A few months ago I wrote a post about Me & Mr Ghostface in which I laid out the way the Scream franchise had affected my life in many surprising ways. As I am a fanboy to the very core, there are of course many other franchises that have changed me. But one that seems to universally change people is Harry Potter. With the film franchise winding to its inevitable close this weekend I thought I would take a minute to reflect on some of my fond memories the series has provided me with over the past 13 years.
The series was first introduced to me Christmas 1998 when on Christmas morning I unwrapped a copy of “Chamber of Secrets”. To say that I wasn’t much of a fan of reading at the time would be an understatement. My mother had heard that the books were quite popular. Given that I was 13 at the time I think I might have been a little bit of a shit about it, and snubbed the book as being for children (because at 13 I was most definitely an adult). When I returned to school after the holidays my English teacher proclaimed that we all needed to have a new book for silent reading by the next day. Too embarrassed to show my peers that I was reading a “childrens” book I covered the exterior cover with duct tape and… a Korn sticker (yes… I know… because that is less embarrassing). I poured over the pages of the book becoming more and more enthralled with Harry and his adventures attempting to locate the Chamber of Secrets. For the first time in my young adult life I was genuinely in love with what I was reading. I can honestly say that I am not certain that I would have developed a love for books had that book not arrived at the time that it did. It wasn’t until after I had finished the book that I realized I had actually started at the second book in the series and I had to back track.
I recall reading the books one late night at a choir practice in our local church and a mother of one of the other children scolding me for reading witchcraft in “a house of the lord”. I remember pleading with her that the book was nothing more than a fairy tale. When her response was that “witchcraft is witchcraft”, I gave her the stink eye and said “You do know witches are pretend, right?”. I’m not certain how the conversation ended, but it was probably a watershed moment in my realization that there are adults in the world that are loony zealots and I had no interest in extremism, as it frequently pops into my head when I hear people taking anything too seriously.
The third book was released later that summer and to this day it is my favorite of the books (books, not movies). I have read The Prisoner of Azkaban probably more than any other book, I would say at least a dozen times, probably more. I think as a youngin’ I particularly liked the passages where the kids rebel for what is right rather than follow rules. To a 13 year old, that is pretty much the most accessible message you can send. As an adult I came to appreciate the grander themes of its plot: hope, loss, time, redemption. Around this time my friends began discovering the series as well and any childrens book stigma was dissipating, more importantly I stopped caring.
By the time the fourth book was released the series was an internationally recognized phenomenon, Warner Brothers was full swing into production on a Harry Potter movie (Rosie O’ Donnell was in talks to play Molly, CAN YOU IMAGINE) and they had started selling merchandise in “WB Stores” emblazoned with book illustrations. The fourth book was, and still is, by far my least favorite in the series. There are a few to many plots and the action sequences struck me as being a bit overbearing. It felt like J.K. Rowling was writing a book to be made into a movie, I still love it, but it does rank at the bottom of my list. It was released in the time between my transition from Junior High to High School and I remember attending a friends summer barbecue where the only topic of discussion was the new book. It sounds silly but the image of that afternoon is so firmly ingrained in my memory as being synonymous with the summers of my youth. It would be 3 years before J.K. Rowling published another book.
During the hiatus between books the first two movies were released, I remember feeling a little let down by the first movie, I think that may have been unavoidable as the vision of Hogwarts in my head was totally different (I was particularly upset that they weren’t wearing purple robes, which it never says they do in the books). I griped over every left out detail and every left in pointless one. I thought Ron & Hermione were terribly cast and even in 2001 some of those CG effects were cheesy. Of course in hindsight I can see how wrong I was (but not about the effects, that troll and the Neville broom scene are appalling). I recently watched all 7 of the films (so far released) back to back and it is truly remarkable that the filmmakers were able to create this visual universe from the ground up. While yes there are of course differences between the characters in the book and the way they a portrayed in the films it is amazing to me that it actually worked out so well given Ron and Hermione were cast so young and ultimately fully became their characters over 10 years. The second film seemed to resolve most of the issues of the first, taking the film in an appropriately darker direction and sharpening its visual imagery that would later be perfected by director Alfonso Cuarón in Azkaban and David Yates (the final 4 films).
I dont have many memories tied with the release of book 5. That being said, one thing does stick out quite prominently, I felt like Harry was such an obnoxious asshole in it. Harry hits his moody adolescence and takes it out on every character in the book. I have, in the past, used Harry’s behavior in book five as a litmus test. If I say to a new person “Yeah Order of the Phoenix was great, but Harry was such a dick” and they say anything but “I KNOW RIGHT” then I know they aren’t someone I want to hang around. It is a turning point in the series as well, while the previous 4 books all had a common thread but felt like installments, the final 3 are pretty much directly tied into each other. Side note: No words have ever made me more irritated in a book then when Umbridge says *hem hem*
The film version of Prisoner of Azkaban really changed the course of the franchise in mostly surprising ways. While I really don’t like the 3rd film, I give its director Cuarón credit for steering the franchise in the correct character driven and grounded in reality direction. However, I disliked the tone he took my favorite book in which was ultimately a more goofy, “wacky” and over the top approach to the magical world. While he handles scenes of emotional importance well, he doesnt seem to know what to do with the space in between. He also weaves in a subtext about adolescent sexuality (which he admitted in interviews) that felt a little premature (book 6 is where everybody becomes a bit slutty *looking at you Ginny Weasley*). Honestly what was with the Jamaican talking head…
When “Half-Blood Prince” was released I was working at a theater company in Walnut Creek, CA on a production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I remember that we were knee deep in dance rehearsals for the ballroom sequence and when I arrived at the dance studio the day it hit bookshelves literally every cast member was leaning against the mirror with their face buried in their brand new copies. The second any of us were told that we were not needed for a portion of the rehearsal we fell back into our reading (much to the annoyance of our director).
