Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Most Magical Community of Readers

[2:30 a.m.] I've just returned from the Harry Potter release party at my closest bookstore (30 miles away). As eager as I am to dive into Deadly Hallows, I want to savor the gathering a little longer. As I crossed the parking lot to the table with the wristbands, a woman with a 13 year old son in tow ran up to me, gave me a hug, and introduced herself -- I hadn't seen her since she was one of my 8th grade students. We had a lovely chat about books. As I was getting in the loooooong line, three of my departing 8th grade girls, decked out in Hogwart uniforms, raced to show me their books. We, along with the mom who drove them, spent an animated half hour discussing Harry Potter, speculating about the book, sharing J.K. Rowling trivia, recalling reading we did last year, and catching up on the work Amber has done this summer on the fantasy novel she's writing. The evening ended with perfect symmetry. As I was exiting the store, I ran into two juniors who were the last students I saw at the Half-Blood Prince release. In between these meetings I overheard serious and frivolous Harry Potter discussions, idle comments about many books spied as the line wound its way through the bookstore, as well as friend-to-friend book recommendations.

All the way home I was grieving that it is unlikely that there will be another literary gathering of this egalitarian magnitude, of this critical mass of diverse children and adults united in their love for a particular book and for books in general. Just imagine regular events of this kind of deep celebration, of impassioned talk about books among strangers, of intense concern for fictional characters and events that didn't really happen, of gathering to get a book we simply must have now.

Orson Scott Card's dedication in The Great Snape Debate reads "To all nonreaders who became readers because of the Harry Potter books." I would add thanks to all the Harry Potter fans who helped bring their nonreader friends into the reading community and show them the yellow brick road that leads from Hogwarts to everlasting choices of new reading adventures.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Waiting for Harry Potter

I'm almost finished re-reading The Half-Blood Prince in anticipation of tonight's release of the Final Installment -- and awash in a host of thoughts and mixed-feelings.

Recently, I caught the end of an interview on NPR about the appropriateness of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie for children. The speaker has a 10-year-old son who is a Harry Potter fan and a 6-year-old daughter who has seen the previous movies. After seeing the movie for himself first—good-responsible-parent idea—he has reservations about taking his son to see it because it is so much darker, with some spookier parts. Well, duh-uh! The movie is rated PG-13; the book, which he did read with his son, IS darker and spookier.

In other popular kids series (Alex Rider, Maximum Ride, Unfortunate Events and the classics The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys), the characters are static and even though, logically, much time has to pass in order for some of them to experience that many adventures, we suspend our disbelief as they don’t grow older. In past series where the characters do grow older (Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls Wilder) they face the normal joys and sadnesses of life – not ever-intensifying Ultimate Evil. Kids and parents know what to expect, that each book is the same as the last.

Not so with Harry. His aging process of one school year per book is in synch for the kids who, as younger readers, joined in his adventure from the beginning and have aged in pace, or a little faster, with Harry as books were released. Now that readers will be able to gulp down the series whole, the later books may not be as appropriate for some new readers who are themselves closer in age to the Harry of the Sorcerer’s Stone. One more unique twist in Rowlings’ contributions in stretching the boundaries of “children’s” literature.

Now, my thoughts on two of the Big Questions:
Is Dumbledore really dead? Significant details: he's sleeping in his portrait, his animal companion Fawkes is a phoenix. Less significant detail: I don't want him to be dead. No, I don't believe he's really most sincerely dead. But like Gandalf or Obi Wan Kenobi, he may be translated somehow.

Is Snape really evil? Isn't it interesting that there has been a lot of writing on this question including a clever book The Great Snape Debate with arguments on both sides of the question with Orson Scott Card as one of the contributing authors. My own answer is No. I trust Dumbledore. I also want Snape redeemed to make up for his boyhood loneliness and James' cruel treatment of him. Snapes as a true Death Eater is too simple an answer. On the other hand, Rowling may be using the logic of Vizzini in The Princess Bride as he contemplates in which glass The Dread Pirate Roberts has put the poison Iocaine. And maybe the answer is just as tricksy.

I'm looking forward to tonight's communion with Harry Potter fans of all ages. I'll become, for a few hours, my alter-ego Professor Minerva McGonagall.

But I'm not sure what I will do afterward: what I have done after all the other midnight celebrations -- rush home and start reading and don't quit until I'm finished or hold off, not wanting the magic to end, whatever the end might be. In any case, I'm not ready to hang up my Hogwarts robe just yet.