This is a rather spontaneous post about how total immersion in a fictional world, its characters, its nuances and finer details, can create unforgettable meanings in one’s life. It’s something I want to do with my fiction. I want to give my readers a place they can go that not only makes them happy, but feels familiar. I want them to be comfortable there and greet my characters as old friends. And I want to provide this service because it happened to me first, and to millions of people across the world.
This is sparked by the fact that I just watched the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. I must have watched that ending, where Harry sends his second son off to Hogwarts for the first time, five times. I’ve cried every single time. Now, I don’t usually cry at movies. In fact, I make an effort not to. For whatever reason, I feel bashful about it. So why does this movie pull at my heartstrings?
That question seems to puzzle a lot of people, especially people who are not part of my generation. But fellow Harry Potter fans, the ones who grew up along with it, don’t have to ask why. The following is my personal Harry Potter journey in semi-chronological order, a.k.a. large chunks of my childhood, and might shed some light on the phenomenon for those on the outside looking in:
- Age six or seven, start to learn that Harry Potter is a thing
- Decide I’m going to hate Harry Potter since everyone else loves it, because I’m a pretentious little hipster
- Age eight, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone comes out in theaters. I think, why not, I’ll see it
- Life alters forever
- Go home, read HP and the SS in six days (which seemed like a really short amount of time for me)
- Devour the book versions of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Start a “Harry Potter Club” with my fellow third graders, in which we are all Gryffindors with names, our own wand cores, our own magical pets, our own backstories, our own British accents. This game is played consistently at recess and lunch every day
- Get the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone video game for PC, beat it in two months and feel like conquering Voldemort = conquering the world
- Age nine, get a video camera and invent “The Ron and Hermione Show,” in which I play Hermione and my sister plays Ron in a number of short episodes, in which Ron and Hermione take part in many wacky shenanigans. My three-year-old brother makes occasional cameos as Harry. The first episode is called “The Daring Third Floor Corridor”
- For Halloween, I dress up as Hermione, my sister as Ron, my friend as Harry. I get my mom to be McGonagall, my dad Hagrid, my friend’s dad Dumbledore, etc.
- My dad knows someone at Warner Brothers and gets us a Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets poster, which is subsequently framed
- Age ten, attend my first midnight release for a book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Friend and I stay up late reading, I flip to the end to see who dies because I’m scared and can’t take it
- Around this time, siblings and I invent the “Harry Potter School” game. This consists of making fake schedules, teaching fake lessons (Herbology, Potions, Charms, Care of Magical Creatures, and more), creating fake tests, giving out fake grades. Some of the best memories of my childhood ensue
- Eleventh birthday is Harry Potter themed. Everyone dresses up, everyone gets sorted
- Age eleven, I’m thrilled to have a day off from filming The Pacifier because that means we can go see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- I’m still an enthusiastic player of Harry Potter video games, although now I play them primarily on PS2. The Prisoner of Azkaban one is the best one, I play that, re-play Chamber of Secrets. A seven-year-long tradition of always playing Harry Potter PS2 games when I’m home sick begins
- Age twelve, start writing horrible Harry Potter fanfiction
- I discover Mugglenet
- I’m freaking out because Cheaper by the Dozen 2 filming is running late, and it’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince release night, and the bookstore is like two hours away. Finally get the book and read it in three days, Steve Martin sees I’m almost done by Monday and asks if I ate or slept all weekend
- Create game with siblings that involves pretending our pool is the Black Lake and that we’re Harry Potter characters saving each other
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie is released
- Take part in Mugglenet caption contests
- The “Ron and Hermione” show is still going strong by this point
- JK Rowling admits Ron and Hermione are in love with each other, Harry/Hermione fans and Ron/Hermione fans explode and declare Internet war against each other (I’m on the Ron/Hermione side)
- I print out several pieces of fan art and an essay or two in support of Ron and Hermione and make a shrine on my bedroom door
- Re-read every book a million times
- Age thirteen, I start a Harry Potter RPG site, get several regular posters, become a mini online family, am still friends with some of them (Hi Logan!)
- Age fourteen, I start writing Harry Potter fanfiction that is actually not bad, turns into a story that eventually gets 400 reviews and loyal followers, I learn more about writing with self-imposed deadlines and writing in general (writing this extended fanfiction prepares me for my future novel-writing endeavors)
- I spend hours upon hours on Harry Potter websites speculating about the final book. I also spend hours upon hours reading Harry Potter fanfiction
- Attend a live Mugglenet podcast, get a “Snape is Loyal” sticker signed by the Mugglenet founder
- See Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in theaters
- I attend the midnight release for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at my local Borders (RIP), all decked out in Hermione gear. The next three days are spent reading. A very long mourning period for Fred Weasley and for the books in general ensues
- I find online fanart in which Fred never actually dies and use it to cope
- I plan out a fanfiction where Fred was in a coma all along (never gets written)
- I join a Harry Potter RPG website (the one I started has long since died), have a lot of fun, get banned from the site because I complained about the way the site was run, haters gonna hate
- Start my own fantasy novels, crafted with hyper-awareness about my strong Harry Potter influence and a determination to make it as different from Harry Potter as possible
- Age fifteen, am in a photo shoot for Hannah Montana, pretty much the only part of my interview that makes it into the magazine is that I’m a Harry Potter fan (victory)
- Still asking for Harry Potter merchandise for Christmas
- Age sixteen, find out an early screening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is happening in my town. Get dressed in HP gear, dress my New York friend (who’s visiting) as a Ravenclaw, attend the screening with other Potterheads
- Age seventeen, see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One, hasn’t sunk in that it’s almost over
- Age eighteen, summer before I leave home for college, see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two
I did my Pottering. Ten years of it. And every fellow Harry Potter fan has a story like this one. They all know what it felt like to have a Potter-filled childhood. They all suspect that this timeline doesn’t cover nearly everything, and they’re right.
So, why do I cry at the end of the final Harry Potter movie? Because the final scene is all this being carried away by the Hogwarts Express. All of it, to the sound of the John Williams-composed song that first met my ears when I was eight, sitting in a theater with eyes wide, blown away.
(This nostalgic post dedicated to my sister Wendy York, a.k.a. Ron Weasley, who is graduating high school today).
*Avatar by Charlavail