The first time I heard of Harry Potter was at my son’s kindergarten book fair in 1999. My wife saw the paperback edition and said she had heard it was pretty good and wasn’t just a kids’ book; it was being reviewed well for adults. My wife read it first and then I read it.
I was hooked.
It was brilliantly written, the characters marvelously developed, and the story was, at the same time, simple to follow, but so deep and rich. Over the years, I would be amazed at how Rowling could change her writing in accordance with the age of her characters. The first book was written through the eyes of a middle-school child while the final book was from the perspective of young adults who were enveloped in crisis and the story telling accommodated those changes in maturity. I also found it interesting to note that as the story grew more serious, more authors began complaining how unfair it was that “this children’s book” was dominating the New York Times’ best-seller list. The resulting media firestorm resulted in the Harry Potter novels being banished to the children’s section of the list, a decision that I found insulting and pathetic and still hold those beliefs. But whatever.
When a new Harry Potter novel came out, it was a huge event for our family. Multiple books were purchased because no one wanted to have to wait for their turn. It was interesting to me how reading these tomes, or any great book, tends to resemble one’s eating habits. Like she does with a good meal, my wife took her time, savoring each page, each chapter, in order to get the full effect. I, on the other hand, am a gulper. As I do my food and drink, I grabbed my Potter book and devoured it, usually in one sitting. I would then basically go back for seconds, re-reading it and getting all the bits I missed the first time.
I was promoting a large sporting event the day Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out. I finished a nearly 24-hour day around 4 a.m. Sunday, slept a couple hours, went back to work at 9 a.m., got home at one o’clock that afternoon and started reading. At midnight, I finished the book. With tears in my eyes, I set the book down, feeling hollow inside. I couldn’t believe it was over. When the movie adaptation of that book came out in theaters (in two parts in order to get as much money as possible, a trend that has continued unashamedly with The Hobbit), I walked out of the theater after Part 2 with legitimate feelings of grief and depression. It was truly over. There was nothing left.
I have read the entire seven-book set at least ten times and, every time, I feel twinges of sadness when I finish. These aren’t books; they’re the chronicles of a boy and his friends who grew up together, faced overwhelming odds together, yet retained their humanity and ability to be young despite the terror and tragedy that dog them at every step. I mourn with them every time Sirius is pushed through the doorway. I laugh after each first kiss shared by Ron and Hermione. I weep every time the Potters and the Weasleys and the Malfoys send the next generation of Hogswarts students to school on Platform 9-3/4.
I have read books that have sucked me in before, such as Stephen King’s IT and Eyes of the Dragon, or Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, but Harry Potter was/is different. Over the course of time, I have grown with these characters, no matter how many times I have read the books. The brilliance of Rowling’s creation is that, no matter how many times one has pored over her pages, the beauty and depth is still there. Nothing ever beats the first time I read them, but from the moment Harry is dropped off at his aunt and uncle’s by a sobbing Hagrid to the day Harry and Ginny put Albus Sirius Potter on the Hogwarts Express for the first time, I’m sucked in. I’m always torn between wanting a new book in order to feed my fix and leaving the story as is because it’s perfection.
It is tortuous delight, it is a literary crush that makes me feel giddy every time I turn the page.