Monday, February 15, 2010

Homage to Harry

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were very proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the live people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they didn’t hold with such nonsense.”

- First paragraph of, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

The Harry Potter series has come up a few times in the last couple of weeks, so I felt compelled to write about it. The first time was when I was writing a post about names*, while my daughter was watching the fifth movie in the series. I heard a quote that would work perfectly for the beginning of my post, so I grabbed the corresponding book off the shelf and found it.

The next time the books came up was when I was checking one of the blogs I follow, which used the good parts of the series as a model for writers**. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen the Harry Potter books as an example. The other time was at a workshop at the NESCBWI conference I attended last year***. I devoured the information on how to write for a series, since I was in the middle of working on my own. Thinking about the plot and climax not only from book to book, but throughout the series was essential information for me. Because most people (like me) are familiar with the books, it was a perfect model.

The writer, Susan Fields, who writes a blog I follow asked the question, “What is your favorite book published in the last ten years?”**** This was my response in her comments section:

I agree with Amy - ONE BOOK!!???

I'm sitting here while my mind wrestles with the answer. Fine, I'll say the last Harry Potter book because it was a satisfying end to a fantastic series and the message of sacrifice is something children don't normally explore. And because on the eve the book came out, I went to Harvard Square with my children while they were dressed as Hogwarts students so we could take part in the festivities. At midnight I took my son to a local bookstore to have butter beer and pumpkin juice while we watched the entertainment. Oh, and to buy the book. How many books can boast that kind of experience?

I was a little late to join the fervor of the Harry Potter fans. Normally, I avoid things that become popular. Besides, I was in my 20s when the first book came out. Why would I read a children’s book at that age?

Then my son turned seven, and he wanted me to read the first book to him. I found that after I got used to stumbling over the funny names (it was weeks before I knew that I’d been mangling “Hermoine” – saying it Her-mee-ohn) and got used to her writing style, I was drawn to the story and the characters. When it was time to tuck my son in, I’d look at the book longingly, wondering what would happen next. If my husband took a turn to read and I missed what happened, I’d grill them. The situation became unsatisfactory, so I decided to read it on my own.

Hooked, I got the rest of the books. But two hadn’t been written, so I had to wait for the rest of the world for them to come out. The sixth-book ended at such an exciting point that I worried that something terrible would happen to J.K. Rowling before she could complete it. How could I live without knowing what happened to Harry, Hogwarts, and the entire wizarding world? (Geek.)

When that final book was scheduled, I preordered it from my local bookstore. My kids dressed up, but while driving to Harvard Square, my son had second thoughts. As we got closer, he said, “Nobody else is dressed.” I had a hard time convincing him we weren’t yet in the right place. Then some old man with a long, white beard – probably a Harvard professor, came strolling by. “Look, it’s Dumbledore,” I whispered. My son felt better.

We did see other costumed children, and my kids got a lot of attention. A band, Harry and the Potters played in Harvard Yard. When my little daughter got too sleepy, we went home. I woke my son around 11pm, wondering if he’d change his mind about buying the book at midnight. His eyes were shut while my husband put back on his Gryffindor tie.

My son perked up when we arrived at Porter Square Books. One man performed magic tricks outside the store. The best part was that nearly everyone was in costume – even adults. I kicked myself for not dressing too. (Who had I become?) When the Malfoy family passed by, everyone booed. Mad Eye Moody got a lot of attention. I saw one Luna Lovegood and lots of Harry Potters.

We got pumpkin juice, which tasted like pumpkin Pie in liquid form. Butter beer had potential, but was strange as well. At least the treacle tart was pretty tasty. At midnight, we waited on line to pick up our book. There were four tables that represented each house, and we had to get ours at the Hufflepuff (A little disappointed, but at least it wasn’t Slytherin). I took a picture of my son triumphantly holding the book with a satisfied smile. He begged for me to read it when we got home, but I told him he had to wait until morning. It was hard for me to wait too.

I read that book as soon as I could, and wound up finishing the entire 759 pages in a day, pausing many times to do mom things. When everyone went to bed, and I stayed up, determined to get to the end before I went to sleep. I think I finished around 2:00am.

There are many reasons I like the series. J.K. Rowling got boys to read again. The world she created is one many of us would want to live in (Without Voldemort). The ultimate message of sacrifice is venerable compared with the messages that children are getting from other sources (Cough: Twilight). But my biggest reason is that she made me want to write. I had recently read J.K. Rowling’s books when a talk given by another children’s author awakened something I’d suppressed*****. Right then, I decided that I wanted to write fantasy books for children.

Any time someone criticizes J.K. Rowling, I’m quick to defend her. Those books made my son excited to read. After the last one came out, when I told him I couldn’t continue to read aloud to him because it was bedtime, he took over and read it to himself. My first manuscript, which also has a wizard world, is (obviously) inspired by her series. If it ever gets published, I’ll defend it because it’s NOT Harry Potter.

Last night, a friend said that people accuse the Percy Jackson series of being a Harry Potter copy (Ridiculous). Of course, J.K. Rowling was accused of copying others. There are only so many ideas out in the world – every book resembles an earlier book, while being unique. J.K Rowling’s impact on literature and on my decision to write is undeniable.

So, I laugh too loudly when during television shows like “30 Rock”, a character talks about the intricacies of Quidditch and when in “The Simpsons” J.K. Rowling says, “Hello, muggle,” to Lisa. And tomorrow, I’ll Oooo and Ahhh over the costumes and props at Boston’s Museum of Science Harry Potter exhibit. At least I won’t go so far as to drag my family to Orlando Studios. Probably.

