I need to vent something, folks. Indulge me.
Okay, here it is: I’m not a Harry Potter fan. In fact, I don’t really like Harry Potter very much. I’ve read some of the books; I’ve seen the movies. I’m familiar with the fandom, and I understand it, understanding fandom at large. Indeed, in my life, I’ve had my own experiences of fandom. No, really, I have. If the absolute, unvarnished truth must be told, there was a time in the 1980s when I wouldn’t leave the house if I wasn’t going to be able to be home between 7:30 pm and 8 pm and able to watch PBS channel 44 out of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, I had a pen shaped like a sonic screwdriver, and I did, in fact, knit fandom scarves (which were, I’ll add, the last thing I knit before I swore off knitting for 20 years or so). Yes folks, it’s true; in my adolescent and teenage years, I was without a doubt a hard core Doctor Who fan. Not to mention a comics collector. So there’s no high ground for me here in this vent. I by no means think anybody isn’t entitled to their fandom, of whatever variety.
But, like I say, I’m not a fan of Harry Potter. I have found the books to be juvenile and somewhat remedial from a fantasy reader’s perspective — which is of course fine, since they’re children’s books. I think I’d have loved them when I was a kid, and been thrilled not to be the only weird kid reading fantasy and science fiction. But all in all, I find the books to be a little bit trite, high school social melodrama couched in a mildly fantastic setting with a liberal dash of a thematic element which never fails to please the teenage, being a misfit with super powers who must save the day against the wishes of both The Man and The Bullies.
As far as young adult fantasy is concerned, I don’t feel Harry Potter has the oomph of a number of other books I read between ages, oh, 8-14. A partial list would include The Chronicles of Prydain, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series, Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, Earthsea, Pern, Aahz and Skeeve, or slews and slews of Alan Dean Foster books. And that’s not even getting into the science fiction side of things!
Some of the books on that short list are dark, brooding; some are thoroughly light-hearted. Personally, I’m especially fond of the ones steeped in things Arthurian, in part because there’s absolutely no end to the Arthurian reading one can do, and there are centuries worth of stories and versions of those stories, none of which were pushed past focus groups and carefully marketed to sell quick and formulaic spin-off products. And, were my son to presently be obsessed with all things Arthurian, or with the Mabinogion, I suspect I’d be far less burnt out on it than I am on the way all our household conversations lately seem to go like this:
“Hey, do you have any suggestions for dinner?”
“Yes mom, and did you know that Professor Umbridge really, really has it in for Harry, and this is partly because she is evil, and that’s why she’s seizing control from Dumbledore?”
“You don’t say. Nope, I didn’t know that. So what did you want for dinner?”
“Also, the Petronas charm is really powerful, and when dementors are after you…”
Now, I’ll be honest. We’ve faced this with other childhood obsessions. And like I say, I’ve had my own. My mother (and I think my niece) reads this blog, and I know for a fact she’d never let me get away with pretending I didn’t ever walk around explaining how Davros was the progenitor of the Dalek race, who came from Skaro and fought the time war against the Time Lords of Gallifrey. Like I say, I admit it. And even if my mother didn’t call me on it, there are other folks reading this who also could (hello, Ayse!).
Yes, we have faced Spongebob obsession, for example. And Spider-Man. And Pokemon. But these have all paled in comparison to the Pottermania, and there’s one major reason why: none of those things have also been an obsession for vast numbers of adults in the world as well, at the same time.
At no point, for instance, has the town I lived in made a concerted effort to turn itself into Bikini Bottom. But starting Friday night and going through the weekend, the little train line in town, which is a tourist draw, will be remaking itself as the Hogwart’s Express, with packages including a “start-of-term welcoming feast” to take place at local landmark The Golden Lamb. And I’m not kidding about town on the whole:
Diagon Alley: Historic downtown Lebanon will transform itself into Diagon Alley. A program of participating merchants will be provided to direct you to the Harry Potter Activities.
