-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

archive

Growing Up Potter

Lauren Chval | Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fate, and constantly pestering my parents, would have it that I was in the middle of a European tour when the seventh and final

“Harry Potter” book was released. It gave me quite a bit of pause when I realized those two dates coincided. Not enough to, say, cancel my trip to Europe, but enough to develop an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach.

It wasn’t just the last time a Harry Potter book would come out. It was the last time I would go to get the book with my brothers, the last time I would be reading new material for the first time, the last time my middle brother would try to ruin things for me by telling me to open to a certain page number because he read faster than me, the last time I would sit down with that brother once we finished and discuss every detail and revelation. It was the end of all of those things, and I wouldn’t be there to experience them.

I traveled to seven countries in the three weeks I was abroad, but I was in Budapest. Hungary when “Deathly Hallows” hit bookshelves. I was there with a group from my high school, including two of my best friends and my favorite English teacher. I begged him to take me into the city at midnight and let me get the book, but, unsurprisingly, he wasn’t having it.

“I am not taking you into a foreign city in the middle of the night to get a book,” he said exasperatedly after I’d asked for the 10th time. “That’s just not happening.”

I sulked for a while. When midnight rolled around, even though I was several hours ahead of them, I pictured my mom standing in line at Barnes and Noble with my brothers. I sniffed a little and went to bed.

The next day was a different story. My poor friends just wanted to explore Budapest, but it wasn’t in the cards for them. I insisted, probably very obnoxiously, that we find a bookstore so I could get “Hallows.” They agreed, quite possibly on the singular observation that I was reaching desperation.

We found a bookstore and then had to go find an ATM because I had underestimated how much more expensive the books were in Europe. I walked blocks in search of that ATM, and with every step that Budapest kept me away from Harry, the city lost a little bit of its luster for me. I finally returned to the bookstore, my aggravated friends in tow, and I bought the book.

“Wait until you’re in your room tonight,” my English teacher told me as I cracked it open when we got to the bus. “You don’t want to miss out on the sights because you’re reading.”

In my first blatant act of defiance of a teacher, I ignored him. And I read. And read. And read. The extra 12 hours I had to wait had made me even hungrier for the story than I had imagined. I read the whole day — through our tour of the city, market shopping and riverboat ride. I wondered vaguely if in a few years I would look back on that day that I read Harry Potter instead of taking in Europe and remember it as a waste and be disappointed. At the time, I didn’t think much of it as I finished the book in less than seven hours.

Four years later, I don’t regret it. If there was something I regretted about that summer it was missing the last book release with my brothers, although I did like Europe very much. Some might say that’s crazy, but it’s hard to weigh the experiences against one another — they were both important for vastly different reasons.

I do remember the feeling I had as I closed the book because I felt it again quite recently. I reread the entire series this summer in fast succession. I hadn’t really read any of them since my second read-through of the seventh book, not even when their movie counterparts were released. I didn’t realize until I started reading again that I had been trying to flush my deeper love of Harry from my mind.

Why, you might ask? It’s become clear from this series that my love of “Harry Potter” is maybe a touch too strong. A lack of stability and friends in my childhood had made the world of “Harry Potter” just a little too important to me. But when I closed the final book, I didn’t know what to do with myself exactly. There had always been another book to look forward to, another day to anticipate and count down to.

I stopped reading because I hated the realization that this was the end of my unconventional childhood. I didn’t like that sinking feeling when I started to look toward the next adventure and realized it wasn’t coming. Without deciding to, I shelved Harry and focused on the real friends I had created by 16.

When I started reading this summer, it was more of a homage to my childhood as the movies wrapped up than a real desire to revisit the powerful feelings I had struggled through in my original readings of the books. Regardless of my intentions, I discovered many of the same truths again, including what it felt like to turn the final page. The ending was just as hard for me this time around. I had the same strong wish for an eighth book (I don’t know about this Pottermore thing coming out).

There was something different this time around though. Maybe it was maturity that made me see I had closed the door on Harry in the wrong way. I had thought if I didn’t revisit Harry, I wouldn’t miss him.

The thing is, I took real truths from the books when I needed them as a kid, and this summer, I found that I had forgotten some of those very lessons. The books, while not new, were there to be rediscovered by me. The escape still exists. A reread can always take me to the place I once needed and send me away with reminders of the things I learned for myself there — and those truths will always be my eighth book.

