I read Harry Potter for the first time when I was twenty years old. Most people I’ve said that to either gasp or say ‘surely not’. I think Harry Potter will be a timeless series but for us it was generational. Each new release was almost pivotal to our growing up. Don’t get me wrong, I was submerged in the fandom and I’d seen all the movies. I had just never conquered the books.
Why? I think it was a mixture of my early childhood experiences with it. In 2001, at the tender age of eight my whole family ventured to the cinema and saw The Philosopher’s Stone. During the movie my sister (older, I might add!) was scared so I switched seats with my mum so she could comfort us both. This however placed me on the end of a terrifyingly dark row and something about this coupled with Voldemort’s creepy double face sparked my fear with this wonderful world of magic. After that I couldn’t see the butter beer and the fun potions and spells, I only saw the Grim, those skin-crawling spiders and the Dementors. My nightmares were filled with the Basilisk’s Parselmouth taunts. I continued to watch the movies just because it was the done thing but I wasn’t particularly invested. I just seemed to get that sepia tone sensation when each new movie was released, I forgot how much trauma I went through every time I delved into Rowling’s imaginings.
As I got older, I finally learnt that this world wasn’t actually scary and in fact, I was just the world’s biggest wuss. But even then I didn’t even think to read the books. Part of me still entertained the idea that the novels would give me nightmares but mainly I just didn’t think about them. By this point all the novels were published and you were either a Potterhead or you were indifferent. I kind of liked being on the fringes because I saw the devoted as merely obsessed and I completely didn’t get it.
For no reason at all in the summer of 2014 I picked up a dusty book one from my shelves and gave it another go. Before I knew what was happening, I was devouring the next book the second I finished the last. And I got it. It was that simple. I suddenly understood what I’d been depriving myself of for over a decade. There’s just something about this world of magic that simultaneously makes you feel so safe and connected by the sameness of things yet awed by the absolute unreachable fantasy of it all. I was one hundred percent sold and still am. I’m now known in my family to be a little bit too keen on the fandom. And to think this time a mere two years ago I was only making my way through the Order of the Phoenix.
At times since finishing the series I’ve kicked myself for wasting so many years when I could have been breaking my spines on endless rereads like so many of the rest of us. But then I thought recently, no I’m actually glad I waited. Even though it wasn’t necessarily purposefully, I’m so thankful that I was able to read these wonderful stories when I was fully able to comprehend them. I now envy people who are getting to read the series for the first time. Rereads are excellent and sometimes more than satisfying but I long for that feeling of magic and awe inside myself when I turned each page for the first time.
I think this about many great pieces of literature, songs, movies. You remember where you were when you first experienced a piece of dialogue or a melody and you smile to think how real it still feels even though you’ll never live the same awakening again. I remember when Snape said ‘Always’ and my heart broke, or when Dumbledore said ‘Please’ at the top of the astronomy tower and even though I hadn’t read it yet I could feel the agony of scenes to come. I think of the moments I loved from the movies and seeing them come to life; Molly Weasley kicking ass at the Battle of Hogwarts, the Marauder’s Map in action, when everybody joined together to create Dumbledore’s Army and then he blew up with a phoenix to show Fudge who’s really boss. And then I think of moments I had no idea were coming, the battle downstairs whilst Snape made the hardest decision of his life, Lupin’s turmoil at being worthy of a happy life and all the times we meet Dobby and his socks. Not to mention every scene Hermione Granger is ever in. And mainly I think of Fred and the beautiful bond the Weasley’s share.
But even if I can’t read for the first time again at least I’ve experienced the world and can keep going back in rereads. To have never bought into the obsession would have been much more tragic.
So whatever it was that day that convinced me to pick it up again, thank you.
Swings and Waterslides – Viola Beach