Friday, June 30, 2017

Thanks for the family memories, Harry Potter

Image from Wikipedia.
I am a little late to the party, but here’s to 20 years of Harry Potter.

We were living in a tiny town in western Iowa when the novels started coming out. I am not sure how or why we heard of the series, and my wife says she bought the first and second books at the same time, but the novels quickly became a family affair. My wife and I and our kids all read them—indeed, the first few were read aloud to children too young to read them for themselves (or, perhaps, just wanting to hear them read even if they had already read them).

And we bought into the whole hoopla that started to spring up when new installments were published. While we never stayed up overnight in a book line, it always was a bit of a saga to locate the latest installment as soon as possible.

For one of the books, my wife was working second shift as a hospital nurse, and stopped at an all-night grocery store after work. The store was already stocking for the next day—release day—and put out a display of the new Harry Potter book, which my wife purchased two copies of.

The next morning, the kids were very excited that we already had the book.

There developed a bit of a family system for Harry Potter. My oldest daughter and son were “first readers” because they read relatively quickly. My son sometimes would stay up all night and devour a HP book in one massive read fest.

I was always at the back of the line—I am a writer and a reader, but I read like I ride a bicycle. I enjoy it and do it a lot, but I do it slowly.

The series was to our family what baseball was to the father and son in “Field of Dreams.” It was something that united us across generations, a shared cultural experience that was exciting to all of us.

I respect the series on several levels. For one thing, an enduring theme of the Harry Potter universe is that it’s not usually your nature that makes you good or evil, but rather it’s the choices that you make.

The series is responsible for many happy memories for me and my family. Cuddling up together in the evening as a family to hear JK Rowling’s stories is one. There was also the sharing and discussion of the latest book—and the thrill of secret conversations that have to be carefully gauged until, finally, dad read the darn thing.

During one Freedom Fest in Cedar Rapids, my youngest son and I (we must have been at the end of the line) were photographed by “The Gazette” as we awaited a fireworks display at Kirkwood Community College. We were reclining together on a blanket, reading one of later installments of the series.

Harry Potter! To me, you are always first and foremost a book series. It would be sad to know you only via the movies, and I’m glad you were there as I was raising a family of readers. For almost a decade, the hoopla around your books helped make reading cool. That wasn’t so important to my bookish brood, who enjoyed many other books, too—but still.

You were the boy who lived in our imaginations, on the pages we read and as part of our family experience.

So thank you, JK. This muggle is glad that you shared your imaginary world with us. Twenty years—hard to imagine it has been that long.

July 4 addition: After I posted this, my youngest daughter found a copy of the photo from the Gazette. I was (based on the book I was reading) published in 2003:

The son in the foreground is now in his mid-20s and getting a PhD at ISU. Three of my other children are also in the image. The son in the picture looks like an older version of his youngest nephew (and also his oldest nephew). Come to think of it, a bit like older versions of his other nephews, too.

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