Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Obsession (and Happy Halloween!)

(image from: OneBluePebble on Flickr)

Some of you know I have an obsession with Harry Potter. For those of you who didn't know-- now you do. Yes, I'm a 40 year-old (gulp) mom who loves the books more than my kids do. I hid my obsession for years because, well, I was embarrassed. It's not exactly the kind of thing I could talk about during the law firm events that Jason and I attend, or at formal charity balls in Philadelphia. (Though I found one attorney who also loves the books, and another attorney and his wife were surprised when I knew all about the Yule Ball/ Wizard Rock Concert that their daughter was attending that night...)

(here's some mood music...)

You see, I'm not just the average Potter fan. I didn't just enjoy the books and share them with my kids. I've read each book at least 7 times. My copy of Order of the Phoenix still has post-its riddling the pages from the months that I spent in an online reading group discussing the clues and literary devices that Jo used. And yes, I refer to the well-known author as she requested her fans to do-- as "Jo".

When my daughter was 4, my most proud "mommy moment" was when she pointed her finger at my mother-in-law and shouted "Silencio!" (My mother-in-law laughed after I explained what the spell did.) Here's a photo of the same daughter sporting her Dark Mark tattoo:

As many folks did, I attended the midnight release party for Deathly Hallows. But I drove home with tears in my eyes while clutching my copy, because it marked the end of an era. The next morning my deluxe copy was waiting in my mailbox (pre-ordered from Amazon the day it was available). And they now sit on my bookshelf next to the Bloomsbury "adult" version of Half-Blood Prince that I had shipped from the UK.

I not only signed up my kids and I to attend a Harry Potter conference that came to Philadelphia, I signed up within the first two weeks that the conference was announced (nine months early) because I browse fansites daily. And, I wasn't just an attendee. I volunteered to organize the opening and closing feasts and created and ran the Tri-Wizard Tournament. While there I was very proud of my oldest daughter who was chosen to compete (for our "House") in the Jeopardy-style trivia contest because she had the most questions correct on her qualifying quiz for her age group. And I was shocked when my name was announced as the adult contestant for our House! (No-- I didn't win, but I did get to meet the guys who run Mugglenet and their weekly podcast, Mugglecast!-- that's like meeting the Beatles to Harry Potter fans....)

So, now you understand why I call myself "obsessed."

The question is why. I was never the type to be such a fan. I didn't have a favorite rock group, movie, or celebrity when I was a teenager. There was no precedent for me to become obsessed over anything.

I was given the Harry Potter books for Christmas in 2003 (at the time only 5 had been published). Reading became an escape from my mommy duties ( the girls were ages 2 and 4). I quickly became swept up into the world of Hogwarts, and read all five within a month. Then I started to re-read them, because I wasn't ready to leave the wizarding world. I remember the day that I googled Harry Potter. I didn't know about "fandoms" or news blogs or fanfiction. Wow-- what I found online that day changed my life.

What draws me to the books is the warm characters, the universal themes, the humor and the darkness, the mysteries, the complexity of so many subplots woven together seamlessly, and last but not least, how the books celebrate motherhood. Yes, I've used many references from HP while parenting. What a great way to describe that gray area between good and evil: Dolores Umbridge. And how about explaining ethnic cleansing to an eight year old.... The sorting hat is a wonderful device to explain how we often categorize people but that unity makes us stronger. And Dumbledore provides many pearls of wisdom: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities" (from Chamber of Secrets) and "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends" (from Sorcerer's Stone). Not to mention all of the fabulous Latin roots that are used for spells through the books!

I am tickled every time I hear that educators are using the books, from elementary to college-level. There were wonderful discussions at Enlightening led by scholars (most of the presenters had PhDs and many were Ivy League graduates): including "Harry Potter and the Denial of Due Process" (taught by a law professor), "Motherhood in the HP Canon", a class on psychological processes represented in the books, and a discussion about the global perspective : how HP engages people from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Several weeks ago I found this article (warning: it contains spoilers for anyone who hasn't read the books) about a freshman seminar being taught at Swarthmore College. The article also states:

"This is one of several "Harry Potter"-themed courses being taught on a collegiate level throughout the country — and not all of them are in English departments. Yale has one that uses "Harry Potter" as a prism for theology. Georgetown uses the story to look at international relations. Frostburg State University in Maryland employs the series to teach Physical Science 100. And more classes just keep popping up."

So, now I'm not so embarrassed by my obsession. I feel validated by others who aren't just reading the books to their children at bedtime.

And, I can now share with you that my first thought on Halloween morning will be "Happy Birthday, Harry!"

