Ok, kiddos. Time for some real talk. I am a grown-ass adult lady who has never seen or read Harry Potter.
I know, I know. Half of you will stop reading this article immediately to rush to the comments section to chastise me thusly.
Let’s be clear, this is not because I am so staggeringly elderly that the series was out of my peripheral nerd range. I was the traditional greasy teenager in middle school when the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was released in 1997, and fully within the range of the target demographic for young Potter and his pals. I liked magic, I was a bit of an early age anglophile, and most importantly, I was the same age as the characters. These were kids who were going through school at the same time as me, discovering themselves and who they were against adversity. This should have been my hot jam.
However, I was embroiled in another fantasy series at the time. You might have heard of it.
You know, the other wildly successful book/film franchise written by a British person.
Growing up geeky, The Lord of the Rings had been my first induction into the world of internet fandom, and by the late 90s, whoa boy, was I in deep. I would troll the bowels of TheOneRing.net, LiveJournal and, for those of you who remember, Xanga, finding myself immersed in a community of high fantasy and lore that just spoke to me in a way that still affects my very adult life.
At the time of Harry Potter’s international release, my favorite books were in the throngs of making a sexy baby with my other great love, movies. I vaguely recall reading a few of the books, but my idea of high fantasy had already taken a lean towards more traditional costumes, swords, and dragons, and less wands and teen angst. As a result, I really don’t remember where I left off, or really much of anything about them.
While I watched the magic train leave the station in ’97, waving politely at my friends on board, I originally held no opinion one way or the other about what would become this international phenomenon of a series. It was just another magic thing my friends enjoyed, but I had my own fandom I was obsessing over, so there was no time for the new stuff. No big deal! It was really cool to grow up in a time where both of these series got huge blockbuster franchise films and people were just excited about being weird with magic.
Let’s fast forward to college, where my exposure to Harry Potter stayed pretty steady. I joined what was, on paper, a very traditional sorority. Pink and pearls, the whole nine yards. But many of these girls absolutely adored the Harry Potter series. It really had made this cross over from what would specifically be seen as nerd culture, to something more akin to pop culture. As a result they were incredibly inclusive of my weird, geeky tendencies, which was amazing. A few of the girls just really enjoyed the films and watched them in the house every Christmas. Some were obsessed with the books and knew all their house mottos and spells and the like. I heard through the grapevine that one gal currently has her own Harry Potter themed wizard band! I would have never gotten this amazing experience with these ladies, who I genuinely adore, if it were not for the Harry Potter series, even if it wasn’t my thing. How cool is that?
So before we move forward into this next bit, let’s take a moment to talk about manners, shall we?
Being a fan-gal myself, I know we of the internet have a tendency to see our loves with rose colored glasses, and as a result, defend them vehemently and vigorously. This is not a bad thing, but the words “No, you’re just wrong,” surface a lot when trying to open up this kind of dialog.
I was very hesitant to write about this fandom, as much of my experience on the subject of this gap in my “nerd cred” is met with the same response. I have paraphrased it for your entertainment, below.
“I have lukewarm feelings at best about Harry Potter”.
“Oh, ok. That’s a strange way of spelling ‘I murdered Jesus Christ with a pitchfork, a rubber band, and a dirty rag sloshed in lighter fluid’”.
Elephants are grey, but not all grey things are elephants. What do I mean by this? Not every experience is reflective of the bulk of the Harry Potter fan community or literature itself, but some of them are. The predominant exposure I have had with Harry Potter and the subsequent fandom has been purely speculative from my own experiences. I can merely speak on what I have seen, experienced, and felt. I’m not here to actively shit on anyone’s fandom, so let’s play nice.
Well, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about seeing Harry Potter in the wild when you have no emotional or childhood connection to it.
I never went back at watched/read Harry Potter. Why is that?