Contact Lauren Chval at lchval@nd.edu

 

-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

archive

Growing Up Potter

Lauren Chval | Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fate, and constantly pestering my parents, would have it that I was in the middle of a European tour when the seventh and final “Harry Potter” book was released. It gave me quite a bit of pause when I realized those two dates coincided. Not enough to, say, cancel my trip to Europe, but enough to develop an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach.

It wasn’t just the last time a Harry Potter book would come out. It was the last time I would go to get the book with my brothers, the last time I would be reading new material for the first time, the last time my middle brother would try to ruin things for me by telling me to open to a certain page number because he read faster than me, the last time I would sit down with that brother once we finished and discuss every detail and revelation. It was the end of all of those things, and I wouldn’t be there to experience them.

I traveled to seven countries in the three weeks I was abroad, but I was in Budapest. Hungary when “Deathly Hallows” hit bookshelves. I was there with a group from my high school, including two of my best friends and my favorite English teacher. I begged him to take me into the city at midnight and let me get the book, but, unsurprisingly, he wasn’t having it.

“I am not taking you into a foreign city in the middle of the night to get a book,” he said exasperatedly after I’d asked for the 10th time. “That’s just not happening.”

I sulked for a while. When midnight rolled around, even though I was several hours ahead of them, I pictured my mom standing in line at Barnes and Noble with my brothers. I sniffed a little and went to bed.

The next day was a different story. My poor friends just wanted to explore Budapest, but it wasn’t in the cards for them. I insisted, probably very obnoxiously, that we find a bookstore so I could get “Hallows.” They agreed, quite possibly on the singular observation that I was reaching desperation.

We found a bookstore and then had to go find an ATM because I had underestimated how much more expensive the books were in Europe. I walked blocks in search of that ATM, and with every step that Budapest kept me away from Harry, the city lost a little bit of its luster for me. I finally returned to the bookstore, my aggravated friends in tow, and I bought the book.

“Wait until you’re in your room tonight,” my English teacher told me as I cracked it open when we got to the bus. “You don’t want to miss out on the sights because you’re reading.”

In my first blatant act of defiance of a teacher, I ignored him. And I read. And read. And read. The extra 12 hours I had to wait had made me even hungrier for the story than I had imagined. I read the whole day — through our tour of the city, market shopping and riverboat ride. I wondered vaguely if in a few years I would look back on that day that I read Harry Potter instead of taking in Europe and remember it as a waste and be disappointed. At the time, I didn’t think much of it as I finished the book in less than seven hours.

Four years later, I don’t regret it. If there was something I regretted about that summer it was missing the last book release with my brothers, although I did like Europe very much. Some might say that’s crazy, but it’s hard to weigh the experiences against one another — they were both important for vastly different reasons.

I do remember the feeling I had as I closed the book because I felt it again quite recently. I reread the entire series this summer in fast succession. I hadn’t really read any of them since my second read-through of the seventh book, not even when their movie counterparts were released. I didn’t realize until I started reading again that I had been trying to flush my deeper love of Harry from my mind.

Why, you might ask? It’s become clear from this series that my love of “Harry Potter” is maybe a touch too strong. A lack of stability and friends in my childhood had made the world of “Harry Potter” just a little too important to me. But when I closed the final book, I didn’t know what to do with myself exactly. There had always been another book to look forward to, another day to anticipate and count down to.

I stopped reading because I hated the realization that this was the end of my unconventional childhood. I didn’t like that sinking feeling when I started to look toward the next adventure and realized it wasn’t coming. Without deciding to, I shelved Harry and focused on the real friends I had created by 16.

When I started reading this summer, it was more of a homage to my childhood as the movies wrapped up than a real desire to revisit the powerful feelings I had struggled through in my original readings of the books. Regardless of my intentions, I discovered many of the same truths again, including what it felt like to turn the final page. The ending was just as hard for me this time around. I had the same strong wish for an eighth book (I don’t know about this Pottermore thing coming out).

There was something different this time around though. Maybe it was maturity that made me see I had closed the door on Harry in the wrong way. I had thought if I didn’t revisit Harry, I wouldn’t miss him.

