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Sunday, 17 July 2011

Harry Potter and the End Of An Era

I was late to the Potter Party. I was given Goblet Of Fire as a Christmas present by my Mother on its release. I'd heard about Harry Potter, of course, but had never taken the plunge to actually look into whether it was any good. I had been told that, even though the books followed on from each other, you could hop onto the story with any of the four books that were in print, since each followed a different main story. 

So I read Goblet Of Fire are loved it. It was something a bit different, I thought. It's about magic and adventure, but there's something almost old-fashioned about it all. All the characters had old-people's names - I'd never known a Ron younger than 60 - and even the nasty, spiteful school children seemed to have pretty good manners. It wasn't particularly well written; there were so many cheesy lines that could only have been written by a non-male, non-child, non-wizard... But I liked it! I wanted to know more about these characters. So I tracked down a boxed set of the first four books (giving me two copies of Goblet Of Fire) and set about catching up.

I didn't really enjoy the first two books. The stories were thin, despite painting a lovely picture of the world in which these characters lived. They were clearly children's books - the size of the fourth volume had led me to believe they were a bit more meaty than the usual fare kids get written for them - Philosopher's Stone and Chamber Of Secrets were a bit "adventure by numbers". But in context, they were great little scene-setters. And I was 14 - in my mind I was a fully fleshed out adult! I read both in about three hours. 

Then I got distracted. I left Prisoner Of Azkaban aside and went back to my comic books (okay, ALMOST a fully fleshed out adult). It was only when I started hearing whispers among my friends of how brilliant the new Harry Potter book was, but it was a shame there wasn't more "Serious Black" in it (I didn't know what that meant immediately) that I realised I was missing the third chunk of story! So I began reading Prisoner Of Azkaban on my way to school one morning. By the time I went to school the next day I had finished it - I was ready to join in and talk about SIRIUS (not Serious) Black and how amazing he was too. I was hooked. These were kids books yet other people my age (and older) were in love with them! These were awesome kids books that even a mature and sensible fourteen year old like me could read! WITHOUT being laughed at!

Three years later, the sixth-former Me was an expert on all things Potter. You ask me something about it and I'd give you a wordy and detailed answer, followed by a smug smile. I'd forgotten all about how rubbish the first two were - I was a Harry Potter fan. I would remain so. I would read those first four books to death.

When Order Of The Phoenix was published in 2003 I dived in. I sat in my sixth-form common room, skipping lessons all over the shop, reading and reading and reading. My first observation was "Harry Potter is suddenly as arsey and stroppy as me" and I felt closer to him than ever before. I was - really - too old for these books. I didn't care; "books are for everyone", right? Around about the time I first got hooked on Potter, Warner Bros released a movie version of the first book. I watched it (after reading the book, obviously) and liked it, but it wasn't exactly how I'd imagined the world to look. A second movie followed, again, not quite right for me. But I stuck with the series - both in book and movie form - I was a fan after all! I finished Order Of The Phoenix in a week. It was, I thought then, one of the best books I'd ever read. This wasn't true, of course. It was still only "fairly well written"... 

But the magic these books hold isn't anything to do with how well written they are. It's all about how YOU imagine this world. Some argue that the books are very well written. You're entitled to your opinion by all means, but I've read books written so much better than these. However, I have never read a book that gave me characters I later came to think of as friends. 

I must be the only person to have bought The Deathly Hallows while intoxicated, taken it to a club where an engagement party was being held, read it under the disco lights from cover to cover and remembered none of it come the following morning - so had to start over again. I bought two copies of Half Blood Prince and to this day I don't know why. The Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows are, unquestionably, the best books in the series. The best written, too. I fell in love with the characters from all seven books and it's a love that has lasted all these years. It's difficult to believe that these characters have been in our lives for almost 15 years! That's over half my lifetime! Okay, I haven't had them in MY lifetime that long, but it's not far off. And even though the series is now over, movies finished, books closed, these characters remain a part of our lives. I've heard people talking about having to say goodbye to Harry, Ron, Hermione... There's no need to!

I can't be the only one who has been moved to re-read the entire book series, re-watch the movies all over again, now that I know they're all I will have? I thought, at one point, that these were just okay-written kids books that I was reading because others seemed to like them. How wrong was I? These books are a huge part of my teenage years. I wish I had discovered the books immediately and read them in order on release. 

The books remain vastly superior to the movies but the movies have their own charm. They brought Harry Potter to those who couldn't or wouldn't read the novels. Harry Potter is now one of the world's most successful brands. What began as an idea on a train turned into the world's most loved phenomenon. I was a part of that - just a small part. One tiny mind being filled with magic and muggles, danger and fun. I'm proud to be able to say "I remember when Harry Potter started". I'm proud to be able to say "I read all the books, saw all the films". And I'm proud to say that, one day, I'll read them all over again to my own children. And they'll love them too. Because it's very difficult not to, even though, quite honestly, they are just okay-written kids books. I'm on Goblet Of Fire again now. That's where it all started for me. I'm loving every page just as I did the first time I read it. And the second time. And the third, fourth, fifth...