Harry Potter: Breaking Embargos and Seeing Wizards

by Kim on November 19, 2010 · 39 comments

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The summer I turned 19 years old, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince came out. The evening before the midnight release, I was back at home from my first year of college and stuck working at Target… again. I’d been working there part time since I was 16, and really, really didn’t want to be there.

I spent most of my shift telling anyone who cared how excited I was for the sixth Harry Potter book to come out that night. After our evening “huddle,” my manager pulled me aside and asked if I wanted to see something cool. You always say “Yes,” to that, so I followed him to the electronics store room where he showed me the Holy Grail – the unopened box of Harry Potter books set to be put out on shelves after the store closed.

That would have been enough for me – I got to see the box! A regular cardboard box, but decorated with red stars and the distinctive “Harry Potter” typeface. But then! Then, he opened up the box with one of our lame cardboard cutters and actually let me hold The Book. I got to flip through the table of contents, skim a few sentences, feel the weight of it in my hand before I had to reluctantly put it away and get back to folding t-shirts.

In honor of the first of the final Harry Potter movies coming out this weekend, people on Twitter were sharing many of their Harry Potter memories with the hashtag #hpmemories. This made me all nostalgic; I started reading the books when I was just a little bit older than Harry, so I feel like I’ve sort of grown up with the kids at Hogwarts. I’m not a teenage wizard, nor was I ever quite as emo as Harry was in The Order of the Phoenix, but there’s a lot to love about the books.

My mom, sister Jenny, and I were all avid Harry Potter fans, so there was always a fight discussion about who got to read our family copy first. I’m the fastest reader, so I inevitably finished first, and therefore got to squee about the ending and dance around threatening spoilers before the others finished… not that I ever did that! This caused at least one fight between Jenny and I until Mom instituted a reading system for the books, somewhere around Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:

  • One person would be the Primary Reader. This person got to read the book whenever they wanted to, essentially always having first dibs. This was usually Jenny.
  • Then there’d be the Second Reader, who could have the book when the Primary Reader was otherwise occupied. This was usually me.
  • And finally the Last Reader, who got it when no one else wanted it, which was my mom because she is awesome and more generous than either of her daughters.

Using this hierarchy, we tried to stop fights about who got read the book while the others looked on in envy.  I still usually finished first, but at least Jenny had a shot this way.

The only one of the Harry Potter books that I didn’t rush and read almost straight through was the last one, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I read the first 500 pages in a stay-up-all-night frenzy, but then by the end I just couldn’t do it. I’d read a chapter at a time, savoring my last few moments in this world. When I closed the book, it felt like leaving a part of myself behind. I wasn’t sad, exactly, but nostalgic about growing up and moving on from this world, the same way I imagine the characters would feel, if they were real.

Luckily, I managed to get my Harry Potter fix in a few ways since. One was a paper I wrote in college for my Critical Approaches to Literature class, which looked as different types of literary criticism. I wrote one of my final papers looking at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets using a Marxist lens (basically, considering class and power dynamics in the story).

I tried to argue that although the book tries to be a sort of democratic look at power — the idea that anyone can be special or achieve regardless of birth or social status — ultimately, it’s a pretty top-down power structure where class distinctions are important, especially within Hogwarts. I haven’t read the paper in forever, so I can’t remember how successful it actually was, but I did love being able to look at a story I love from a new angle.

(I also got to see Daniel Radcliff naked in Equus when I went to London for a study abroad, but that’s a slightly different story. I did love getting to squeal, “I just got to see Harry Potter NAKED!” to my bewildered and mildly disappointed theater professor.)

And of course, the movies. I haven’t loved the movies nearly as much as the books, and have pretty vehemently disagreed with director choices in a few adaptations – what was with The Goblet of Fire anyway? – but they’re fun nonetheless. My sister, brother, mom, and I have big plans to go see the movie over Thanksgiving break, and I’m sure it will cause some discussions.

Thinking about the inevitable end of an era, the very last movie, makes me nostalgic all over again. Maybe Harry Potter will be a summer re-reading project. I haven’t revisited the last couple of books since they came out, in part because I always worry the magic will dim a little bit. Harry Potter represents growing up, learning that life sucks sometimes, but that we can all be better for it, and it’s something I’ll be sad to see end.