The thing is, I took real truths from the books when I needed them as a kid, and this summer, I found that I had forgotten some of those very lessons. The books, while not new, were there to be rediscovered by me. The escape still exists. A reread can always take me to the place I once needed and send me away with reminders of the things I learned for myself there — and those truths will always be my eighth book.

Contact Lauren Chval at lchval@nd.edu

 

-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

archive

Growing Up Potter

Lauren Chval | Thursday, November 10, 2011

 

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” hit shelves the summer between my 14th birthday and freshman year of high school. Two full years after my family’s move to Missouri, I was still adjusting. I didn’t have a group of friends to hang out with poolside. Instead, I was holed up in a Chicago hotel room with my grandmother and two brothers while my mom went to Australia on business. The bright spot in my angsty adolescent existence, as usual, was the midnight release of Harry’s latest adventure.

My grandma took us to the bookstore at midnight, bought us three copies and let us read until 2:30 a.m., at which point my youngest brother fell asleep halfway down the page.

J.K. Rowling wrote the book as if all the hormones in the world hit Hogwarts at one time like a freight train. While there had been hints of romantic interest in the previous installments — especially around the Yule Ball — the sixth book is when everything exploded.

Fourteen was not when everything romantic exploded for me. I had still never been kissed, and although that wasn’t too far off, real romance was. As I sat against the stiff hotel pillows with only my little brothers for company, I thought wistfully of Ron and Hermione.

Some girls my age hoped and wished for a Leonardo DiCaprio circa “Titanic” to sweep them off their feet. Some of them watched teen soaps like “One Tree Hill” and waited for one of those relationships. Others still had older siblings with full social lives that they some day hoped to replicate. 

I didn’t want the flash and bang of dramatized relationships. For me, it had always been about Ron and Hermione.

Rowling has said that in her younger days, she dated guys like Ron more than once. She described Ron as a great friend but not exactly a wonderful boyfriend. He was insensitive and immature and, as Hermione would say, had “the emotional range of a teaspoon.” Those things didn’t bother me — well, they didn’t bother me anymore than they bothered Hermione. 

No, there were two things that I loved about Ron and Hermione’s relationship over the course of six books, and both would infect and influence my romantic expectations when the time came.

The thing I loved was the constant bickering. Some have called this crazy, but I craved arguments in a relationship. No one could get under Hermione’s skin like Ron. They were always pushing each other, always in the middle of a heated debate. What was so appealing about that? I couldn’t have found words for it at 14, but I wanted someone who matched me. Someone who was willing to go up against me. Someone who I could be sure was testing me. Immaturity sometimes dictated that the two of them took their arguments too far, but that wouldn’t last forever. Their ability to challenge one another would.

But what drew me in even more was the fact that Ron and Hermione were friends for years before they managed to make anything happen between them. While TV shows were portraying high school with some sort of grab-bag dating strategy, Ron and Hermione were building trust in one another. They were there for each other through difficulties as trivial as Snape’s Potions essay and as monumental as life-threatening adventures. With an unstable childhood in my past, trust was something I desperately sought for my future. I wanted the build-up; I wanted to be sure.

For the love of Ron and Hermione, the sixth book threw my mind for a loop. Enter Lavender Brown — stupid, clingy and blonde. She was everything Hermione and I weren’t. Yet, for the briefest of moments, Ron chose her.

My heart broke with Hermione’s. Neither of us could understand where she went wrong. Where was the challenge? Where was the trust? In her anger, Hermione lashed out with immaturity worthy of Ron. I wasn’t in that tumbling mess of dating quite yet, but in the middle of Ron and Hermione’s hurt and confusion, Rowling taught me more than one thing about boys.

She let me know that there are Lavenders in the world. Much as I wish boys were smart enough to see through them or want better than them, they don’t — at least not initially. And every time one of my guy friends chose a cheerleader or a “Twilight”-reader over me, I felt the weight of that blow. Rowling taught me the value of patience and (usually) taking the highroad. Years later, I sometimes got my chance at a relationship with those guys friends. But even if that wasn’t the case, I always retained the friendship. I always stuck around longer than the Lavenders.

And with that fact, I learned that trust does mean something. The challenge is relevant. That sort of love may not be as big scale or dramatic as the love in movies, but it was more real. 

Long past my first kiss now, many things have changed since I was 14. I have friends to spend the summers with, and I have learned to navigate the dating waters for the most part. But I am still very much in love with the idea of Ron and Hermione.