When I wasn’t in rehearsals I was spending the warm afternoons with one of my best friends Ashley at her house , we would sit and talk for hours, get Slurpees and Doritos taco flavored Rollitos (rolled Dorito chips, because regular Doritos were way too hard to eat) and play the Harry Potter video games on her PlayStation 2. In the earlier games the characters were only able to say the same phrases over and over, so when you hear them for hours at time they work their way into your subconscious. I remember that during an ice level Hermione would say “I’m soooooo cold” over and over. So it became a catchphrase of ours. Those afternoons still rank among some of my favorite memories.
I have mostly fond feelings for the fourth movie, for awhile it was my favorite in the series I think mostly because I had so much fun when I saw it. I was living in New York at the time of its release, and one of my best friends and probably the biggest Potter-head I know Leslie and I got tickets to see it on IMAX, we couldn’t get into the sold out midnight showing so we had to see it at 2am. Leslie dressed up as a Gryffindor, complete with a lighting temporary tattoo on her forehead and robe. Given her bright read hair we decided that she was love child of Harry and Ginny (*SPOILER ALERT* little did we know that those characters would indeed go on to have children). I dressed up as my character crush Crabbe, complete with Slytherin jacket and robe (in real life I am much more of a Hufflepuff). We sat outside of the theater for 2 hours waiting for our showing and talking with other fans. Seeing the movie on IMAX was way cooler than seeing it on a regular screen. I remember thinking that the dragon sequence was quite terrifying, but when I saw it on a screen that wasn’t 50 feet tall it wasn’t as amazing. We got out of the movie at around 4am and I remember walking down the street in Manhattan in my costume totally exhausted and the city was just waking up, I couldn’t help but smile and feel amazing about life. Just one of those New York moments that is hard to put into words. Many of my friends mock this movie as its acting is a little intense and occasionally terrible (Victor Krum, Undesirable Actor Number 1, you’re cute though so I’ll let it slide), but I remain faithfully fond of it.
The summer of 2007 proved to be the summer of Harry Potter. Not only was the final book “Deathly Hallows” being published but a few weeks later the 5th film “Order of The Phoenix” was released. When Half Blood Prince was published there were a small group of… assholes (there is just no other appropriate term) who drove past midnight release parties shouting that Dumbledore died on page 596, I was lucky enough not to be spoiled then, but it did put the fear in that the ending to my beloved series would be ruined. By this time I was already living with my now husband Joey (who still hasn’t read all of the books, shame him for that when you get a chance 😉 and he had at this point already begun working for Barnes & Noble. So of course he worked at the big midnight book bonanza, I was admittedly nervous about attending and didn’t want to be spoiled. They had a costume contest, and I remember that I helped him put together an ADORABLE Arthur Weasley costume. Around 10pm I couldn’t resist the urge to see all our friends in their costumes and miss the big final midnight release party, so I did end up attending. When the first books started being sold though and I saw kids sit down and turn to the end of the book to see the ending first I bolted cartoon style from the building with my ears plugged (there was a dust outline in my shape, that’s how fast I ran).
I spent the next 24 hours in a technology lock down, I refused to leave the house, go online, or turn on the radio for fear of spoilers. I finished the book in about 24 hours and managed to remain unspoiled. Since the last film hasn’t been released I will not post anything spoilery here, but I am one of the people that feels Book 7 is the first modern masterpiece. One particular characters final story is so profoundly moving and while the book is set in a fantasy world, it is one of the truest depictions of humanity ever committed to the page. Characters I loved died, relationships long in gestation came to fruition, multiple characters revealed their true natures and the most incredible intricate thread that tied together 9 year of books was revealed (this is one area that movies can not possibly do justice, they just left out entirely to much over the years, you have to read them). I cried buckets y’all.
I have been fortunate enough to share midnight movie experiences for the past 3 films (Order of the Phoenix, Half Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows Part 1) with my husband and my wonderful friends Lindsay and Kelley (Sadly when Part 2 arrives my husband will be out of town). In my opinion the David Yates films while not the truest to the books are the best films in the franchise. He took the work that Cuarón started grounding the series in reality and took it to the perfect level. He introduced many of my favorite depictions (what up Bellatrix and Luna, a lot of credit goes to those actors), and he managed to always set the stakes appropriately high. Every time we saw the movies we end up staying and discussing it for a long time, and its always a fun time. Usually at some point Kelley and Joey give up on Lindsay and I for gushing too long.
This weekend the story of Harry and I reaches a close… sort of. While this is certainly the last major public Harry Potter event, I suspect the series will continue to affect my life. If anything has been proven over the years its that this series has helped me build relationships with many of the most important people I’ve known. I look forward to Joey and I reading our child the books someday and connecting with them over the stories beauty. I look forward to huddling together on the couch and showing our child the movies that I have so many fond memories of and sharing some of these stories with them. Ultimately Harry Potter is a universal story that brings people together and creates memories, it can, if you let it speak to you at a very personal level. For all of this I think I will always be grateful to J.K. Rowling and, of course to the boy who lived.