What are some of your best Harry Potter memories? Are you excited about the movie? Nervous? Which of the books was your favorite? Do you even care about Harry Potter?

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Meghan November 19, 2010 at 7:52 am

I think you’re about the same age as me, because I had very similar experiences with Harry Potter. I was 12 when I read them for the first time and I genuinely did feel a bit like I grew up with the characters. I waited in line for the last two books at midnight – the very last book I was lucky enough to be in New York City at the Scholastic store with probably thousands of other fans (and of course my friends). I stayed up most of that night in my friend’s apartment reading, and finished it before I got home. It was definitely poignant; I’m not sure I’ll like the world without a little extra Harry Potter in it. The next movie will be it – I agree with you, I’ve never liked them as much, but it still means there’s another bit of Harry Potter out there waiting to be discovered. Soon, that won’t be the case. I almost feel sorry for those who didn’t have the more than a decade long experience of the Harry Potter phenomenon.

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Kim November 20, 2010 at 10:14 am

Meghan: I’m 24, so I think pretty close in age. I love the story about the last book – I bet being in New York was amazing. There are so few collective experiences like that, it’s fun to be a part of them. It is true that people who start the books now will probably get to read them more quickly — they’ll miss the anticipation of waiting, or spreading out time with the books for so long.

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Lu November 19, 2010 at 8:16 am

Oh Harry Potter nostalgia! I am a little bit younger than you, so Harry and I were pretty much the same age whenever the books came out. In fact, it was almost exactly the same (except for the first books). I remember, someone gave me the Prisoner of Azkaban thinking it was the first and I read it all the way through and even though I was SO confused, I loved every single minute of it. (I’m not sure what that says about me or about HP in general haha). I went back and read the first two and was hooked from then on. I need to reread them all. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I read the first four, but the last three I’ve only read once or twice.

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Kim November 20, 2010 at 10:17 am

Lu: That’s s funny! I’m glad you didn’t get too confused and went back to read the others. I’ve reread the first few multiple times, but not the last three. I really want to do that some time.

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Nymeth November 19, 2010 at 11:40 am

Though I’m a few years older than you and Meghan, in some ways I also feel I’ve grown up with the book. I was sixteen when I read the first book, and they were always there with me during the rest of my teens and my early twenties. I loved this post, and I loved reading everyone’s memories on Twitter yesterday.

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Kim November 20, 2010 at 10:19 am

Nymeth: I think there’s a pretty big span of people who could have read and grown up with the books. I love reading Harry Potter memories, too.

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Steph November 19, 2010 at 11:57 am

I’m a little bit older than some of you other HP fans (I didn’t start reading the books until my final year of highschool, at which point 4 of the 7 had been released), but man do I love these books! Some of my fondest reading memories involve them – I remember staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning reading Goblet of Fire and just positively bawling at the end of year feast when Dumbledore honors Cedric Diggory. I remember having book 5 delivered to me at work the day of its release because I couldn’t switch my shift, and then having to read it by candlelight because Toronto had a huge blackout where we were without electricity for a few days. I remember planning my European/UK backpacking extravaganza around the release of book 6, my wonderful travel buddy and I queuing up for the midnight release of Half-Blood Prince on Oxford Street in London, with all of the costumes and mayhem and muggles galore. And of course I remember the thrill and sadness of purchasing book 7 at another midnight release and then devouring it in a marathon reading session in the car from Toronto back to Nashville so that I could have it done by the time I arrived back so that I could hand it off to Tony.

And don’t even get me started on the movies… It’s probably not an overstatement to say that they’ve made me cry more than any other films (except perhaps for Up). They aren’t the books by any means, and they aren’t without their flaws, but they thrill me and entertain me, and I think they’ve done the books justice by and large. Love, love, love Harry and his friends, and I hate to think of how after July we may not have any new adventures to go through with them.

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Kim November 20, 2010 at 10:22 am

Steph: Oh my god, yes, Cedric Diggory. That book made me bawl so many times. Those are all such good stories. I can’t remember which books I stayed up all night to read — at least a couple, that’s for sure. Not the last few though, since I was working or something and couldn’t. It would have been amazing to be in the UK for any of the releases — wow!

