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?