Today marks a significant and much-celebrated day of the modern calendar year. Today is the birthday of The Boy Who Lived. Today is the birthday of Harry Potter*. And today Harry turns 34. Which makes me feel both old and young at the same time. Old because I first read The Sorcerer’s Stone in 1999 for a freshman year of high school book report – which seems ages ago; and young because I was 14 when I first read The Sorcerer’s Stone so I always thought that Harry – who is age 11 when the series starts – was younger than me. I’m sure the movies didn’t help with this perception of age/time since they were made years after the books began with actors years younger than I.
When I started the series, only the first three books were published and I devoured them. And I fell in love. Hardcore in love. Insanely, crazily-dedicated in love. After the series garnered a bit of hype and book stores wanted to cash in, I would wait with friends at the Barnes & Noble in Bel Air, MD or go with my aunt/fairy godmother (and one of my best friends) to an independent book store and we would wait to get our pre-ordered copies. Excruciatingly exciting hours were spent in anticipation of grasping on to the latest in the series – touching the cover, feeling the book’s weight and opening to that first page…
We would wear our Harry Potter glasses and put lightning bolt tattoos on our foreheads and chatter away about what we think may happen; who our favorite characters were; who we thought should be together, etc. And then we would take our books to our respective homes – or sometimes a diner – and I would read. And read and read and read. There would be no savoring; savoring would be for later. For now I needed to KNOW.
I went to lengths to finish books as fast as I could. One summer my family gave my much younger cousin the newest book (Goblet of Fire, perhaps?) for his birthday and because we happened to be on vacation with his family at the time, I stole the freshly unwrapped gift and speed-read that sucker before he could start. I was older and a faster reader so it made sense in my brain and didn’t feel that rude at the time… After I turned 16 and had a job, if there was a Harry Potter book release, I would schedule myself out of work for a day or two so I could do nothing but read and preserve a perfect plot, unspoiled. As the books grew longer, the necessary vacation days grew as well.
I loved these books. I loved the nervousness and butterflies that came with every new book release. I loved immersing myself in the world created by J.K. Rowling. And I loved, loved, loved my wizarding fictional friends.
I am absolutely a Harry Potter fan and I bordered on fanatical for a time. But as much as I love the books, I have never done a complete re-read. I have tried and I have always failed. In thinking about it, I realized why: because – without trying to sound dramatic – with the end of the Harry Potter series came the end of my childhood.
The Deathly Hallows was released the summer of 2007 – this was my first summer of Real Life. I had graduated from college with a theatre degree in the spring and had no clue what to do (with a theatre degree I know that is shocking!). I was living away from home with most of my best college friends busy and scattered and my best high school friends an hour away. I was working a “real” job I HATED (I would often refer to this job as a Dementor). My youngest brother had graduated from high school and the first of my two parents turned 50. My beloved childhood dog, Dodger – who was my best friend since 6th grade and my soul-puppy – died while I was not home so I never got to say goodbye. And the Harry Potter series ended.
With my family getting undeniably older, the end of my planned educational path, the death of my pup, and the completion of a series I’d grown up with – I very much felt my childhood was over, that growing up was for real, and it was happening to me whether I wanted it to or not. I also felt that being a responsible adult was terrible if it included things like sitting in a two hour commute on the jammed-up beltway to get home from a soul-crushing job where you were doing too much and paid far too little. It was a rough summer. I was lonely and sad a lot – which was not something I was used to being and that was an adjustment in and of itself. With time and distance, you get a little perspective and I realize things were not nearly as bad as they could have been and that my issues that summer were just growing pains. But it was all very real and very hard at the time. So the thought of going back to that last book – remembering the black cloud I seemed to live in during the summer of 2007 – that’s never been inviting and put me off the idea of re-reading.
Fast-forward 7 years and life now is not without its challenges but it is very, very good and I am the happiest and most at-peace-with-myself that I have been in a long time. There are absolutely things I am looking to improve upon or change – and there always will be – but I am content at my core.
So on this 34th birthday of Harry Potter – 5 years my senior, I’ll shamelessly add – I’ve decided it is high time that I revisit Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and fall in love all over again. Today, I raise a glass of butterbeer to Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling and say: let the great re-read of the epic tale of Harry Potter commence!
And I’m still waiting for my invitation to Hogwarts…
*July 31st is also the birthday of author J.K. Rowling