The movies always make me cry too, even when they’re making me angry with the adaptation :)

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Teresa November 19, 2010 at 7:58 pm

I can’t really relate to the Harry Potter nostalgia, although I love the books. I was well past college when they started being published and I didn’t take notice of them at all until the fourth book, and I think the emotional attachment is just different. It does make me sad that my generation doesn’t have a book or book series that had quite the same emotional and cultural impact. The Star Wars films are, I think, the closest thing we have.

I also had to pipe in and say that I too saw that production of Equus. One of the standout theatrical experiences of my life and really the play that got me back into going regularly to the theatre (usually as a volunteer usher, which means seeing the show for free).

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Kim November 20, 2010 at 10:26 am

Teresa: I do think there’s a different connection to books, depending when you read them and what’s going on your life.

I totally agree about Equus too — I went in excited about seeing Daniel Radcliff and was just blown away by how amazing the play was. It’s one of the one that give me this euphoria about watching a show and being in an audience. I just loved it.

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Amanda November 19, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I wish I had listened to people and read this series way before I actually did. I didn’t start until after the sixth book released, so the only one I looked forward to was the seventh. I would have been so much better if I had many stories to tell! I never had to share the books or anything…

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Kim November 20, 2010 at 10:30 am

Amanda: At least you didn’t have to wait for all of them – sometimes that was torture!

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rachel November 19, 2010 at 11:48 pm

I was on a college exchange in Japan when I read all the Harry Potter books up to that point. We shared our English copies around the foreign student dorm. I think we read 1-3 and 4 came out during our stay. I went to Target in the wee hours for book 5 when it came out and waited in a line that circled around the store. I waited in line at midnight in a bookstore (since I moved to Madison where they actually had bookstores) with friends when 6 and 7 came out.

Since then I don’t really re-read the book but I regularly re-listen to the audiobooks. Jim Dale reads the whole series and is simply magnificent. I started listening to them while I worked in my clay studio in grad school. After listening to all 7 several times, they’ve become like a security blanket. If I’m feeling blue or just stuck, I listen to the books again. Though I listened to new books this summer in my studio, this fall I’ve been listening to the Harry Potter series straight through while I run or walk or do the dishes (I’m on book 5 again).

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Kim November 20, 2010 at 10:32 am

rachel: Those are good midnight release stories — I think I only went to one release party, maybe for book 5? I never thought about listening to them on audio – I bet they’d be great!

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Cass November 20, 2010 at 7:02 am

I hated Harry Potter. I am unfortunate enough to have a scar on the middle of my forehead (some might call it an incomplete lightening bolt) and when the books were getting popular when I was in middle school, I had very round wire rimmed glasses. HEY YOU LOOK LIKE HARRY POTTER! was something I was told almost daily, and I refused to read the books ever and I shook my fist at Harry Potter. Jerk.

I didn’t give him much more thought (except the much less frequent fist shaking when someone saw my scar for the first time) until the summer of 2007 I was living with two roommates on Cape Cod and they both refused to talk to anyone until they finished …the Deathly Hallows. When they were both done, they had THIS LOOK on their faces that was so content and slightly sad that I was a wee bit jealous of this Harry Potter thing. Then when they refused to give spoilers despite my assurances that I would never read the books, I shook my fist at THEM.

Since then I’ve read the series in print and, later, listened to them all on audio. I have to credit Harry Potter with giving me my reading mojo back, because after I finished the series I just wanted to read EVERYTHING. Just don’t say anything about my forehead scar. ;)

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Kim November 20, 2010 at 10:35 am

Cass: oh, no, that’s terrible! That would make me so mad!! Sounds like that darn Harry Potter caused a lot of fist shaking — I know I shook my fist a lot at the books themselves.

I’m so glad you finally started to read Harry Potter and actually enjoyed them :)

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Iris November 20, 2010 at 7:52 am

Reading posts about Harry Potter from people my age, always makes me feel the most. And then they leave me incoherent, because I somehow feel that if I had to write a post like this (and I’m sure I will, before the final movie comes out), I will inevitably cry a little. Harry Potter will be such a big part of my teenage memories. Maybe that is why I often feel such unexplained anger for people who dismiss the stories (be it on religious grounds or otherwise).

