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Harry P, I Hardly Knew Thee

Reflecting back on 14 years of viewing this whole thing from the way-outside.

I am a veteran of precisely two Harry Potter Midnight Madness events.

First, in July 2007, I convinced the owner of the small bookstore where I work part-time to host a midnight sale of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." She said the event was mine, as long as I costumed-up and dressed the part (which I did with feeble results).

Then, on Thursday night, I was hired to photograph the festivities surrounding the midnight opening of the franchise’s final theatrical installment, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2."

But even though I have once donned a red and yellow scarf, wielded a broom, worn psychotically-round non-prescription spectacles and Sharpied a zigzag onto my forehead, I have never read a Harry Potter book, nor seen anything on screen past the length of a teaser trailer.

This revelation always makes me feel like a terrible pop-culturist.

The thing about this is that I do not necessarily hold any personal qualms against the Harry Potter franchise, nor do I wholly disdain gratuitous commercialization (Disney World is and always will be my favorite place on Earth), nor do I hold any sort of struggling-writer resentment towards J.K. Rowling’s outlandish success, nor do I have any negative feelings towards the foundations of wizardry, or the teaching/blatant promotion of said wizardry.

It’s because of my sheer outward indifference to all things HP that I am so often chastised by the HP-savvy public for never delving head-on into the full smorgasbord of books, movies, and serious self-costuming.

And I can’t really seem to find the right excuse that will alleviate fans' negative perception of my never having read or watched anything Harry Potter.

Mainly, when I find myself in these heated discussions with a HP-enthusiast regarding my crimes against pop culture, I explain to the fan that really, I’d love, love to get involved with the whole HP frenzy, but it just seems like such a daunting task to take on; hours upon hours of book-reading and movie-viewing await, and Harry Potter just seems like it has to be an all-or-nothing venture.

After hearing this plea, the 10-year-old Potter-wunderkind I’m trying to validate myself to in the above-mentioned bookstore shakes their head, places their fists on their hips, and walks away grumbling about my naïveté. The child’s parent more often than not follows suit.

(In fact, I also had a bit of a run-in with management while photographing Thursday’s midnight premiere, in which when I inquired with one of the theatre’s higher-ups as to whether I could get a photo of the crowd bottlenecking past the ticket-stub ripper-upper guy, the manager-in-question said basically that my press credentials did not grant me such a high level of clearance, so I assured him, “Look man, I’ve never read a HP book, never seen a HP film, so I promise I won’t sneak in with my hulking flash-heavy camera to start things off with ‘HP and the DH Part 2 of 2’,” to which he responded, “I’m afraid I can’t let you back there…at least not without a ticket.”)

When I bring up the argument of time consumption, however, all fans of all ages always assure me of the same thing, which comes out sounding something like this: “Aw, don’t worry about taking up too much of your time. The books go real quick because they’re so fast-paced you can’t put them down, and you can shine off the movies in a single sun-up to sun-down day if you’re game for that kind of thing after having spent a whole week calling out of work sick because you’ll be so enthralled by Harry Potter that you will risk financial life and limb to consume it all in a solid week’s time.”

This collective response troubles me a bit, because I don’t think I’ve met a single fan who has said anything along the lines of, “Hey, it’s amazing stuff, but really, take your time with it. It’s a lot to digest all at once, as it is the production end of an incredible woman’s even more incredible imagination, and it should be sipped the way fine wine is sipped, rather than slugged the way crap beer is slugged.”

It’s just hard for me to see why I would want to soak up such an ingrained part of such a tremendous worldwide phenomenon – 14 years worth of what I’m sure was immense authorial strain and pressure on J.K. Rowling’s part, plus the exhaustive work of a staggering production crew and slew of actors who the whole world has essentially watched grow up – in just a week’s time?

What value does this all hold, how precious is this whole frenzy, really, if that sort of time compression is possible, and achieved so easily?

Furthermore, the hot new two-word phrase of the week seems to be, “It’s over.” A phrase which, sadly, misses the entire point of why we print books, why we digitize movies, why we keep paintings and ancient documents behind glass. Why we restore vintage cars.

It’s as though since I wasn’t a part of this whole phenomenon in real-time, unfolding with it as it happened, I’m not allowed to open the door and step into it albeit late and enjoy it at about the same pace as everyone else did.

This argument, too, is unsettling, because then what does that say about those of us who may want to crack open Dickens at the first snowfall of the year, or to hold the blanket up to just under our eyes as we scare ourselves to the classic thrillers of one Alfred Hitchcock.

What about our ability to laugh at Abbott and Costello, good old Monty Python, or anything Mel Brooks? All of us who wish to love these classics all fall into the same cultural category: we discover and cherish these works well after their time, and we often find ourselves returning to them again and again.

God willing, should I make it to old age, maybe I will pick up a copy of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (or upload a copy into my brain, whatever the trend may be, which actually again would be yet another purpose-defeater), and discover what all the kids at Hogwarts were up to all those years ago.

It is called, Hogwarts, right?

Kara July 17, 2011 at 12:57 AM
Dan! YOU HAVE TO READ THE SERIES. You don't have to see the movies, but at some point, you have to read the series. Not for pop culture's sake, but for literature's sake. Twilight is a phenomenon (in the icky sense) but HP is an instant classic. As far as savoring it like fine wine -- go ahead and try it, but honestly, it's more like going to a wine tasting when you're dehydrated and suddenly there are two empty bottles in front of you and you're like, "What just happened and why am I so dizzy?"
Catherine Galioto (Editor) July 17, 2011 at 01:06 PM
Right there with you, Dan.
Sharon Nixon July 17, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Loved the Article Dan and I am like you. Some day when I have the time to really sit and enjoy the books I will read them. I saw the first two movies with the kids when they were little but have never read the books. Its on my "bucket list".
marpel July 29, 2011 at 08:11 PM
Don't forget the commercial side of Harry. Consider these treasures from the mid-summer edition of the Harry Potter Gotta Have It Catalog! Hermione Body Potion-Lotion, Dark Arts Chocolates and more. See other Harry stuff at the whimsical Thinking Out Loud, http://marperl.blogspot.com/2011/07/latest-harry-potter-products.html

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