chose not to buy it. Thankfully, my roommate had just finished reading her copy and she lent it to me for the weekend. I sat down at 8 p.m. on a Friday night and read until 2:30 a.m. I didn’t just read, though–I took notes. My brother wanted to read it too, and since it would be at LEAST a few months before my aunt’s package arrived, I decided to take notes on what happened in each chapter so that he could read that while he waited. I found that notebook a few weeks ago and surprised myself with the details I managed to scribble into the margins. I didn’t take the book seriously, to be honest. It felt like a filler, something to tide us all over until the seventh and last book. It’s only now that I can appreciate the care Rowling had to take in writing her penultimate HP novel.
2007, as they say, was the beginning of the end. On the day that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, I couldn’t believe it. I worked at my parents’ office the whole morning, far away from the midnight releases and launch parties. I didn’t get my copy until 3 p.m. that Saturday, and even as the cashier slid it into a bag and handed my dad the receipt, I was still in denial. The last nine years of my life were contained in a bright orange book, and I didn’t want to see the last page. My dad stopped the car about two blocks down from my condo. He asked to see the book, because he just wanted to know how it would end. I gingerly handed it over and immediately clapped my hands over my ears because I didn’t want to hear any reactions. After a few minutes, he gave it back to me, poker-face intact.
When I got up to my condo, I dumped everything on the bedroom floor, changed into pajamas and immediately settled down on my bed to read. I didn’t move for six hours straight. The last half of my copy is still wrinkled from all the crying I did. Looking back, I was lucky. The fifth movie had only just come out the week before and there were at least three more years before I really had to say goodbye to Harry. It wasn’t over yet.
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing, cause I built my life around you. But time makes you bolder, even children get older–and I’m getting older too.
Today is the fourth anniversary of the day the final book came out. Last week, the final part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released on the big screen. Waiting in line at my first midnight premiere was a surreal experience. A part of me knew what I was going into, but the fourteen hours I spent outside my local cinema was tempered with something more. Harry Potter created a worldwide community that has no rival.
My own companion on that emotional day, my best friend Meghan, is someone who I probably never would have met without Harry. Our friendship, like many others, connected us over oceans and thousands of miles through a single epic story. We disagree over things, of course. I’ve always shipped Ron/Hermione and she thinks Draco is a better match for the brightest witch of her age. But that hasn’t stopped us from forging a six-year-old bond that shows no sign of ending. A few states down, our other best friend Aimee spends her days and nights supporting Dan Radcliffe’s career, even though he may not remember her shy face from the stagedoor at Equus. My Twitter and Facebook and LiveJournal and Tumblr are full of people whom this series has brought into my life. They’ve been there for me when “real-life friends” couldn’t find the time. And last Sunday, a huge fan conference called LeakyCon paid tribute to Harry with music, laughter and friendships that see more than race, colour and religion.
Harry gave me the courage to write. I don’t know what kind of person I would be right now without that spark of need that his story fanned into a burning love for the written word. My generation was taught to dream and hope and fight for truth, honour and love. If my little stories are all I can contribute to this effort, I will consider them well-spent because Harry taught me that even the smallest choices can make a difference. The tiniest choice to be kind can move mountains. And even a mediocre writer like me can work to find the words that can pass on that strength to others.
As I type this, I feel like I’m skirting around all the emotion I actually feel right now. I don’t have words for it. Harry has always had the ability to suck all the things I’ve learned about writing out of my brain, and replace it with nothing but tears. My cinema’s marquee last Thursday night celebrated the words that have branded themselves onto all of our hearts, and even as I look at the photos, I find it hard to ignore that growing lump in my throat. I am irrevocably changed by Harry.
And now that I’m a weepy mess, I think it’s only fitting to end with Daniel Radcliffe’s own words at the end of filming.
“I just want to say I loved this place. This has been my life, and so it’s gonna be very, very odd, I think for all of us, um… because I don’t know what life consists of without you, all of you. And it’s wonderful, and I just want to say I loved every minute, and thank you all very, very much.”
This one series has given me so much to appreciate and dream about. I don’t have words for how grateful I am. Harry and his story live in my heart, and I hope they always will.
Original image by voldemorts-diary on Tumblr.