EDIT: D'oh! Janey brought to my attention that I must've lost my mind-- perhaps I can blame it on inhaling too much Lysol (see The Clarity of Night if you want to hear about the state of the Evans household....) Harry's birthday is July 31st, just like Jo's. Halloween is the day that Voldemort murdered his parents. So I'll just have a moment of silence for Lily and James.


Geraldine said...

Wow, you are some fan Aine!!! I can't say I am a Harry Potter fan but there are certainly millions of people who share your love of these books. And all ages too so no "gulp" required about being 40!


Hugs, G

Sarah Hina said...

Let's see...just how old is Harry this Halloween? ;)

Of course you shouldn't feel embarrassed. Few worlds are as rich, evocative, and educational as Hogwarts. It's no surprise you dived deeply into it during the humdrum of early mommyhood--what a gift! :) And if you can share those lessons--and the fun--with your girls, then all the better.

I'm just glad you got me hooked. I'm so happy and grateful to have Professor Evans lead me through Jo's ingenuous maze (I better not touch that you-know-what, though). ;)

Charles Gramlich said...

blogger stole my post but I'd mentioned getting invited to give a presentation at a Harry Potter conference when Hurricane katrina intervened and I never got to go.

JaneyV said...

I thought Harry's birthday was July 31st.

I first was introduced to the world of Wizards and Muggles on a trip to Ireland in late Dec 1999 when driving home to celebrate the new millennium. My best friend had sent the audio book of The Philosopher's Stone to my eldest for Christmas and we listened to it on the drive. The children slept through most of it but my husband and I were hooked.

I don't visit fansites daily but I have re-read them all and love them even more now as a result. I too came home from the Deathly Hallows midnight launch with two copies (adult cover and regular one) and got the special edition one for Christmas that year. I just love them.

My daughter went to her Halloween Disco at school dressed as Hermione Granger - although it was pointed out to her that with her long red hair she should've gone as Ginny Weasley.

I read somewhere recently that an academic said that these novels had no staying power, that they were caught up in a whirlwind of popular culture and would quickly fade into history and be forgotten. I couldn't disagree more. What struck me when I re-read them was just how good the writing was. On the first read I was completely spurred on by plot - "what happens next? quick - turn the page" - but subsequent readings have allowed me to "look at the view". Her descriptions are both poetic and stirring, each character (and how many are there?) has their own unique voice - she is the Maestro of world-building. I also think that the fact that she never shied away from difficult themes, that she showed that nobody was wholly good or bad but that it is the choices we make as we meander through the shades of grey in life that ultimately make us who we are, as well as the great love and humour that permeated it all, will definitely see this series of books go down in history as one of the greatest children's classic ever written.

As obsessions go I'd say this was a fairly healthy one.

Sarah Hina said...

I'll double that D'oh! ;)

Geez, it's not like I've read them lately or anything...

Aine said...

Geraldine~ Thanks! I know I'm not the only grown-up fan. But it is rare for me to run into another who is as obsessed as I am. I met lots at Enlightening, though. Every parent that I met there admitted that they were bigger fans than their children. :)

Sarah~ I feel pretty stupid (see Janey's comment), but I can tell you Harry turned 28 this year. (So much for Prof. Evans' tenure...)

I am so thrilled to be able to share the series with you! Watching you discover the secrets is almost as good as reading it the first time myself. That's a gift that truly is priceless.

No cyber portkeys for you, yet! ;)

Charles~ Wow! I wouldn't have guessed. Were you invited to The Witching Hour in Salem?? That would've been a blast! What would your presentation have been about? Too bad organizers didn't find you for Phoenix Rising (genius name...) which was held in New Orleans in May 2007.

Janey~ D'Oh!! Thanks for seeing that. I had a "Ron" moment. Ha! I've edited the post now.

Another Hermione! I bet she had fun. My girls dressed as Hermione and Ginny one Halloween, and my oldest went as Luna last year. (I have a McGonagall costume myself, and dressed as Tonks for Halloween last year.)

You stated it so well-- I agree that these are children's classics. Jo handles life's most difficult themes without speaking down to children and she weaves in so many references to the classics/mythology which makes it a wonderful first exposure for kids in that respect, too.

Aine said...

Sarah~ LOL... Someone must've been playing around with Jelly-Brain Jinxes!

Precie said...

Janey said just what I was thinking...there are certainly far worse obsessions! And anything that gets more kids to read has its virtues!

It's a wonderful world to get caught up in...and I'm pretty pleased with how the later movies have turned out too.

Aine said...