Thank you for sharing your memories :)

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Kim November 20, 2010 at 10:38 am

Iris: I’m sort of glad I wrote this post now – I’m not sure what I’ll be able to write when the last movie happens. I do hate when people dismiss the books without reading them. I also always want to tell people to read past one and two because I think they really pick up by book three.

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Trisha November 20, 2010 at 10:13 am

Oddly enough my favorite Harry Potter memory involves my mother. She was absolutely convinced she would hate the series: she never read YAL, didn’t like animated television shows or movies, and in general thought she was too old to appreciate the story. My insistent suggesting she at least try finally persuaded her thought. Then I had the satisfaction of watching her tear through the first three in the series in about a week. She cried after reading the last book, feeling like she had “lost a friend.” She’s much more amenable to reading YAL now; although she adamantly maintains that not a single book has come out that comes close to Harry Potter (except maybe Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series).

On a side note, I’m finding the release of the last (second to last sort of) movie rather bittersweet. Even though I’ve never enjoyed the movies, this release does feel like the beginning of the end.

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Kim November 20, 2010 at 10:44 am

Trisha: That is a great story! I’m not sure I’ve read any really great YA since Harry Potter, although there’s been quite a few really good ones. I’m sort of sad about going to see this movie, the beginning of the end, but also really excited!

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Erin November 20, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I love the system you guys worked out! And how cool that your Target manager let you see the book before it was out. Nice to have a manager that listens to you, even if you hate the job!

I started reading Harry Potter after the third book came out. I caught up quickly, of course, and eagerly awaited each new release. By the end of the series, I was away from home, so I always purchased my own copy and never had to fight my three siblings to read it.

For the release of the fourth book, my entire family (two parents, four kids) was in the middle our two-day drive from Ohio to North Carolina for a week of vacation. We checked into the hotel and immediately sent my dad out in search of copies of the book for each of us! We all spent the rest of the night curled up with our books.

I haven’t read the books recently enough to remember which was my very favorite, but I do know the fifth one was my least favorite. Way too boring and, as you say, emo. I really want to read the series again; even though I love it, I’ve only read each book once. Now that the whole series is out, I’d like to read the books back to back!

I gave up on the movies after the third one. I don’t like them, and I find I end up getting restless and bored when I try to sit through them! But, that’s how I usually feel about movie adaptations of books. I’d rather be reading the book :-)

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Kim November 22, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Erin: I love the story about your family on vacation – I know that’s something we would have done if the situation has come up. I really disliked #5 too – not like hating because it’s Harry Potter, but I did find emo Harry annoying. I cant wait to read the books back to back – maybe next summer.

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Michelle November 20, 2010 at 1:25 pm

My first introduction to the world of HP was after my son was born. My husband and I would take turns reading out loud while the other one would feed him his last bottle and rock him to sleep each night. We made it through the first three books that way. My son grew up with HP in his life, even if he isn’t quite aware of it. To me, the two will always be closely connected.

BTW, we saw the movie last night and LOVED it. This one stays so close to the book, allowing each of the characters to show their acting chops while building up the suspense for the final installment. Definitely the best out of all of them so far.

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Kim November 22, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Michelle: That’s such a sweet story. It will be amazing when your son gets older and you can introduce the books to him again. Maybe he is already old enough, I can’t remember?

I’ve heard really good things about the movie from lots of friends, which is unexpected since I wasn’t sure how they’d do a movie that’s basically just filler until the final one. I can’t wait to see it in a few days.

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Christy (A Good Stopping Point) November 20, 2010 at 1:43 pm

I read the first Harry Potter book when I was in high school I think, but I wasn’t particularly attached to it one way or another. Then, in the summer of 2003, when I was 21, I gave them another try. I was living in an apartment above a store in Bar Harbor, Maine with my sisters and two other girls. One of them owned the first five HP books (#5 had just come out.) I was working way too many hours at two summer jobs, but once I started getting into the series, I was irresponsibly reading far into the night because I couldn’t put them down! Contrary to a lot of people, #5 is one of my favorites in the series. I love the clandestine Defence Against the Dark Arts classes.

Haven’t really cared for the movies though – I’ve seen #1 and #3 and they just pale too much to the books for me to pursue watching them.

