I received Harry, a History – appropriately named, as my eldest son points out, like the fictional Hogwarts, a History – from my sister-in-law, Tenille. The author, Melissa Anelli, is the webmistress for The Leaky Cauldron, a mainstay in HP websites. I credit (or blame) Melissa, along with Emerson Spartz of MuggleNet, almost solely for my Harry Potter obsession. Technically, Tenille, my husband, and my life circumstances in 2005 all contributed to the obsession, but really, the root cause lies, in my opinion, with Melissa and Emerson.
See, I’d always refused to read the HP series. I knew next to nothing about it, just that it was about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard and goes to school to learn magic. I knew it was extremely popular, and I’ve never done well with uber-popular things. It sounded lame, and I refused to read it. But then the sixth book came out, summer of 2005. Tenille was home for the summer, and she pestered Jason to read the series (he’d always refused to, too). When he gave in and came home with an armful of HP books, I groaned and knew it was time for me to give in, too.
Couched in rural Wisconsin, I somehow managed to never hear a single spoiler about the series. I was as pure as a first time reader when #1 came out. I began reading Sorcerer’s Stone and immediately complained. I did not go into it with an open mind. The writing was awful, I complained; see, I knew I wouldn’t like this. It didn’t take long for me to slip into the wizarding world, though, and soon I was rushing through all six books as fast as I could. Over the next month and a half, I was immersed in HP land.
That would have been the end of it, really. I had no plans to read the books more than once, even though I liked them. I spent a couple restless nights after the end of book six, trying to reconcile myself to the events at the end, until I came up with a reasonable explanation in a dream one night that made me feel much better (and which turned out, two years later, to be 95% accurate when Deathly Hallows came out). After I became reconciled, it was over.
And then Jason came home from work one day, and said, “Did you know there are people online who are Harry Potter experts?”
He showed me the Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet. I saw the recent interview between Melissa and Emerson and J.K. Rowling. And somehow – probably due to my stress from selling a house, living with my in-laws, and soon moving across the country to Texas – I jumped at the information. I decided I would also become a Harry Potter expert. I had no designs to one day meet Ms. Rowling or anything. I just needed something to obsess over in order to deal with the many stresses that were on me between August ’05 and May ’06. And so I read. I bought my own copies of the books – the only books I owned that weren’t packed and in a storage shed for 6 months – and read them over and over.
Between July and May, I read the first six books 15 times each. Since then, I’ve lost count, but know I’m somewhere around 25 readings for each of them, and about 7-8 for the last book. Every time I get bored or stressed or nostalgic, I go back to the series, usually at least twice a year. I’ve become a walking Potter encyclopedia. I have huge chunks of the books memorized, word for word. I use the books as a grammar check if I come across something I’m unsure of when writing. I have friends who come to me if they need to know anything Potter. I never did become an expert like Melissa or Emerson – their expertise extends outside the realm of the books alone – but on the books themselves, I know tons.
Which is why getting Harry, a History from my sister-in-law was so much fun. I loved this book. I learned so many things about the Potter world that I never knew before. Here’s a sampling of the stuff I discovered:
1) How/why the New York Times Bestseller List split into multiple lists.
2) The real story of how J.K. Rowling came up with Harry Potter. Two stories are commonly bandied about on this subject, and now I know which is real.
3) The correct pronunciation of Rowling (like “bowling” – I’m going to have a hard time remembering that…).
4) Wizard Rock. I’d heard of this before, but didn’t realize how huge a phenomenon it was. Thanks to MySpace, I’ve now heard lots of wizarding songs.
5) The “shipping” wars. It’s amazing that a war existed on who would end up with Hermione – Harry or Ron. I suppose because I’d read through book 6 the first time, I already knew, and thus was never bothered by the issue.
6) Censorship. I dare anyone who has actually read the books to say they reinforce pagan values rather than Christian ones. Sometimes overtly Christian ones.
7) Chinese unauthorized versions of HP, with titles like Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-to-Dragon. The excerpts from these are hysterically funny. I wish they were published in English for the pure humor value.
8) Harry Potter midnight release parties. These make my pre-Potter party before Deathly Hallows look really lame.
There is so much more in this book, and Melissa’s enthusiasm for the Harry Potter world is catching. I want to thank her for her dedication to the books and for turning me into the Potter dork that I am. I highly recommend this book for any and all Harry Potter fans. Now, I’m itching to go to LeakyCon 2009 in Boston in May, but sincerely doubt I’ll be able to afford it. Grr.