* The third post about names:

** From the blog “There are No Rules” by Jane Friedman”:

***My previous post on the workshop:

**** Her blog:

My previous post about the start of my writing journey:


  1. Geek. Ha! I love that you said that. Actually, I love everything you said about HP and JKR. I feel the same way. It awakened something inside of me too and when I found the books (in 1999) I was at a low point and need the escape I felt I had into her world. Now on to becoming the next JKR for we two!

  2. Jackee, I'm glad I'm not the only geek! I am all for us becoming the next JKR.

  3. I'm totally with you, Therese. I simply can't get enough of J.K.Rowling and the Harry Potter series. I've read the books over and over again - also watched the movies - over and over again!

    Great post :)

  4. Hi

    I always love to say to anyone who would listen to me LOL!! That I "knew" Harry Potter before he got famous! Yes, I did - I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997. :-)

    Then a few years later it just went GLOBAL!!!! I think any book that gets children to read and to wallow in imaginative fantasy worlds is a big, big plus! And if she inspired such a fab writer as you then all the better.

    I can't wait to read your novel - sounds like such a lot of fun.

    Enjoy the Boston's Museum of Science Potter exhibition you lucky people you!!

    Take care

  5. Wendy, I read them alone while reading them with my son. Since I read the 7th-book so quickly, I went back and read it again at a normal pace. Then when I wanted to think about doing a series, I reread them all in a row. When I get tempted again, I won't let myself because there are many other books out there. Few strike JKR's balance of whimsy and message.

    Old Kitty, you were lucky to find Harry so quickly, and getting to read along as they came out.

    I think my novel is darker. The world I created controls people's lives to a greater degree. The first book is all about the journey to and learning about the new world (Along with a prophecy and big ending). The second book is when the protagonist goes to school. I haven't looked at it in years, and have been thinking about blowing off the virtual dust and overhauling it.

    It's snowing, so I hope I can motivate myself to still go to the exhibit. There's always tomorrow.

  6. I, too, am an HP Geek. My oldest son was 11 when we started reading book one. He was not enthralled, but I was. He is now nearly 21 and his 14 year old brother is my co-addict in our house.
    I look at HP and see my oldest son. The growth of the 2 of them happened at the same time. They were the same ages as I read each of the books.

    My oldest has seen all the movies and is waiting for the last one to come out- anxiously to find out what happens.
    His brother and I know already, but we won't tell.
    In the meantime I have started writing again. I had written for my oldest when he was 5-6years old. Then life happened and I stopped. Because of the wonderful writing of JK Rowling I believed that I could do it too... that remains to be seen, but at least I am trying.
    And they aren't even Wizarding World books!

  7. Dawn, I'm glad to hear that you're writing. JK Rowling's personal story is inspirational too.

  8. Exactly! I was still a bit sceptical after the first one or two, but by no 4 I was queueing up after my mother and sister to read the household copy :)

    I cried watching the Order of the Phoenix movie, because I was abroad and one of the London locations was just round the corner from somewhere where I used to work for ages!

  9. Hampshire Flyer, I felt a bit bogged down with elf rights in four, but the end had my heart racing. I thought, he's never going to get out of this jam. Order of the Phoenix was my favorite, along with the last chapters of The Deathly Hallows.

    It must've been very cool to see places you recognized in the movie.

  10. Theresa, I marvel sometimes at how J.K. Rowling was able to take on such an enormous project with all those storylines flowing throughout and how she must have known ahead of time everything that was going to happen before she even started Sorcerer's Stone because it's all tied in together. And she has such a vivid imagination - so cool!

  11. Susan, J.K. Rowling said that she'd written the final chapter years before. Then when she wrote the final book, she did make some changes, letting some people live, while have other people die, but most of it was the same. I guess she had a great sense of where she was going with the whole series. I agree - a marvel.

  12. I loved this post. I have very fond memories of reading Harry Potter with my children. They were much younger and would pile on our bed. (All six of them.) My husband was the reader and the rest of us hung on every word. There were times when my kids would beg him to keep going, and he would, until the last pair of sleepy eyes shut for the night. We always started reading at 8:00, and I think 11:00 was as late as we went on a school night. Anyway, now my kids are teenagers who prize their independence and friends. I'm grateful for the power of those magical books for providing me with another memory to cherish. Thanks for inviting me to your wonderful blog!

  13. Thanks, for reading it Roxy. Once I read how you felt about J.K. Rowling, I figured you'd appreciate it.

    Three hours of reading? I usually got tired after thirty-minutes or so? Although I did read my daughter a book in a day. But we took breaks.

  14. Thank you so much for sending the link to my blog!!! I missed this post because I hadn't even begun blogging yet!! I'm glad you shared this with me because it was FANTASTIC!!!

    I'm so glad your little boy decided to dress up and partake in the festivities, and quite the entertainment and fun it was! I would have loved to have done something like that, but HP wasn't big in my town, in fact our family was talked about for awhile becuase we were witch folk and devil worshiper (silly right?!)

    I love the story line and adventure that J.K. Rowling created, of course everyone wants to live there and those who talk and say I'm witch folk well then so be it because what she created was beautiful and if they didn't get it, their loss not mine.

    I joined the Harry Potter clan a lot later, all 7 books were already out, in fact all 3 movies had been released, it was then my sister had purchased all of them at a discount then decided she wanted to be in the Navy. She left all of the books to my husband and I... and from there we read until they were done. They had been devoured and still our at least once a year!!!

    Sorry for the novel, overly excited I suppose! LOL

  15. Jen, thanks for the comment. I'm lucky to live in a place that made a big deal about it. I came late to the books as well. I began to read them just around when book 5 came out. After that, we had to wait for each one like everyone else. I was worried something would happen to J.K. Rowling before she finished the last one!

    They're wonderful books. I wish there were more series out like Harry Potter.