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Kim November 22, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Christy: I read every single one of those books irresponsibly late into the night!

There are some parts of 5 I like — DATA, I agree — but overall it was just too… angry? Although, probably realistic!

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Ash November 21, 2010 at 12:02 am

I started reading the books when I was a little older than Harry but by the time the fourth book came out I was the same age. I’m also the same age as Daniel Radcliffe. Yepp, I definitely thought I was going to marry him. When I first started reading Harry Potter I was obsessed with with Hogwarts. I decorate my room the way I thought their dorms would be decorated and created artwork for each house. The first three books were out when I started to read and I remember coming home from school and just reading until my parents said I had to eat dinner, then wolfing down my dinner so I could read more.

This was also around the time I start shirking my homework to read instead.

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Kim November 22, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Ash: I had a crush on Daniel Radcliff, although I’m a bit older than him so it was mildly inappropriate for awhile. I love that you decorated your room that way – the closest I got was wearing around a gold and maroon scarf I made myself.

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Jenny November 21, 2010 at 11:17 am

Oh, my family had that exact system of first reader/second reader when the fourth Harry Potter book came out. We were on vacation, and there were only two books available to be reserved at the bookstore. The system DID NOT WORK for us, and thereafter everyone bought their own copy. We were all happier except my sisters who were still furious at me for shrieking when I got to pivotal moments in the book before they did.

(When we were reading the seventh book and SPOILERS EVERYONE WHO HAS NOT READ IT ALTHOUGH YOU REALLY SHOULD HAVE READ IT ALREADY Dobby died, I literally screamed out loud, and my sister said “ARE THE WEASLEY TWINS OKAY?” They were. But not for long.)

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Kim November 22, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Jenny: My sister was the same way – not happy when I got to big moments ahead of her. I think I screamed then too, and then closed the book for awhile because I was SO SAD about it. Deathly Hallows is brutal.

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Jeanne November 21, 2010 at 3:05 pm

My family is deeply immersed in all things Harry Potter. It started for me when a former student of mine wrote me (snail mail? email? I don’t remember) and said she’d just read a book I HAD to read–The Sorcerer’s Stone. My kids have grown up with HP. The first movie came out when my son was 5, and he hadn’t read the book yet, but we let him come with us anyway. We love it all uncritically–all the books, the movies, the exhibit–one day we’ll make it to the park in Orlando.

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Kim November 22, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Jeanne: I deeply want to go to the park in Orlando. Someday, I am there. It looks like so much fun, like just jumping into Harry Potter and not looking back! I try not to judge the movies compared to the book, but some of them just haven’t worked for me…

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Stephanie November 23, 2010 at 7:06 pm

First of all, the fact that you were 19 when The Half Blood Prince came out makes me feel phenomenally old. :-P I was around 30, I think, when the Harry Potter books started coming out. A friend gave us the first one in 1999 for our older daughter, who was then 5. I decided to preview it to see if it was age appropriate (it wasn’t). But I was thoroughly hooked — it reminded me of the best of so many of my favorite novels in childhood. A few days later, I dashed out to buy Chamber of Secrets.

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Stephanie November 23, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Oh, and I am completely jealous that you got to see DR in Equus in London. It’s such a terribly dark play … but Daniel Radcliffe … theater … London. What’s not to covet about that?

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Kim November 23, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Stephanie: Yeah, the books are a little old, for 5. I think kids about the age Harry is in each of the books are a decent age for them, but depends on the kid. I’ve always been hooked though :)

And Equus was amazing — it’s a really moving and distrubing play, but the performance was amazing and has a special place in my heart because I got to see it in London.

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Aths February 2, 2011 at 6:46 pm

I love coming across other HP fans. Not just plain fans, but the ones who consider it perfectly normal to read and reread and reread the books and talk about all things Harry Potter and reread and talk about going to Orlando just to visit the theme park and reread and grin widely like a dork when you see anything Harry Potter around you and …. Well, you get the drift. :) (My friends got me a Harry Potter cake for my birthday last year and it was my best birthday! Who cares that I was 26.) Great post!

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Kim February 3, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Aths: Yes – those things are all normal. I want to go to Orlando so bad! A Harry Potter cake sounds excellent.

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