Harry Potter Week: I don’t wish to be such a Raven-bore but

anniversary, books, fans, Harry Potter, harry potter week, J K Rowling, ramblings, rants

So we’ve reached the end of my Harry Potter themed week on my blog and the final ramblings about the series. I’ve offered you an overly emotional review of my history with the books on Monday, a rant about Harry himself on Tuesday, a rant about Dumbledore on Wednesday, and a hard-hitting investigation into the terrible conditions at Hogwarts yesterday. What do we have in store for today? Well I don’t know. I could easily offer up another rant about how awful Snape is (really why do people respect him so much? Bravest wizard I know? For fuck’s sake!) but this week was supposed to be about a celebration of the books that changed so many people’s lives. These books have been so great in helping us all grow up and will continue to help youngsters for a long time yet. So I want to take another moment to look at the fandom as a whole. Just think back to just over 20 years ago; what was the world like? We didn’t know what Quidditch was. We didn’t have a handy way to divide ourselves up by random personality traits. We didn’t know about the sheer badassery of Professor Minerva McGonagall. These books were a magical and changed literary history. Yes, JK Rowling may have been incredibly lucky to get published (let’s be honest, these books shouldn’t have been the hit they were) but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve her success. I just wish she’d know when to stop.

Okay, before you start, I promise that this won’t turn into another rant about the author but, it’s got to be said, she’s publicly changed her tune more than Theresa May at this point. Now, I think JK Rowling is a wonderful human being and has done many fantastic things in her life. She lived a difficult life and managed to turn her life around thanks to her idea for a series of children’s books. She’s done a great deal to help a lot of people and has given more than her fair share of money to help people in need. She’s an absolute hero and I salute her. However, I stand by my continued assertion that she isn’t a great writer. It’s something I’ve seen more than ever recently in rereading the first novel. It’s painful to read it now I’m 20 years older. I’ve always said it but I’ve also always said that she improved. If you don’t count the epilogue anyway.

However, she is beginning to suffer from something I want to call “George Lucas syndrome”. Rowling just doesn’t know when to stop. Way back in 2012 I was ranting about Rowling’s continued confirmations that she was done with the series. And now we find ourselves faced with a play that half the fans love and the rest hate. Then we have another series of 5 movies in the same universe but set decades before. This is all fine except for two reasons: number one, the majority of us had already said goodbye to the books; and number two, Rowling was so adamant it wasn’t going to happen. For me, personally, I’ve never been able to forgive Rowling for being so shady when it comes to the continuation of the series. It’s been painfully obvious from the start but she always said it would only happen if she had the right story. Then Pottermore comes along and every other week she’s posting new information about characters or places in the wizarding world. It just feels as though any old shit is good enough for her these days. But what about the fans?

Now, I’m worried about sounding like a hypocrite here because in January 2016 I wrote a defence for George Lucas by saying the fans didn’t own Star Wars so their feelings don’t matter. I stand by that. Star Wars was Lucas’ child so he could adjust the films as he saw fit. Just because we are fans we can’t dictate how things are. I understand that JK Rowling can add to her universe as much as she wants and that is okay. I wish she’d be honest about it but that’s just me. However, I also think she has to understand that the Harry Potter fandom is a different thing altogether. It was the first major fandom that grew up with the internet. It was the fandom that changed fandoms as a whole. Star Wars fans made up their own stories and had their own conventions, yes, but Harry Potter fans had a convenient place to do it all: online. The Harry Potter fandom was a community in a much more immediate way: geography was no longer an obstacle.

The Harry Potter fandom is a fantastic thing to be a part of and has always been a celebration of something magical. It was a fandom that, when waiting for the stories to come out, came together to create our own universe. We finished the stories ourselves and created some very divisive ideas. There were major gaps in the original novels, particularly in terms of diversity, that many wanted to fill themselves. Yes, I might not be a Drarry shipper but I can see why it would fill a hole that is missing from the series. The only LGBTQ representative within the novels is Dumbledore but that was a half-arsed inclusion post-publication. I always felt this was a pathetic attempt by Rowling to show diversity and believe that if it’s important that Dumbledore was gay it should have been addressed in the books. Of course, with the continuation of the Fantastic Beasts films, it looks set to become a theme.

The great thing about Harry Potter fans is that they felt so comfortable to think outside of the written word. There was so much scope within the pages to see things you wanted to be true. It’s the thing that means some people see the fact that Remus and Sirius “embraced like brothers” to mean they’re good friends whilst others see them as mega-hot lovers. When there is so little canon to work from it leaves room for these things to be true to every individual that wants them. If JK keeps releasing new material it limits this. It would be fine if the new material was all of the same quality as the books but, it has to be said, that it isn’t. I’ve ranted enough about The Cursed Child but it’s a story that is mostly about its staging. It is also a story that places Bellatrix and Voldermort’s child into the canon. I know people make cases for this based on flimsy Deathly Hallows evidence but I can’t get on board with it. Not in that time frame, anyway.