-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

archive

Growing Up Potter

Lauren Chval | Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I was desperate for “Order of the Phoenix” by the time it came out, and I wasn’t the only one. In the three years it took J.K. Rowling to pen her fifth and longest installment, Warner Brothers had popped out the first two films. Pottermania exploded to depths neither Rowling nor her original fans could have imagined.

In those same three years, my parents had moved us from our childhood home in Chicago to Washington, D.C., right on the brink of Sept. 11, anthrax and the Beltway sniper attacks. We spent two years in the nation’s capital before my mother finished up her stint at the National Science Foundation and got a job in Missouri.

The first year in D.C. was not kind to me. If I had been shy and awkward originally, being thrust into a new elementary school crippled me socially. I didn’t even make friends until our second year, and, just as I did, it was time to move again.

My dad packed up our minivan and drove it off with my brothers, leaving my mother and me behind for my sixth grade graduation. I hadn’t wanted to miss it. I sat through the ceremony, glad to be there, but as we were leaving, I could hear all of my classmates discussing which middle school they were going to next year, what they would be doing all summer, how they were going to stay friends forever. I cried in the car, and my mother — bless her — said nothing because there was nothing to say.

We went to her office to pack her things. I played on an extra computer and listened to the radio as I always did when we were there. I thought about the fact that “Phoenix” was coming out the next day and Mom had agreed to go with me to buy it before we boarded our plane. I tried to let that excitement fill me until it swallowed me whole as it had with the last book.

But I couldn’t quite get there. I thought about the plane ticket with my name on it stashed in my mother’s bag, and I wouldn’t let Harry solve my problems like he did when I was seven. It had been so easy to escape to Hogwarts when I had first discovered it, but my problems were more complex now. They seemed too big for Harry.

“…It looks like everyone is down here at Barnes and Noble waiting for the next Harry Potter book to be out at midnight!” the radio buzzed. “It’s a party with costumes, food, and games. You don’t want to miss this…”

I turned to stare at the radio. You could get the book at midnight?!

I gave my mother a sideways look as she packed up her office. She hadn’t noticed the radio announcement.

“Mom?” I said in my most pitiful voice.

“Yes?” she answered distractedly, thumbing through files. When I didn’t say anything she looked up, saw my sad, little face and softened.

“What? What are you about to ask me?”

“Can we got get Harry Potter Five at midnight?”

She gave me a hard look, no doubt sizing up how many points this would win her and if that meant fewer tears on the plane tomorrow.

“I’ll think about it.”

See Part Two in tomorrow’s paper.

Contact Lauren Chval at lchval@nd.edu

-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

archive

Growing Up Potter

Lauren Chval | Monday, November 7, 2011

“Goblet of Fire” was published when I was nine. Up until that point, I had been playing catch up with J.K. Rowling — I finished one book and then started tracking down the next, either by adding my name to the waiting list at my school’s library or pestering my mother to buy it for me. Book four, however, was the start of the waiting process that would stretch through my adolescence.

I finished “Prisoner of Azkaban” and then started the wait. “Goblet” hit shelves in the early day of July that preceded my turn through fourth grade, and I was more impatient for that book than the approaching days of school-less sun. I woke up just as it was getting light outside and waited some more — both for my mother to wake up and for the bookstore to open.

I remember that morning was sunny and breezy. We were there when the store opened, and I quickly found my treasure on the shelves. Harry Potter mania had not yet reached its peak in the pre-movie-franchise era, so there was no fancy storefront display. Just a beautifully illustrated cover nestled among the other books.

Mom would only buy one copy — for my brother and me to share. There was a little bit of tussling in the backseat on the way home as we fought over not only who got to read it first, but also who got to hold it and admire that swirling pastel cover.

Inspired by our painful wait, we had decided ahead of time to only read a chapter a day. The 37 chapters would put us 37 days closer to the release of the next book.

I can safely say that my time reading “Goblet” was the height of my love of reading. I took in every word with care and painstaking attention. When I finished my daily chapter, I would go back over the parts I liked or try to work through hints the book left me. I marveled in the language and the character quirks that had become familiar to me now, as if I were reading about the definitive traits of real people I knew.

