It’s been a long time since I last entered a blog entry under this series—2016, in fact. So the time is ripe for a re-visit, which could be said to have its beginnings in May, when my now 17-year-old son and I decided once and for all—for we had tried this before—to re-read the entire Harry Potter series, start to finish. I’d initially started it in college and continued on, not yet interested in the movies as they began to appear while the book series was still being written. I started re-reading when I was expecting this very same boy. When he was about four the final installment burst onto the scene, enthralling this little turtle to no end, even though he had experience only of the debut novel from me reading it to him.
I can still see his sweet self, so small as he sits straight up against the fat pillow on my bed, his little legs stretched out in front of him, the enormous Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows laying on his lap. We had acquired it the night before at Borders, and he is wearing the glow-in-the-dark white Harry Potter glasses they’d given him. His enormous eyes peer out from behind them, reminding me why so many people are so inclined to give him freebies all the time. He’d walked away last night with three pairs of glasses and two posters. (We still have them.)
When I tell that story nowadays he is apt to chime in with, “That’s not even the largest book at 759 pages, whereas The Order of the Phoenix has 870.” The kid has a mind like a steel trap and so when, a few months ago, we began talking about the movie series and he was able to remind me of so much I had forgotten (which has also happened before), I was enthralled by how much he’d retained. I understood how a teacher friend of mine felt, when Turts was in first grade and I’d been reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to him and a friend. He summarized the entire book for her in an articulate fashion that wowed her then, as his summaries and fill-ins do me now.
Even more so given that neither of us had really watched or read in a few years, something he mourned about a little. “It was such an important part of my childhood.” I laughed inside a bit at such a young person using that phrase, but understood where he came from. I remember his pride in having finished The Sorcerer’s Stone in first grade—all by himself. His adoration of the few HP themed items he had, for in Alaska we don’t see much of that kind of thing in the shops, and I personally didn’t then know they existed—not until one day in a thrift store I came across The Monster Book of Monsters, a furry book replica of that appearing in The Prisoner of Azkaban (for the longest my favorite in the series). We’d been Christmas shopping and I was absolutely thrilled to find it—but my gushing came also from the realization that outside of Alaska probably existed an entire universe of Harry Potter products. (Until then we’d really only seen the sort of merchandise that appeared in Barnes and Noble.) Perhaps not unlike the Alice in Wonderland shop I’d discovered during a long-ago trip to Manhattan, a botique in which much more than teapots were sold, and everything was decorated with something Alice related.
In the end, we never really acquired much of it, though I admit sometimes seeing some items gives me a thrill as I recall Turtle growing up with Harry Potter and the conversations the series engendered. I told him so much, you see, starting before he was even born, and Harry’s adventures and scrapes related to so much in real life, including some of what Turtle has experienced in his. No magic, of course, at least not the sort requiring wands, but many others, such as the Harry-related games we played; how he purchased a wand for me to protect myself when he went to a friend’s sleepover; that he and Lilli (his aforementioned early playmate) used to call who they were when preparing to watch one of the movies (“I’m Harry !” or “I’m Hermione” – I myself always liked to call Luna); funny passwords we made up to go in and out of certain rooms; or the Harry-themed school Explorations he excelled at.
There also was the bullying. As a small child he didn’t quite know what to do about these situations, and when he got into trouble he didn’t immediately make the connection that what the bully had pushed him into led to these breakdowns. These were kids who were as unknowing as I was when encountering the enormous intelligence packed into such a small person who was sometimes bossy or didn’t quite catch on to social cues, on occasion getting lost in the shuffle. In some ways he turned to Harry, though I suspect not merely for the escape. He truly was advanced in intelligence (as we later learned), and so I wonder at times that he was, even then, analyzing the world he read about and was able to bring it to bear on his. He couldn’t put spells on his tormentors, but he did learn to assess people more critically and to choose very particularly who he would let become close—to be like Harry, who chose his friends based on mutual value and consideration, rather than popularity or intimidation.
Because Turtle had to be taught some social cues that most people understand innately, he came to rely on these analyses to help him get by. I can remember very clearly a first-grade classmate whose rudeness to his own mother shocked me. As with the bullies, Turtle didn’t catch the looks they exchanged, nor the tones of voice. But he had other ways to learn, if a bit more difficult. For instance, the boy had a borrowing scheme he employed on Turtle at book fairs: “You should get this book; it’s so good,” then ask to borrow it. He came to understand the connection, especially recalling that the boy had remarked one day that there weren’t any other books he was interested in. He later refused to allow his acquaintance to copy his math answers on a test and the boy subsequently latched onto someone else.
Turtle mightn’t have understood social cues and indicators, including ones that gave the warning signals he needed, but he recognized a pattern when he saw it, partly (I think) from natural inclination and partly from his own examination of the cohorts he observed in the Harry Potter books. He spoke of them frequently and once asked if he was stupid for having to experience being “used” to realize this boy wasn’t interested in his friendship, only what he could get from it.
“Oh, my dear boy, certainly not. Many people much older than yourself don’t catch on, even when it happens more than once. Some do, but they don’t have the courage to do anything about it.”
“Well, I wasn’t really sure. I wondered what would happen if I didn’t let him cheat off my paper.”
“Then, my love, you scored a double victory. You chose honesty even though you had a feeling he might not like it. You’ve knocked out a mountain troll and lived to tell the tale!” At this point he only understood certain symbolism, typically from seeing it acted out—and this one he had. And it thrilled him that I referenced a Harry Potter movie line. Though not exact in verbiage or parallel in experience, it reminds me of how Harry and Ron became friends with Hermione—one of my favorite chapter endings in the entire book series, in truth.
“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.”
In the following years he did indeed choose companions well; some of his friends today are ones he has known since early childhood, and they are a great group of kids. They don’t all love Harry Potter movies or books, which certainly contributed to his moving away from the series for a while. Kids grow, they encounter other or additional interests. Being at home, however, quarantined and unable to mix with his friends, also certainly influenced his return to the story. He spoke wistfully of reading in general, how he hasn’t been doing much of it, particularly Harry Potter, and we had a looooong conversation about that.
Turtle is something of a second-generation Harry Potter aficionado. He wasn’t yet born when the books initially exploded in popularity, and has always regretted not being around for those first B&N midnight release parties, where just about everyone dressed up as a character. He understands that the kids who read the books as they were released grew with Harry, and though this is also true of those who read the books later, he often points out that they are just reading “history,” grow that they might. The first generation experienced it in the 90s, at exactly the same time Harry and his friends did. “Do you know why they started releasing the books at midnight? Because kids would skip school to go buy and read the books,” he claimed. He says he will always miss those days, if it is possible, he adds, “to miss something you never experienced.”
More to come on our re-reading of this fabulous series, so stay tuned!
Some interesting tidbits about Harry Potter
Author J.K. Rowling’s website