There’ll be no getting through town. I mean, I thought it was bad when they did Thomas the Tank Engine, but the whole downtown area didn’t turn into the Isle of Sodor (yes, we had the Thomas obsession back a few years ago too).
And it’s not just town. I can’t argue with any of the businesses doing a Potter-themed shtick; if I had a yarn shop by the train station, I’m sure I’d be selling Weasley sweater kits and materials for Slytherin scarves. I fault no one for the mania. But man, I can’t escape it, you know? It’s all over everybody’s blogs, all the mailing lists, every imaginable business is having a Deathly Hallows sale of some kind or another, the counselors at my son’s camp are talking about it, it’s all over the TV, the radio, the newspaper… augh!
You know what it reminds me of? One time, some years ago, I was watching the NBA finals, suddenly, things cut to a shot of a white SUV being followed slowly by some cop cars. I couldn’t believe it. O.J. Simpson? So what? Tell us later, there’s a serious game going on here, folks! And then it just kept going; every water cooler, every barroom conversation, every random person on the bus, every cashier and clerk and stranger and relative and just… everybody, all the time, nonstop talking about the stupid Simpson trial. You couldn’t get away from it. It was like the rest of the world had decided for me that I MUST CARE ABOUT THIS.
But you know what? I didn’t; I really didn’t. Yes, I’d have read the news about it. But I didn’t care about it to the point that I wanted to talk about it with every single person ever, hear about it nonstop, be unable to engage in my normal day to day life without “Have you heard the latest OJ news?”
Similarly, I just plain don’t care about Harry Potter. I don’t care if this is the last book. I don’t care who dies. I don’t care if Snape really is evil or not. I don’t care if someone spoilers it for me. I wouldn’t even be buying the book… except for one thing. One. Thing.
Isn’t that a good kid? Look at him go.
I started madly, compulsively buying books for him about a week after finding out I was pregnant with him. I’ve been taking him to the bookstore for mother-and-son fun for his whole life. We work hard at keeping him in reading material. He can’t sleep without reading first. Everybody knows he loves to read. He’s proud of how much he loves to read. And right now, he’s obsessed with this whole Harry Potter thing about which I simply do not care.
Except for the fact that he does. Except for the fact that I’ve spent his entire life acting as a reading enabler to a degree that arguably surpasses even the fibery enabling I do for a living.
So, tomorrow night, instead of staying home and enjoying a quiet Friday in my recliner, knitting or spinning, ask me what I’ll be doing. Go ahead. Ask. Okay, don’t ask; I’ll just tell you. First, I’ve already reserved his copy of that book. Second, I have to go at 5pm to a bookstore on the other side of the worst rush hour traffic in the area, and get a ticket that assigns me my turn to be in line to pay for the book. Then at sometime-after-9pm, during what should be his extended-late-night-summer-reading-on-the-way-to-sleep time, pile him into the car, head back to that same bookstore, let him party party party with whoever else is there for this obsessive fandom scene, wait our post-midnight turn, acquire the book, and come home well after my bedtime.
Oh, the misgivings and anguish! Why couldn’t he want to go to, I dunno, a Star Trek con? Maybe anime would be easier. I might rather camp out for Grateful Dead tickets. But I’ve told him we’re doing this, and we’re doing it. And Saturday, from the moment he wakes up until he’s finished that book, well, I guess I can sleep in, and build up my mental strength for hearing all about it.
There is obviously no force on earth stronger than a mother’s love. I’d have thought there was no force powerful enough to make me go to a midnight book release thing of ANY type, let alone for a book in a series I’m thoroughly burnt out on hearing about. I should probably call up my mother and thank her for a few things. In fact, we probably all should; there’s doubtless a long list of things just like this that our mothers did for us and we never thanked ’em.
I’m telling myself over and over that it’ll be fun. Or I’ll get lots of knitting or spinning done while waiting in line. Or something. Keep me in your thoughts. And I’ll take any survival tips anybody has.