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 firstname.lastname@example.org