Even now, rereading the book, it amazes me the power Rowling has to invoke emotion from her readers. Rita Skeeter’s articles enraged me at the age of nine and left me just as furious at the age of 20. One of “Goblet’s” main messages — that someone’s age should not lead you to underestimate them — is perhaps one of the main reasons Harry Potter was so successful. Even though Harry’s stories are written for children, Rowling does not talk down to them.

In “Goblet,” she has this 14-year-old wizard competing in deadly tasks with 17- and 18-year-olds. Now that I’m old, I laugh a little at the idea of a freshman in high school doing everything Harry does. In the earlier books, Harry was described as scrawny, and when I think back to the boys I started high school with, many of them were laughably shorter than I was. To picture a 5’4″, scrappy 14-year-old standing alongside fully-grown men and women in competition is also laughable — but at the age of nine, I had no doubt that Harry could do it. Rowling instilled that certainty in me. She had faith in the abilities —physically, mentally, and emotionally — of the young children to whom she was writing, and that made them have faith in Harry and themselves. It was, perhaps, this brand of Rowling’s own magic that made her young hero’s tale.

The fourth book was the right time to reaffirm that belief in the strength of young people, because it coincided with the point when Rowling’s story took a dark turn. Voldemort returns. It is something the books lead up to, but at the time I was as surprised as any of the characters. As Fudge says, he just couldn’t be back. A wizard who had caused so much damage the first time around that people in the present still wouldn’t speak his name was back, and neither Rowling’s characters nor I knew what that would mean.

From that moment on, Harry was thrust into a world where he wasn’t just famous for the horrors of his past, but famous for the horrors he would endure as a real person. A huge scale battle was about to erupt around someone immensely powerful and a teenager — someone close to my age.

I was scared for Harry, like Dumbledore, Hermione, Sirius, the Weasleys, and others readers alike. I thought he was outmatched. But I never thought, “He’s just 14, he can’t handle this.”

By then, Rowling had assured me that he could and he would. She showed me that neither dreams nor problems could be too big for teenagers to handle. And I would never forget that.

As he heads back to a summer with the Dursleys, Harry says he will face things as they come. And so would we, both in our troubled adolescent lives and in our magical worlds. When I closed that book 37 days after first holding it in my hands, I couldn’t have known it would be almost three years before Rowling blessed me with Harry’s next tale. By then, my patience had snapped, and there was no hope of only taking in a chapter a day.

 

-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

archive

Growing up Potter

Lauren Chval | Sunday, November 6, 2011

“Prisoner of Azkaban” would end up being my favorite Harry Potter book for years. It wasn’t until the sixth book was released and spoke to my romantic tendencies that another one of Harry’s adventures would overtake the book in which I met Sirius Black and Remus Lupin.

 

There are a lot of things going on in the third book. Hermione goes off the deep end when she tries to take every single class the school has to offer. She and Ron are always going at it because their pets can’t get along. Dementors make Harry pass out all the time, and in response, he learns how to do unrealistically advanced magic.

 

In the midst of all of these developments, what fascinated me the most were the two men who suddenly brought Harry’s parents to the forefront of his mind: Sirius and Remus, who had been James Potter’s best friends at Hogwarts.

 

Before then, the only time we really felt for Harry’s orphanhood was when he lived with the Dursleys, and when he gazed longingly into the Mirror of Erised back in Book One. Harry was too preoccupied with fending off Voldemort in the first two books to really dwell on the fact that he didn’t have any parents.

 

“Azkaban” changed that. Faced with the idea that their best friend had betrayed his parents, Harry realized he could have had a normal childhood. His parents could have taught him how to fly, talked him through his problems and taken him to buy his first wand. He could have come to Hogwarts knowing he was a wizard. Instead he got borderline child abuse at the hands of his aunt and uncle.

 

Enter Sirius and Remus, who treated Harry as some sort of mix between son and brother. They told him stories about what kind of people his parents were. They looked out for his wellbeing. They made personal sacrifices to better his life. For the first time, Harry got a taste of what it meant to have real parents.

 

As Harry considers how these parental figures fit into his life, I started questioning where I fit into my parents’ lives.

 

In the eight years of my life before I picked up “Azkaban,” my parents had been married, separated, divorced, pregnant and then married again. As a family, we had been in multiple different living arrangements, and because my brothers and I were so small, my parents didn’t always feel the need to explain the changes to us. I had talked with court-ordered therapists, school specialists and my professional babysitters, but never with my parents.

