In English 241 (which I refer to as “Lord of the Rings class” or “loosely-graded book club”) we’ve long finished LotR and moved through T.H. White’s long and frankly strange work The Once and Future King, a tale of King Arthur. On Thursday, we started the third leg of the class, the one that everyone had been waiting for, the big finale: Harry Potter.
I’ve been reading Harry Potter for years, easily since the third grade. I own all seven books; I’ve nearly snapped the overused spine of Year One, but the others are in respectable shape. This was the first of several book series that I forced my mom to read – she started with the book on tape, but by the time Deathly Hallows came out, she was on board and trying to rip the hardcover copy out of my hands. So yes, I’m a Potter fan (I think the fandom is called “Potterheads”? What a silly name). For all those wondering, because I know you fellow fans gobble this trivia up, my absolute favorite characters are Seamus Finnigan and Oliver Wood (Irish boys…) In close second are the Weasley twins, who I will now forever compare to Merry and Pippin.
Now we have a month of this class dedicated to tearing these books apart like angry, hungry hyenas that haven’t eaten in a few days. I know a bit of Latin now, because all of the spells derive from actual Latin roots and phrases — “Expecto Patronum”, for example, loosely means “I await a patron”, which is more or less fits. And apparently the Dursley’s living place has hidden meaning: Little Whinging isn’t a real place, and Whinging is British slang for whining or complaining. Privet refers to a long hedge or bush that surrounds suburban homes. When we’re not learning new languages or geeking about some irrelevant detail, most of our conversation has academic merit. A lot of it has to do with major themes in the work – the hero story, good versus evil, coming-of-age, et cetera. Oftentimes that conversation is the most emotionally-driven and most thought-provoking.
I noticed in class that we treated the works as something other than books. We treated it like a universe. We treat it like another world that legitimately exists as if we’ve been there ourselves. I had to pause a few times; I found myself believing that somewhere in London there’s a brick wall you can tap and go buy flying broomsticks.
We have to remember that the seven volumes of Harry Potter are books. Literally. Someone sat down at a desk and wrote every last word of those books. They fought for every last word, too. Isn’t that humbling? I single out Harry Potter fans here because that’s where I see a lot of this “loss of reality”, but I’m talking to everyone, in all mediums — Trekkies (or trekkers or whatever you’re calling yourselves now), Whovians, you sick little Twihards, all of you.
The greats – not just modern-day greats, but Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare, and even back to Homer – are/were human beings. They make mistakes. J.K. Rowling is not a goddess, and her work isn’t perfect. For the sake of discussion, sometimes it’s safest to assume it is. But honestly, sometimes there are details that are just there. When we were having the “Privet Drive in Little Winging” discussion, someone pointed out that Harry lies in bushes to listen to the news at the start of Order of the Phoenix, and Rowling must’ve incorporated those to hint at her clever name. You know what that’s actually called? Setting. There was recently an episode (for lack of better word) where Rowling wished that she’d paired Hermione and Harry rather than Hermione and Ron – and the entire world flipped out. She’s allowed to have second thoughts! Let’s see you try to write seven best-selling books and mean every detail. Forever.
I know that fantasy is meant to give some kind of escape from reality (here’s a really good article on the subject) but before you heavily invest in the owl-post and a cauldron, remember that the name you see on the cover is a person. A person who’s experienced some number of years, who’s felt every emotion that you have and probably more, who’s putting their heart out there on those pages. Respect that. Their books are to be taken seriously – just not too seriously.
Photo credit goes to authorturf.com