Precie~ Yes, you are right, there are far worse things... ;)

The movies have been wonderful for bringing the wizarding world to life. But, as with all screen adaptations, they just don't capture the depth of the books. I agree that the later movies have become more entertaining, though Jason and I love the first two for how closely they stuck to the books. And, I just don't see anyone portraying Dumbledore as well as Richard Harris. He had the perfect twinkle in his eye.

Kim said...

My daughter, now aged 17, is a huge Potter fan. I've been pre-ordering those books since she read her first one after a friend loaned it to her. I can remember the days the book arrived. She would check the front door over and over to see if she had missed the UPS guy. Then she would shut herself in her room and read until she finished the book, which usually involved staying up all night. I think the only one she didn't read in one sitting was the last one. She got too sleepy and it took her two days to read it. She came to the dinner table crying, but wouldn't tell me who died. She insists I read it for myself.

She has two brothers, and she's hooked them, too. I've never gotten past the first book, though. I liked it, but my "to read" list is long, and other books keep jumping in front of Harry Potter.

Aine said...

Kaycie~ You must read them! Your kids will love you (more)! :)

I understand, though. The one thing I will tell you is that you must get past the first 2-- they are clearly written as children's stories (as you said, enjoyable, but ??) The end of the third will blow you away, and by the fourth you will question why they are called children's books.

Just sayin'...

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I remember exactly when I got my first Harry Potter book. November of 1999. I was in the bookstore, browsing for baby board books for my oldest daughter Summer, who was 7 months old at the time. I was walking by the center tables where they piled up a bunch of boooks and noticed Harry Potter, in paperback, on a corner of the table. No displays, no big promos. Just the paperback on a table with a bunch of other paperbacks. I picked it up out of curiousity and the bookseller made a beeline for me. She proceeded to tell me what a wonderful book it was and how much she loved it and that there were 2 more books in the series already out with 4 more to come...

Fascinated, I bought the paperback version of that first Harry Potter book. The first free minute I had to read it, I was hooked and in the bookstore the very next day to buy the hardcover editions of the other 2. I remember waiting excitedly for Goblet of Fire and reading all the trade news about Rowling's hint that a major character died in it. I remember feeling exactly as you did when the last book came out. I felt happy and sad and depressed that there would be no more Harry Potter books. Yes I am an obsessed fan. I'm proud of it!

Vesper said...

Aine, what can I say, wow! Your passion comes to light from this post. Wonderful!
I LOVE the Harry Potter books.

A Happy Halloween to you too!


K.Lawson Gilbert said...

My whole family is enthralled with the series. It is just a wonderful "get-a-way". :)

You know, we humans have to be obsessed with something(you tell me - isn't it in our natures?) At least you have a innocuous fixation! Enjoy it!
Happy Halloween to all!

Chris Eldin said...

This is fun timing!

I am reading HP Chamber of Secrets for the first time. I know, I'm so far behind....
I love the story. I'm not pulled in by the characters yet. They seem like cardboard cutouts, but I am willing to give them a chance because the story is unbelievably creative. And I LOVE that it brought the joy of reading to so many kids.

But I have to be honest and say that your aweomse post has put the spark beneath my feet. I've been dragging with it, but really want to finish to see how it goes.

Aine said...

Ello~ Yay! Another obsessed Potterhead! And, wow-- you were there at the very beginning! The years between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix must've been very long....

Vesper~ :) Thanks! My family doesn't always appreciate my level of passion. They tire so quickly of my constant Potter connections (it's like that Six Degrees of Separation game for me-- I can find a Potter connection in just about anything.) I've toned it down a lot now, but the year before the seventh book I just couldn't help myself. ;)

Kaye~ Ain't it the truth?! There certainly are worse things to be addicted to. And, yes-- it is an escape. Keeping our passions in perspective maintains our mental health.

Chris~ YAY!! I predict, in my best Trelawney voice (she's a character you'll meet in the third book), that you'll love it! What I said to Kaycie applies to you also. Enjoy the creativity and the childlike wonder of the story for the first few books-- then watch out! Amazingly, even the 6th and 7th books introduce new information that makes you go back to the first books-- your head will be shaking when you see how much is hidden in those books. She is a genius with plotting and planning (and with planting red herrings). Oh-- and pay attention to character names/name meanings-- one of Jo's hobbies is collecting names. Every character was carefully named. (If you ever want to hear more insights-- email me! If you hadn't noticed, I love to share Potter stuff!)

SzélsőFa said...

I loved reading the books, too. I'm not a big fan, I'm rather a LOTR fan one might say, but the HP-series are so rich and so full of meaning.
It's useful to have an obsession - as long as one has other activities as well:)))