 

I was naturally a happy kid, and I tried my best not to cause more problems for my mother and father. Some children, when faced with change and divorce, turn angry and rebellious. I turned the opposite direction. But Harry had a tendency to make me examine my life, and for the first time I didn’t examine myself. I examined those around me.

 

Lily and James Potter had been a young couple in a troubled time of war, but they had loved their son and gave everything to protect him. In the end, that turned out to be their lives. My parents were young and troubled for other reasons. I can’t pretend that I know them — I certainly didn’t when I was younger. But in the years of constant changes, I often felt pushed to the side so they could deal with more pressing issues. I couldn’t be angry with them (it’s not in my nature), but I turned sad and lonely in my little life. I felt isolated, as Harry did. I had problems that no one seemed to understand, not even those closest to my world.

 

Harry is still lonely after Sirius and Remus enter his life; the fifth book alone demonstrated that with his constant yelling and brooding. Strong role models cannot solve everything, though they still reached out to him and supported him in ways he had not yet experienced and improved his life tremendously.

 

What I remember most from the third book is the recognition that I could find support in areas beyond my home. I have always had close relationships with teachers because they came into my life ready to get to know me and listen to me if I chose to trust them. At 8, I was desperate for someone to understand me, and that feeling didn’t end for a long time. Harry ensured me that it was OK to trust people who were willing to be there for you even though they had no genetic predisposition to do so. Those professional babysitters can sometimes be great listeners.

 

As I’ve grown, life has taught me lessons that are beyond Harry’s grasp: My parents love me as Harry’s did, but mine could sit down and listen when I finally decided to tell them how I felt. Emotional separation is infinitely better than a physical one.

-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

archive

Growing up Potter

Lauren Chval | Thursday, November 3, 2011

 After I finished “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” fully immersed in Harry’s world, I immediately began to seek out the second book. It proved a little harder than I imagined. Apparently every fifth grader in my school was on the waiting list at the library and my mother wanted to wait until Christmas to buy it for me. Christmas came early though, and the book was in my hands before any fifth grader had even reached chapter two.

To me, the second adventure was just as magical as the first. It wasn’t like some bad movie sequel where the feeling you get the first time just isn’t there — everything I loved was back, and the new things J.K. Rowling introduced rang true as well. There was more danger this time, and a threat that Hogwarts would be closed — a possibility that disturbed my eight-year-old mind as much as it did Harry’s.

But the biggest change between the first and the second books was the introduction of a new major character — little Ginny Weasley. The tale of how Ginny navigated that year would probably be even more interesting than Harry’s, as she was at the center of it all rather than circling the perimeter, trying to solve the mystery.

We rarely hear a thing from Ginny, though, because every time Harry is in the room she’s dropping things and turning bright red. Between that and her horrible singing valentine, it’s easy to pity Ginny throughout “Chamber of Secrets.” I didn’t, though.

I hated her.

Considering Ginny would eventually become one of my — if not my absolute — favorite characters, it’s odd that we got off to such a horrible start. 

I hated her for being shy and weak and I hated her nothing personality. She was related to Fred and George — how could she be so bland? Ron always had funny one-liners, and even Percy had a big personality, even if it was somewhat unpleasant. How could this girl have come from the Weasleys?

Rowling’s other main female character, Hermione, was quite the opposite. She was bossy and obnoxious, always 10 steps ahead of the boys in every area. She was first in their class, the brightest of her age, but still not above taking chances with her two best friends. Hermione was a good example for girls. I wanted to be Hermione.

But I was Ginny.

It’s possible that I hated Ginny so much because she hit a little too close to home. I was also painfully shy and awkward around my peers. I, too, often developed over-the-top crushes on boys who would never return them (do boys even return crushes at eight?). I realized — as Ginny told Tom Riddle she feels overshadowed by her brothers and is terrified of the possibility she’ll never live up to them — that I also had a brother problem.

I was facing the probability that I would never live up to my brother, who was two years younger, but twice as smart. Only in first grade, he was playing chess by himself while the other kids ate paste. His teachers encouraged my parents to let him skip a grade. If he was already surpassing me in first grade when I was supposed to have a huge two-year head start, how were the rest of our lives going to go?

