November 21, 2010 “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light”
I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 this past weekend, and the experience brought back waves of nostalgia.
I first heard of the Harry Potter books when I was 11 years old and still attending a French school in Quebec City. It was the spring of 2001, and the first four books in the series had already been released. But with my imperfect French and my peers’ imperfect pronunciation of the English name, I didn’t have a clue of what everyone was talking about. It wasn’t until we moved to Edmonton, Alberta a month later that I finally clued in. Since I was still not fluent in French and I could barely speak English at the time, my most proficient language remained Chinese. So I downloaded the first four books in Chinese and began reading on my home computer. It was a long summer with nothing much else to do in this new city, so my days were spent with my eyes glued to the computer screen, taking in the magic that was Harry Potter. If you ask my mother, she will still blame Harry Potter as the reason my vision got bad and needed glasses the following school year.
I was obsessed. “I’ve changed my name,” I wrote to a friend back in Quebec, “to Hermione” (I was quite serious). “Hermione?” She obviously had not read the books, “I’m not sure I know how to pronounce that” (neither did I, at the time, but that didn’t stop me). I waved around a dowel like a wand, and I was quite sure that I just didn’t know how to master my magic yet. I wore a tiny glass bottle around my neck filled with “magical” glass beads that would grant me wishes. I drew pictures of the characters, printed out quotes (in Chinese) from the books, and visited the official Chinese Harry Potter website religiously every day. I stared dreamily out my window, half expecting an owl to bring me my acceptance letter to Hogwarts. But to my disappointment, it never came.
At the start of fall, we moved again to Langley, British Columbia. My English had improved vastly over the summer, and as soon as I thought I was competent enough, I begged my parents to buy me the books in English. They reluctantly obliged, suspecting that the series was already doing enough damage to my mental state. I read the books every night before going to sleep, sometimes way past my bedtime, dimming my lamp so much that I could barely make out the letters (this probably did contribute to my worsening vision). Since I hadn’t made any friends yet at my new school, I dragged my dad to the theater to see the first movie with me.
I remained a dedicated fan for the years that followed, eagerly awaiting the release of each new book and film. Mugglenet became the website most visited by me, and I even did a short stint translating Harry Potter news into Chinese for the official website I used to frequent. I did more fan art (including a few I’m proud of even today – see below), wrote short fan fictions, and even fan poetry (yes, poetry).
The summer of 2007 was devastating. The book release of the Deathly Hallows and the film release of the Order of the Phoenix came within 10 days of each other, and I had to miss both. I was away at a summer program, and the coordinators were strict about keeping us on campus and focused on the program at all times. A few of us spoke about sneaking out at night to see the movie, but were too scared to be caught to carry out the plan. So as soon as I got home, I went to buy the book (I got the second last copy at the store!) and see the movie. It was the last book, and I told myself to read slowly to savor it, but I couldn’t help but finish it within 2 days (my reading speed when it came to Harry Potter never failed to astonish my mother).
A strange feeling of emptiness washed over me as I turned the last page. I’ve always felt this way when I finish a series of books – Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables – but this time, it was particularly strong. It had been six years since I started the books, and I literally grew up with the characters in them: I was 11 when I began the books and 17 when I finished. Harry Potter was a veritable part of my life, an essential part of my childhood. I knew I could always count on it for an escape when reality got too harsh or mundane. It was a good friend that was there for me at all times, when things got lonely at each new school I attended. Despite my childish attempt to change my name earlier, Hermione remained a role model for me, especially when things got difficult when I was perpetually “the new girl”. She helped me focus on my studies during my adolescence and to learn to pride myself on my intelligence, not my looks. These characters that I grew up with, they were like friends to me, friends that I lost touch with after the books ended, friends whose lives I long to learn about now.
Now there is only one more film left before it’s all over. By the time the Part 2 of the Deathly Hallows is released next summer, it will have been a full ten years since I was first introduced to the world of Harry Potter. Ten years. It’s incredible how a mere story can stay with you for half your life. At the same time that I’m anticipating the release of the last movie, I can’t help but feel a bit of sadness to see it all come to an end. But I know that it won’t be over: all seven books are still sitting in a neat row on my bookshelf back home, waiting for me to open them, turn their pages, dive into the timeless adventures. Harry Potter is timeless. And that’s the magic of it all.