Harry Potter is one of those things that is uniquely personal to everyone involved. JK Rowling, herself, has admitted to wishing she’d done things differently but felt she had to go with her original plan. That’s what was so wonderful about the end as it was: everyone could see the future as they wanted. There were so many unanswered questions that you could answer as you wanted. Every additional piece of material released, film or book takes the control away from the individual. It seems quite un-Potter like. Still, the other great thing about being a Potter fan is that it doesn’t mean anything. We’re a resilient bunch after all. We’ve spent 10 years pretending that the epilogue doesn’t exist so I can go my whole life ignoring the fact that Voldermort has a child.

Okay, so this was a little more ranty than I’d intended but that’s another thing about Harry Potter fans: we’re all incredibly passionate and stubborn. It’s been a great 20 years all in all.

Harry Potter Week: Sorry Albus, don’t let the Dumble-Door Hit You on the Way Out

anniversary, books, Harry Potter, harry potter week, J K Rowling, ramblings, rant, rants

As someone who spends a lot of time internet window shopping for geeky goods, it seems to me that you can’t really go anywhere without seeing Albus Dumbledore being quoted on something. After “Always”, which is something I’ve discussed briefly in my rant about Severus Snape, Dumbledore quotations are the most commercially viable of the Harry Potter franchise. People wishing to seem deep love nothing more than plastering his words of “wisdom” all over their houses. However, I’ve always felt that Dumbledore’s soundbites are just trite and overly simplified adages. People just eat that shit up. They love the guy. Dumbledore always reminds me of the Tim Minchin song ‘The Fence’. Readers are so quick to want Dumbledore to be good because they need someone to be the opposite of Voldemort. They need the world to be that binary but it doesn’t exist. There’s a part of the song about the Dalai Lama that goes:

He’s a lovely, funny fella,
He gives soundbites galore
But let’s not forget that back in Tibet,
Those funky monks used to dick the poor, yeah

It just reminds me of Dumbledore. For all his talk of socks and sherbet lemons, there is darkness hiding beneath Albus Dumbledore that comes out when it needs to. He has so many secrets throughout the book that show just how far away from a perfect hero he was. Just because the guy manages to say something that sounds deep once in a while people just seem to ignore all of the shitty decisions he makes. Well, not any more, my friends.

As I’ve already suggested, the Harry Potter books have one fatal flaw and that is that they are from Harry’s perspective. This means we all see things as Harry does and his opinions are the ones that run strongest throughout the narrative. We are encouraged to hate the characters that he hates and love the characters that he loves. Most importantly being Albus Dumbledore himself. Through Harry’s eyes, we see the Headmaster as a bright-eyed, kindly old man who cares about Harry deeply. And not, you know, a reckless old man who left a young baby on the doorstep of his abusive family.  Most importantly is the discovery that Albus has been secretly leading Harry down a path that would eventually lead to his death. He basically grooms an 11-year-old boy to become the kind of person who would happily lay down his life for the greater good. He forces Harry to become a hero whilst taking no responsibility for putting the boy in harm’s way.

Dumbledore has always known that Harry will probably have to die to destroy Voldemort. After all, he’s always known that there is a piece of the Dark Lord’s soul within the Boy Who Lived. He has suspected as much from the moment he first heard the prophecy and has only had it confirmed as time went on. Did he tell Harry this? Did he fuck! He, instead, decided to protect the boy’s innocence and keep it a secret. I guess this is a noble thing to try but you’d think anyone who saw that Harry wasn’t going to back down easily would say “now is the time to confess”. Dumbledore should probably have told Harry about the prophecy from the start but he definitely should have told him after the events of the first book. Harry needed to know why Voldemort was after him and what that could entail. It would have saved lives.

Dumbledore acts as though he cares about people but, when it comes to the fight against Voldemort, everyone is just a pawn in his war. He’s the perfect General. He sees that Snape is afflicted by his love for Lily and manipulates him into changing sides and acting as a spy. He also doesn’t bother to convince Harry that Snape is a good guy even though Harry straight-up hates him. Because he doesn’t actually care if Harry and Snape like each other. Dumbledore only cares that they play their parts. And, talking of Snape, he totally lets the Potions Master get away with bullying his students and being completely unfair towards his own house. Snape is, when it comes down to it, a psychopath who hates children. The worst person to be a teacher. Plus, I know he was supposedly worried about Voldemort and shit but anyone in their right mind would realise Harry and Snape were not the best occlumency buddies. If you need Harry to learn the skill it doesn’t matter how good Snape is if they never get through the fucking lessons. This fuck up caused Sirius’ death, you dick!