So much as I fancied myself Hermione with my frizzy hair and messed up front teeth, the introduction of Ginny shot a lot of holes in that theory and pointed out my flaws quite glaringly. Harry Potter was supposed to be my escape. Harry was supposed to take me away from my problems, not shove them in front of me.

I didn’t process all these feelings so neatly at eight. I just established in my mind that I hated Ginny and that was that. She had no self-esteem and neither did I — she probably would have hated me too if given the chance.

Twelve years later, I’ve gathered just enough maturity to see that Ginny’s journey through the books was probably one of the most helpful aspects for me. We grew up together, Ginny and I. In a few years, she backed away from her family enough to make friends and go through a couple boyfriends. She developed the Fred-and-George sense of humor I had always hoped she had in her.

Ginny is independent and strong, and she might not have arrived at that point if Rowling hadn’t allowed her the grace of being a terrified 11-year-old. She emerged, sometime around the fourth book, a confident and mischievous young woman, but was all the more relatable because of where she came from.

I still get awkward at times, although much less often now. It happens the most around boys, who still sometimes don’t return my crushes. My brother is most definitely still smarter than me. Luckily, somewhere in high school, I emerged sarcastic and smart (enough) in my own right. I don’t have Ginny to thank for it. But I do thank Rowling for gently letting me know that everyone is allowed a little bit of a grace period.

 

-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

archive

Growing Up Potter

Lauren Chval | Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I was seven when I climbed into the green rocking chair in our living room with Harry Potter’s first adventure. I didn’t enjoy reading much because my brother Craig, who trails me two years in age, had been reading longer and was much better at it. I liked to stick to the things I was better at, like coloring and handwriting, and Craig could have those inconsequential little skills like reading and math.

The first page dragged for me, as did the second and third. I flipped ahead to see how long the first chapter was — 17 pages. The daily routine of the Dursleys did nothing for me. Mr. Dursley drives to work, yells at people, thinks about drills, buys a doughnut … I groaned and scrambled out of the chair to return the book on the shelf.

“What are you doing?” my mother asked sharply, coming out of nowhere as mothers do.

“It’s boring,” I wailed, hoping the sheer pitch of my complaint would deter her.

“That book is a gift from your grandma, and you will read it. At least the first chapter, missy.”

I sat back in the rocking chair, grumbling about my Miss Manners mother. I still had 14 pages to go, but it only took another four for Albus Dumbledore to show up on Privet Drive. No one ever had to bully me into reading again.

If Hagrid rescued Harry from a life of misery with the Dursleys, he rescued me from second-grade nothingness. I was so shy that every social interaction had me horrifically anxious and so scattered that one moment I was obnoxiously correcting other kids’ responses in class and the next forgetting to do my homework. I had no athletic talent to discover, no faithful sidekick to push me along — no great love of anything at all.

In the most over-the-top, cliché way imaginable, Harry changed that for me. I drank in that first book faster than anything I had tasted in my young life. I loved the world J.K. Rowling created for me, I loved the characters, I loved magic — but most of all, I loved reading. I had already received all the lectures about how important reading was in my young life. Teachers, assemblies, “Reading Rainbow” — they all stressed to me with almost frantic urgency how FUN reading was supposed to be, all the while books just felt like more homework for me to struggle through.

And yet, books were never the same to me after Harry. “The Sorcerer’s Stone” shoved me through the door to all literature, not just the kind written by J.K. Rowling. Almost overnight, I developed a passion for characters and words and stories. I immersed myself in Helen of Troy’s tragedy, the mysteries of Nancy Drew, and the quaint tales of Laura Ingalls. It is hard to remember a time after falling into Harry’s world when I didn’t have a bookmark in between two pages somewhere. In the next few years, I would come to love stories and characters so much that I wanted to create some of my own.

So it was Harry Potter who turned me into a reader and then, eventually, a writer. And as life complicates itself, the economy crumbles, and everyone tries to sway me from sticking it out as an English major, I remember that green rocking chair and the book that plucked me from my elementary school woes.

Over the years my parents moved us cross-country a couple of times, and somewhere along the way, we got rid of the rocking chair. But when I sat down to reread the first Harry Potter book at the old age of 20, I realized it was the same paperback copy my grandma bought me when I was seven. Some things, I guess, just stay with you forever.

Contact Lauren Chval at lchval@nd.edu