I admit it. Until recently, I was a bit of a snob when it came to all things Harry Potter. What was all the hype about? Why read Harry Potter when you could read Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series? Wasn’t Harry Potter’s world a mere derivative of Tolkein’s imaginative genius?
I’m not usually this way about most things. I’ve used popular culture references in my classroom, even in my dissertation. And I’m not a fan of making lists of “the books everyone must read to be educated” sort. I’d much rather discuss books in terms of what kinds of questions and concerns they invite us or challenge us to grapple with. Recently, one colleague astutely commented in a meeting, “Life is too short for great literature. Give me a good book.” I immediately wrote the comment down. At least to my ear, it suggests that, while we are debating whether or not a book is worthy of the classroom or of our own reading time, or while we are asserting a norm around aesthetic values that inevitably provides a limited sense of what stands as literature, we could actually be reading, experiencing, discussing a book.
OK, so back to Harry Potter? Why was I so resistant to this cultural phenomenon? Why was I privileging the LOTR phenomenon over this one? I discovered Tolkein’s The Hobbit back on that Boston Latin School Summer Reading List I mentioned in an earlier post. I was immediately smitten — the language, the landscape, the different types of characters, the journey. And how can anyone resist the brave and quirky Bilbo Baggins? Oh, how I wanted more! And, fortunately, the novel was connected to the LOTR series. Then, much later, came the movies, and they renewed my love of these books. I have friends who also share this love of these books, enough even to propose that we all meet later this year when the latest LOTR movie premieres, and that we can only attend if we each dress as a character from the books/movie. Geeky, yes, but oh so much fun! What LOTR is for me and my friends is very much what Harry Potter is for the generation growing up with the J.K Rowling novels, movies, and products.
So this Christmas, when most of the kids on my buying list — Logan, Lucas, and my three nephews in Boston — wanted all things Harry Potter, I delved into the world of Hogwarts and wizardry to figure out what a budding Harry Potter enthusiast would love to find in her or his Christmas stocking. I ended up finding wooden wands on Etsy (my high school students told me not to buy the regular commercial wands because they break too easily); the wands have the kids’ initials burned into them because, of course, as we learn in The Sorcerer’s Stone, the wand chooses the wizard. (Also, a less cool, practical reason is that these initials will quiet any fights about whose wand belongs to whom!). I compiled a few spells from the series that I found on-line and gave the kids each their own personalized book of spell.
This weekend, when we were in Boston, the kids all got together and played Harry Potter. They cast spells, defeated “the bad guys,” and dressed in wizard robes. The older two kids talked about the books. The younger ones listened. For them, these books and characters have made reading a social activity, one where they learn to socialize with their peers in part by sharing their love of reading and their love of imagining.
Now that’s a powerful spell.
Has Harry Potter cast a spell on you or your kids?