Nitwit, Blubber, Oddment, and Tweak: A Few Words on the Potterverse
I guess I will always be late to this party — or more accurately, on time and skeptical.
Over the past few weeks, as grief-stricken Harry Potter retrospectives have cropped up across the Internetz, my response has been more raised-eyebrow than recognition. People, I find myself thinking, Harry Potter ended four years ago, when we closed the last new book. It ended four years ago when we logged onto fandoms and said WTF, epilogue — (even though we were secretly grateful for the information contained therein.) It ended four years ago when we laid to rest the last of the darlings Rowling let fall.
I mean- to the extent that it ended.
I will hold fast to my claim that Harry is books first and movies second. Or possibly movies- like- eighth. (Seriously, do not even talk to me about that travesty Warner Bros. called Order of the Phoenix). But — all truer-fangirl-than-thou fingerwagging aside — the reflections that have, in recent weeks, exploded across the blogosphere underscore for me the second point: that Harry did not end, four years ago or this past week. No matter how reluctantly I read them, the tearjaggers and hearttuggers posted across the web ultimately remind me (yet again) of all these books have meant to us — and all they still might mean.
It’s not about whether this is the best-written series of all time. It’s not about whether JK Rowling needed an editor, or why we spent three chapters at the campsite in Book 7, or how disappointed we wer when the order of James’ and Lily’s appearances in Book 4 turned out to be error rather than clue. It’s not about these things because — our forever-in-her-debtedness aside — it’s not about JK Rowling.
It’s not even about the books. (Although, it really, really is more about the books than the movies.) It’s not about the 4195 pages (US) and 67ish translations read voraciously and reluctantly by an unfathomably broad cross-section of people. It’s not about the way I slogged through Book One wondering why two of my most respected lit geeks had bothered to recommend it, only to discover the relevance of every apparent tangent and attack Book 2 with newfound energy. It’s not about the fact that I still remember the exact cushion on the exact loveseat of the exact room where I stayed up past two after Hermione revealed the time-turner in Book 3. Nor is it about the fact that no one ever pre-ordered a book for me before Goblet of Fire, or the fact that I never before had to manage quite the same balance between “make it last as long as possible” and “devour it now.” It’s not about my undying love for Book 5, whiny all-caps Harry aside, my immense gratitude for a hyper-popular YA book that attacked fascism and authority, as well as loss and the way it changes vision. It’s not about Book 6 and the way I still plug my ears whenever someone mentions what supposedly happened to Dumbl–he’s alive, he’s alive, lalalala, he’s alive… Or the summer visit my sister and I spent reading Deathly Hallows on the Caltrain and how I had to try not to grieve Dobby too openly, until she could share the tragedy with me — minutes later — on a platform that was not 9 3/4.
It’s not even about the characters. It’s not about my friend with the Sirius tattoo — (her “strumpet stamp” as she calls it) — or my absolute willingness to declare myself a faghag for Dumbledore. It’s not about the level of verklempt that wells up in me, to this day, when Lupin talks to Harry about his parents, about how badly I want to sit in his office eating chocolates, or how I long to pet Fawkes while Albus gently cracks open my life. It’s not about McGonnagall’s epic blend of imposing dignity and flexibility in favor of the good — or what it meant for her to be one of a thousand BAMF females in the Potterverse. It’s not about the fact that I long ago reimaginged April Fools as the birthday of the Weasley Twins or how I’d go bi for Neville Longbottom. It’s not bout brave autonomous Ginny who snogged boys and dumped them. About Hagrid, who carried me — with the infant Harry — across the skies of London on Sirius’ motorcycle. Or about Luna, who taught me to see upside-down and through death. It’s not about how Hermione was the smartest witch of her age — and still more than that intellect, still a Gryffindor. About Ron’s triumph over sidekick status, or even about our young man who, one day, turned eleven, and — on another — defeated dark wizardry at no small cost.
It’s not about these characters, — or at least, it’s not about them as such. It’s about the fact that they’ve stuck longer and deeper and more across-the-board with us than any other cast. It’s not about the books, so much as the astounding number of times we’ve reread them. Harry Potter began as the story JK Rowling created, but it’s become, now, the story of what her series has created in us.
I love the Harry Potter canon. I love what’s actually contained in those seven books, eight movies, and two charity textbooks. I love that good triumphs over evil almost as much as I love the difficulty of defining those terms, the challenge of a world we can’t easily divide into good people and death eaters. But I love the imprint of these books even more. I love that my peers have read the series as a call to action in Muggle-world reforms to prison systems and slavery. I love the fan art and fanfiction the books have inspired; I love the fact that a YA series created its own musical subgenre. I love Harry Potter most, it seems, for the part that will live on longest: I love Harry Potter for its fandom.
Not the constant branding of all things red and gold with the face of Daniel Radcliffe. Not the ridiculous amount of money raked in by Warner Brothers and Hot Topic and anyone else who thought to release anything, absolutely anything, with a Gryffindor seal. But the fandom. That place where Harry’s alternate universe spawned others, where we inserted ourselves as Mary Sues and moderators, where — our deep-seated love for Tonks aside — we gently explained to Rowling that Sirius/ Lupin would always be the OTP. In the fandom, our reading of the books moved from a passive experience to an active effort; we rethought characters, pairings, and outcomes. We grieved deaths and denied them; we projected our own longings, loves, and losses across the Hogwarts landscape.
Fanfiction and fandom in general are highly denigrated. They’re knock-off arts as accessible to n00bs as to masters. But Harry Potter inspired more than weepy teen-age fantasies about Harry or Hermione or Ginny or Ron. It inspired us to view Rowling’s world as so much our own that we could comfortably alter and author it. And in revising Harry’s world, we’ve gained new awareness about how we want to rewrite our own.
We are the next installment, housemates. We open at the close.