The Texture Of Things

Essay on Harry Potter

August 20th, 2007

I should clarify and come clean a little about where I’ve been while not blogging lately. Sure, I’ve been working a pile of hours at my mom’s store. Sure, I’ve been teaching an 8-week Composition course*, filled with students who are, excuse me, ass holes. (Class ends Tuesday. I cannot freakin’ wait.) Sure, I have a three-year-old and a husband and all the sundry tasks that come with those. But really it is important for me to disclose that I also kind of fell headlong into Harry Potter.

In this trio of blog posts, I will**:
a. give some history about me and Harry Potter
b. tell an amusing anecdote
c. make an apology
d. admit my devotion

History***
My first HP experience, I was a bystander. A tutor, more specifically. My student was enrolled in a Children’s Lit course at the college where I now teach, and toward the end of the semester, she had to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was freshly out in paperback. I opted not to read it with her, and this was okay with my student. Her intended audience for the final essay was a person who had not read the book, so this positioned me to help her work on interpretation from outside the story and on capturing only the necessary summary. Halfway through this tutoring experience, I decided I had to read the book, but I didn’t pick it up until just before the movie came out.

If I know one thing about myself, it is that I like to read a book before I see the movie. Since I had already wanted to read Sorcerer’s Stone, I finally grabbed a copy when the trailers started showing on TV and I read it fairly quickly. Not blazingly so, but I was enchanted and I was happy that I finally picked it up. Then I saw the movie, and while I was disappointed in young Daniel Radcliffe (he didn’t match my imagined Harry), I think I fell in love with the overall story. It happens I was also in a Roald Dahl kick at the time, so by its genre and premise alone the story was already positioned for success with me.

Along the way to the third movie, I followed the same course: book comes out in paperback, movie is about to come out, amy reads and loves book, amy sees and loves movie.

In fact, I loved book 3 so much, I grabbed book 4, Goblet of Fire, as soon as it hit the shelves in paperback. But dig this. I couldn’t get into it. I tried. I read about 2/3 of it and pooped out. When the movie was about to be released, I didn’t even finish the book – I just saw the movie with no idea how it ended.

By the way. I make no guarantee that I won’t spoil some aspect of any of the 7 books from here on out. If you’re trying to preserve your Harry-Potter-virgin-ears, now would be a good time to go. Come back when you’ve read the series or no longer care about having it spoilt for ya.

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Okay, are we still here? Great.

Can you imagine it? I had no idea Voldemort would return to the flesh, I had no idea Cedric would die, I had no idea that Mad-Eye was an impostor. Holy crap, it was a good movie. Still, I couldn’t motivate myself to go back and read the book, and though I have now read books 5, 6, and 7, to this day I have never read all of 4.

Look, I’m not proud, okay? I’m just trying to be honest here.

Order of the Phoenix came out in, what? 2004? 2005? Somewhere in there because in 2005, HG, a 14.5-month-old tot, and I traveled to a friend’s cabin for a long weekend and were treated to listening to her b!tch about that beast of a book. “Harry’s such a whiny little wuss. Will he ever shut up with the whining already?” And so on. I got the idea that if I couldn’t get through book 4, book 5 was maybe not even worth the effort. My friend wanted me to read it, though, so she sent me home with her copy and she moved on to book 6. (She later raved about book 6, which is interesting for me, later in the story.)

You can imagine that I brought the book home, buried it on my bookcase, and didn’t even consider reading it until, you guessed it, the movie for book 5 was looming and the release of book 7 was whipping into a category 5 frenzy.

I don’t have a whole lot of time to read, so I took it on vacation with me up to my friend’s cabin. (It’s kind of an annual thing.) I picked at the book here and there, and once I was about 100 pages in, I was toast. I couldn’t put the damn thing down. And where my friend hated 5, I found myself loving it. Yes, it was wordy. Yes, Harry is whiny. Yes, it lacks action. But isn’t that the point of that book? Isn’t the thrust of the book to show his internal struggles? It’s the Empire Strikes Back of the story. It’s Hamlet’s soliloquy and the set up for Ophelia’s death. It’s the heart of the bildungsroman – the point when the struggle turns inward, which spurs the character to action, toward his epiphany, toward his transition from a child who is out of control of his world to an adult who controls not only his action and his surroundings, but who has found his power.

GAH! Can you see I loved this book?

As an aside, while I was reading it, I found myself imagining it in a nearly monochromatic palette – blues, greys, blacks, with bright spots of golden white for the prophecies, and little other color. Pretty much like the movie was shot. FWIW, I do enjoy me some Daniel Radcliffe nowadays.

I think I was only halfway through book 5 when it hit me that I did not own a copy of book 6, and upon that realization, I was positively twitchy. I needed to know book 6 would be waiting for me; I knew I would need to dive headlong into 6 as soon as I finished 5, but I could not slow my progress on 5 for anything. I managed to pull myself away from the book to order 6, but those were a few torturous moments, to be sure.

Book 6 – well, I also loved it, which was confusing to me. Two of my IRL HP friends were diametrically opposed on books 5 and 6. One hated 5 and loved 6, the other loved 5 and hated 6. I expected to be on one side or the other, but I loved both, though 6 not quite as much. It is, however, a necessary book, and I am salivating for the movie, just as I was salivating for Deathly Hallows about 25 pages into Half Blood Prince.

But, I get ahead of myself. Remember how I was nonchalantly picking through book 5 while I was on vacation? Before I got hooked? That was the day Deathly Hallows came out.

