I've got a story to tell you 'bout that, actually. Not the most recent trot through the lexicon, but how I came to be a Harry Potter fan at all, and why Quidditch is my favorite sport outside of steeplechasing (the kind with horses, not merely humans). So, settle in for a bit, even if you're rabidly anti-Potter.
So this one time, back in Flagstaff, when my friend Justin was still my Entertainment Executive, he forced me to read the books. I believe it was before I saw the movie, but my memory's unclear on this point. What is crystal clear is that I didn't want to read them.
"Justin," says I, "these look stupid."
They were not, he assured me, stupid.
"Justin," says I, "these are fucking kids books."
They were not, he assured me, merely for children. British author J.K. Rowling, in fact, thought more of children than most of our American authors tend to. She even used big words. Did you know, he said, that the title of Sorcerer's Stone in Britain was actually Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone? Because the British thought kids were smart enough to figure out what the real name of that famous alchemical substance was, but American publishers thought they'd scare the audience away if they so much as mentioned the word philosophy.
"Justin," says I, "even so, I do not fucking want to read these books."
Our arguments about entertainment usually ended in just one way. And this one ended with me grumbling my way home with two books in hand.
|My Doom #1|
At about three or four in the morning, I finished all Justin had given me. And I knew a few things.
1. There were two more books in this series.
|My Doom #2|
3. It was the wee hours of the morning and I had to go to work the next day.
4. Wal-Mart is open 24 hours.
5. But there was a blinding snowstorm, with several inches on the ground already, and the plows hadn't been by.
6. I owned the most obstinate, skiving, broken and temperamental Ford Escort known to man.
7. It was doubtful the car would run long enough to go to Wal-Mart even in the best of weather, much less when it was peeing down snow.
8. I was going to die if I didn't get the next two books RIGHT BLOODY NOW.
So I forced the car to go to Wal-Mart. At 3 or 4 in the morning. On a work night. In the snow. And I came home with all that was currently available in the Harry Potter series.
|My Doom #3|
It took me a bit longer to finish these next two. They weren't the whimsical trip through fantasy-land the first two had been, and they were a bit longer. I started noticing something about J.K. Rowling, and Justin backed me up on it: she doesn't pull punches, and she lets the stories age with the character. In the first two, the main evil dude Voldemort is still weak, so he's the sort of threat a young kid can plausibly face off against. We're mostly having fun, here, leaping into the world of wizarding with Harry, who's one of the most sympathetic characters ever created. How can you not love a boy with a lightning-bolt scar who lives with horrible relations? Doesn't everybody dream of having secret powers as a kid? And Rowling has a gift for names - characters, places, spells. I don't think people realize how much there is in a name, but she does. Check out the names of the two main rival Houses: Slytherin and Gryffindor. I don't have to tell you which are the bad guys and which are the heroes. You can tell that from the names, I'll warrant.
But still, it's all good clean fun with a little deus ex machina in the bargain. The third one's a bit heavier fare, with a murderer on the loose, betrayal, innocent people tortured as if they were guilty and all that, but it's still kid's stuff. Not the kind of toothless kid's stuff you'd expect, quite a lot of fun and utterly absorbing, but still nothing super intense.
|My Doom #4|
Then you hit the fourth book. The first thing you notice is, it's twice the size. There's stuff in there that makes you think serious thoughts about slavery and justice. Abracadabra gets turned into something altogether sinister and evil: avada kedavra, the killing curse. And you know that when a killing curse is raised, someone other than the villain is going to get killed.
Only it's worse than that, because on top of the torture and murder, there's a dark damned ritual that brings the Dark Lord back in all his power. This isn't kid's stuff anymore. This shit's getting serious. And if you'll notice, it's timed just about right: Harry's a teenager now, and even though he's very, very young, he's old enough that fighting the dark side isn't going to remain child's play forever.
|My Doom #5|
|My Doom #6|
In the end, when you're wondering just how Rowling's going to top the previous year's kill, you find out. And you rage. That woman is not afraid to kill off your favorites, your staunchest allies, the people you love and need the most. This book, I think, is what cemented my respect for her as an author. She saw what had to be done and did it, without flinching. And if you'd thought Harry had been put through hell before, well, it's nothing compared to what she does to him here.
|My Doom #7|
You'd be wrong.
I can sum up Deathly Hallows thusly: "It was a good book. Nearly everybody died."
And if you're still thinking this is a kids-only series by the end, you've got a warped view on what kids-only entertainment is.
At least she leaves us with a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. After all of the emotional trauma, you're shown that yes, it was worth it all. But that's the only consolation offered. Mostly, it's just brutal.
So yes, this is a kid's series. It grows up right alongside them. And it's not afraid of big words and bigger concepts and it's got the greatest sport ever invented in it. After reading these, get Quidditch Through the Ages. I'm serious. It's hysterically funny. That's another talent J.K. Rowling's got, that tongue-in-cheek, extremely British dry sense of humor that slays, even when discussing in seeming seriousness a completely made-up sport.
And if your own Entertainment Executive tells you that a set of books for kiddies might be worth your while, take them. Take them all. Otherwise, you, too, may end up at Wal-mart in the snow at 4 in the morning on a work night.