I think it started in 2004 when in SNL’s 29th season, they had host Lindsay Lohan perform in a Harry Potter themed sketch. The plot of the sketch was about how Harry’s friend Emma Watson had a growth spurt over the summer, gained breasts, and the subsequent result was the boys of her house trying to get her to do sexualized movements in order to ogle her in the uniform. I had never seen anything like this with the Lord of the Rings fandom. I also wore a school uniform at the time. Watching adults fake boners over what was supposed to be a young high school girl was very uncomfortable to me, even if the actress was technically an adult. I was old enough to grasp the idea of what fetishization was, but still too young to realize its full implications.
When Emma Watson “finally turned 18”, as many entertainment news sites put it, I was disgusted to go on the internet that day. It made me think back to every older blogger/podcaster/super-fan I had ever seen dressed as a Hogwarts Professor at a comic convention talking to a vastly younger fan in a Hogwarts uniform. Some of those memories were not great. The implications had come full circle.
As a result, I hit a resounding wall where any desire that might have existed to go back, re-read the books or watch the films, was completely eradicated. The whole affair seemed mired in something dirty that I personally didn’t want to associate with.
I saw the final films come and go in theaters, having personally skipped out on them myself. All of my friends were devastated that it was finally all over, and I told them, innocently, that I could totally relate. I had filled the One Ring shaped hole in my heart with other fantasy novels, the occasional Renaissance Fair, as well as a (debatably) healthy dose of World of Warcraft. I was ready for this. I could get them through it.
But after a decent amount of book searching and media pulling, I discovered that there was nothing I could really offer them to fill that hole. There were a few novels here and there. Lev Grossman, for example, published The Magicians in 2009, which many have called a direct response to the Harry Potter fantasy genre. I realized though, that there really was nothing else quite like Harry Potter. After being so resistant for all of these years, this revelation… intrigued me.
But as only time can arrange, as the Harry Potter franchise was on the decline, the Lord of the Rings franchise was kicking up again. Needless to say, I got a little distracted. A year after the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II I was rewarded for my nine years of waiting on bated breath with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
All I heard about Harry Potter after that was sound bites from writer JK Rowling on the internet. These consisted of her explaining that there are totally gay characters in her books without actually having written any directly into her stories, as well as complain about her own romantic pairings of characters and apologizing to fans about them. It seems… like she’s a bit of an odd duck.
So, why am I telling you all this?
Why should you care about some weird lady who’s clearly never really given Harry Potter a chance? How can a lady with such a cold robot heart ever experience the joy of magic, friendship and Christmas ever again?
If you love these books/films and sat through this whole article, don’t worry. You have a chance to do your fandom some service here.
You guys, I think I finally want to try.
I want to watch through all eight Harry Potter films and see what the big deal is, and I want you to take this journey with me.
Both major periods of hype for these franchises are over. I mean, a new play just came out, but from what I understand, it received the same mixed reviews from the internet The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey did. I think we’re finally at level playing field here. Due to my distinct avoidance of this franchise for so gosh darned long, I realized I had the opportunity to look at it through a completely different lens.
Also, because I have avoided it for so long, I think I’ve finally hit the point where my very minimal frame of reference for these stories will be genuinely entertaining. This is the extent of my current knowledge…
My boyfriend tells me he is Badger people. I have been told by others that this means I should buy him all the paste he can eat.
I have also been informed that I am Snake people. This seems to shock no one I tell.
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.
So over the next few weeks, I will be watching all of the Harry Potter films from the perspective of the OTHER other side of high fantasy. As a devout Lord of the Rings nerd and high-functioning ”Dungeons & Dragons” addict, I want to come at these films as an adult and see how well they hold up to the longstanding academic standards of the genre, without the bias of nostalgia. Looking at different fantasy archetypes from the more traditional works and asking, how does Harry Potter fit in? Or, with it’s intense hold on popular culture and unique modern framing, (no going back in time or being transported to truly out of modern time medieval styled realm), is it truly the staple head of its own fantasy sub-genre?
I also want to see if there are legit dragons in it because why would you write a fantasy anything and not put a flipping dragon in it?
So if you’re a Harry Potter fan, follow along for an interesting introspective! Never seen the films before either? Welcome! Thank god I’m not alone. It’s going to get cool, weird, probably sometimes a bit ranty, but overall, I promise it will be magical. Join me for Mel at the Movies: A Harry Potter Experience!