Today’s the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first in a series that turned an awful lot of young people into readers. Of course, it came out with a different name in the U.S. the next year.
I didn’t encounter it until much later in the year, when NPR began to cover it. I grabbed a copy at the library, read the first book, and didn’t see what all the fuss was about.
Not for me.
A lot of books other people love are not for me, and it’s usually because I’m itching for something specific. There’s no point in picking up Fellowship of the Ring when I really want to read Conan. For example.
But the popularity of the books kept growing, and people talked about them more and more online. What’s more, writers were seeing Rowling’s popularity and thinking I want that, too. Lots of online writing talk shifted from “How to write fiction” to “How to write fiction for young adults.”
It was everywhere.
What really stuck with me, though, was the weird advice people were giving. Most common was that YA writers should not waste time at the beginning of a book because young readers don’t have patience to wade through a bunch of boring text. Get that plot moving! They want the story to be exciting!
And my first thought was: I’m not a young person but I hate boring text, too! Why are people talking about adult readers as though we’re okay with dull shit?
At some point, a bookstore across town went out of business, and bussed over there to see what they had on offer. What I found were hardbacks of the first four in the series at half-price. I was a little leery, but half-off! And by that time it was a cultural phenomenon, and I figured I’d try to work out why.
Besides, they keep the plot moving!
With the second attempt, I was feeling less fussy and enjoyed myself much more. I bought the books as they came out and mostly enjoyed them; with the last volume, I took an internet vacation to avoid the gleeful spoilers that people were throwing around for book 6.
Some time later, my son saw a theatrical trailer for one of the movies, and said: “I want to see that.”
“You haven’t read the books yet,” I answered, starting a tradition that kept up until Surly Teenagehood.
In fact, we read the books as part of family read-aloud time. The second time through, hearing them spoken, I was amazed by how funny they were. For the first four books, anyway. Some parts had my son and me rolling on the floor, literally. With book five, they turned more serious, but we enjoyed them just as much.
All seven hardbacks still sit on a shelf in the back hall. I don’t reread often, and I don’t collect books, but I like having all of them in hardback.
By some strange coincidence, Sunday will be my (not) birthday–my real birthday already passed, but I’ll celebrate on this convenient date–and many months ago I decided to make my usual B-day movie marathon a Harry Potter fest. The library dvds are sitting on the shelf beside me. And as flawed as the books may be, they have a charm that the movies lack.
Still, the films are pretty uneven in terms of quality, and therefore instructive.
They’re also, when you watch them end to end, 19 hours and forty minutes long. If you assume that each of the eight films has ten minutes of credits at the end, that 18 hours and 20 minutes. Factor in bathroom breaks, meal times, pizza ordering, 2 am coffee brewing, and a previously scheduled afternoon role-playing session, I just might be staying up 23 straight hours to wait for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to get his ass kicked.
And I’m feeling sort of ambivalent about it.
I’m sure I will enjoy the films more than I remember, because I’m more forgiving when I re-watch. Plus: carb cheat day.
Anyway, today I salute J.K. Rowling for her accomplishment. Few writers will ever have as much impact on the culture as she has.
But I don’t know what house I’d be sorted into and I never will.