Anecdote
There I was, in a cabin in the woods with my friend who had read all the HP books as they came out, who had pre-ordered her copy of DH before she realized that she’d be out of town when it arrived. Though she tried to keep it to herself, she was practically quaking with anticipation the night before its release.

The next day, she and her fiance went up to the Piggly Wiggly**** to get some items for dinner, and she walked in with a copy of DH. Her fiance was shaking his head and I was kind of with him on this.

Me: “You have a copy waiting for you at home and you bought one at the Piggly Wiggly?”
Her: “They had 5 copies left! I couldn’t believe it! So yeah, I bought one.”
Me (internally): Piggly Wiggly? Good Lord, who can’t wait to read HP so bad that they buy it at the freeking grocery store?

I will resume in the next post…

*How do you make a 15-week Composition course suck (more)? Do it in 8 weeks. In the summer.

**This forecasting structure is my homage to my current students, who cannot seem to write a long essay to save their hides/lives/grades and who are incapable of any thesis statement other than the following: “In this essay, I will discuss a problem and a solution about global warming/eating disorders/obesity/capital punishment/every other topic my teacher has forbidden me to write about.” Ah, my dear students, I will be forever pissed at you for ruining my summer. Good luck next semester!

***This will mean little to anyone but myself, but I want to put this here because I want to remember the HP experience for when the tot is old enough to start reading the series.

****Shop the Pig.

3 Comments »

  1. coffeypot says

    The few 8 week courses I took were great. Because of the time constraint, I felt that a lot of the B/S was filtered out and the heart of the matter was addressed. I don’t care about abstract ideas or other interpretations. My goal was to take the class and move on. Teach me A and leave a, B, b and C out. But then I wasn’t taking course because I love to learn and wallow in the glory of college. It was something I had to check of the list on my way to a degree – something that was required for professional success. My masters program was a different animal, but college was a necessary evil.

    BTW! Should I be commenting to a college professor at all? Do you grade our papers? Do we make you cringe and want to use White Out on your computer screen? Do I really show my ignorance? If so, GOOD! Now you know what kind of student I was. I could have been one of the four you mentioned in your last post. I can be a very bad boy.

    August 20th, 2007 | #

  2. KLee says

    I love reading your take on the whole HP experience. I got sucked into Harry’s world so fully that it never occurred to me to NOT rush out like all of the other lemmings to buy the books.

    I have a thing about waiting for the paperbacks to come out. Normally, I cannot justify the expense of a hardcover book — upwards of $25 for words on paper?!? A hideously expensive doorstop? — but I will admit that I have everything from Azbaban on in hardback. And I’ve reread them so often that I no longer feel that I “wasted” money on them.

    My first experience with HP was when Offspring was in PreK. I had heard a little bit about this marvelous author who wrote these magical books, and when I went to the Book Fair at my daughter’s school, the Scholastic rep had a whole table devoted to HP. I bought both Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets there, and was immediately drawn into Harry’s world.

    My favorite book is Sorcerer’s Stone — it opens so much of a brand-new world to us. I was fascinated with this elaborate, clandestine world. And I had such empathy for poor Harry — forced to live under the stairs, withering away at the lack of love. And then, to discover that out there, somewhere, there is not only a place where he is loved, but a place where he is special! The main reason that HPatSS is my favorite is because it is the beginning. Of the story, of my fascination with this world, and of Harry’s journey.

    After that one, I have a hard time picking my next favorite. I loved them all for different reasons. I had a hard time with Order of the Phoenix because I really disliked all of the “teen angst” that Harry went through but that is very typical of that age. I literally *hated* Dolores Umbridge. I got so mad at that character that I could not sleep for my dislike of her.

    Half Blood Prince was good in that we got a lot of Harry being given more responsibility by Dumbledore, which I liked, and I liked the substory about the potions book making Harry brilliant. I could almost feel the waves of palpable frustration from Hermione rolling off the book.

    I will say in defense of HPatGoF — it may go easier for you now if you wish to try and reread. I liked the scenes of the Quidditch World Cup because it was interesting to not only see witches and wizards from another place, but also because it was almost like stepping back to the wonder of that first book. We’re introduced to portkeys, other wizarding cultures, and right off the bat, we know that we’re dealing with a hefty book, not just in size, but in theming.

    Having seen the movie, you know how the book ends. Maybe knowing that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel will make you curious about rereading? I know, as far as my own tastes, the books are ALWAYS a thousand times better than the movies. There’s no way that they could stuff all the crucial little details into a two-hour time format! There’s so much more about the book that was left out.

    Thanks for your thoughts on the whole world of HP, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your posts!

    August 20th, 2007 | #

  3. admin says

    I am longing for the first three books to show up, KLee. After reading your comment, I think I’m too far away from book 1 to be able to say for certain that book 3 was my favorite of the first batch. I cannot wait to read it again.

    Coffeypot – What’s White Out? Is that something people used before keyboards were invented?

    I agree that stripping the BS out of a course is the best thing an instructor can do, but in order for it to work, the students have to meet me halfway. They’ve got to do some work, and this group didn’t.

    To answer your question, yes, I am aware of mechanical errors, but generally I don’t care about them in blogs or comments. My own errors I do care about, but I am more interested in the content than the polishing. That said, too many errors cloud meaning, and that will have me clicking away before too long. I expect the same is true of my reader(s).

    Boy, I’d better start proofreading my stuff before I post it. You know, you all are welcome to point out typos and stuff when you find them…

    August 20th, 2007 | #

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