… Anyway, Harry sees Dumbledore as a hero up until the final book when he finally discovers the truth about his past but even then it makes very little difference. Nothing Dumbledore does is ever questioned by Harry and his loyalty is so unflinching that Fawkes comes down to the Chamber of Secrets to help Harry. It’s crazy to me. Dumbledore was always a fairly suspect character even before we found out that he wanted to help wipe-out muggles solely because he wanted to fuck Gellert Grindelwald. (Hey, I know we’ve all done stupid things for love but that really takes the cake.) I mean almost every single school year he cancels final exams and awards random House Points when students have blatantly disregarded the rules. He shows a clear bias towards Harry and his friends and has an obvious loyalty to his own house. So much so that, after years of Slytherin winning, Gryffindor ends up with the house cup basically every year. Dumbledore is basically like your racist grandfather: he’s ultimately quite funny and generally harmless but you don’t want to give him any real responsibility.

Now I get it, I get it. Dumbledore isn’t bad; he’s just human. Well, that would be okay if he wasn’t aware that he was doing the wrong thing. He admits that he knew a lot of the decisions he was making were harmful but he did them anyway. Human beings make mistakes for noble reasons or because they don’t realise. Dumbledore is the guy who always talks about making the choice between “what is right and what is easy” but can’t live by his own words. When he lies to Harry it’s not the right thing to do and he knows it. He wants people to stand up to Voldemort but he is unwilling to make the right sacrifices. His quotes, far from being deep and meaningful, are just further proof of his manipulation. As he says himself:

Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.

With his words, he has the ability to get the whole of his students, heck the whole of the wizarding world, to stand up and fight for him. He doesn’t even have to live by them himself. He doesn’t have to do anything but spout trite nonsense at people. He’s got the whole wizarding world fooled that he’s a great man but he’s actually an evil genius. Words are powerful magic that can manipulate people and, let’s not forget, Dumbledore is the greatest wizard that has ever lived.

Harry Potter Week: The Girl Who Read

anniversary, books, fucking, fucking awesome, Harry Potter, harry potter week, history, J K Rowling, ramblings

When I turned 20 I was at university and I had an epic night out with a load of my flatmates. It was a typical university style night out and we all got super drunk. It was during the days when people still took digital cameras on nights out (yes I’m super old) and I took a shit ton of photos. It’s safe to say, as the night progressed, things get less pretty and my eyelids droop ever lower. My 20th birthday was a fantastic night out but the next day I experienced my first, grown-up hangover. Literally the day I turned 20 my body stopped being able to just get up and go after a night out. I was dying. I’d never felt as old as I did that morning. I doubt Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone woke up this morning with a banging headache and feeling super nauseated but I bet it felt old. I mean I fucking do. The first Harry Potter series was released 20 years ago. I’m nearly 30 but it still feels like yesterday that I first read about the boy who lived.  How did this happen? Imagine if I had another night out like my 20th birthday… I probably would die at this point. Jeez.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t read The Philosopher’s Stone when it first came out. ARGH! I know. This probably makes me less of a Harry Potter fan than you. But it’s fine. I actually got the book one year later, in 1998. My father bought me a copy of the first adult edition and I’ve never looked back. It was during the time that Harry Potter fever was infecting the nation and I vividly remember one of my teachers bemoaning the fact that I was jumping on the bandwagon. She was a massive bitch and I ignored her. Ultimately, I didn’t care because I loved the book. I was 10 years old and I’d never read anything like it before. It had everything and I read it obsessively. I’d always been involved in reading as a child but it was my twin sister who would ingest books in a single sitting. This series turned that around. I wanted to read for fun and I wanted to read for long periods. It was the first time I remember not wanting to stop reading because I was desperate to see what happened.

We didn’t realise 20 years ago that the whole landscape of literature was about to change with the release of the first 500 copies of JK Rowling’s debut. When you look at the lists of people’s favourite books ever, it’s highly likely that Harry Potter will always top, or at least be near the top, of a reader’s most loved novels. They have overtaken such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Lord of the Rings. Despite everyone being convinced it wouldn’t take off, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has reached an insane amount of people all around the world and has got so many children into reading. I have some intense views about Rowling nowadays (see my many old school rants) but I will always respect what she has achieved. She found previously unknown success through writing and has inspired generations people: young and old.

That’s the great thing about Harry Potter. It was the first time that children’s fiction also became super popular for adults. It was the first time I remember my whole family being invested in the same book. I didn’t really think about it at the time but it was a really binding experience. Every time a new book came out I would read it first and then it would be passed round my entire family. We would discuss the books and would all share in the excitement and sadness that ensued. The majority of my friends read them too and we would talk about theories together all the time. I remember writing to a penfriend and theorising over who the Half Blood Prince was before the book came out. We wrote fucking pages about the books in our correspondence.

I only ever queued up at midnight for the final book but my friends and I did it together. It was a really great night. We went to a friend’s house, got food, and messed about with our homemade magic wand (they were literally just sticks from her garden). Then we headed into town and stood in line with all of the eager kids. I admit that I was in that period where I (mistakenly) felt a little too cool to be doing it and I forced my friends to leave their “wands” in the car. However, I’m so glad I did it. The day after we’d all finished reading it I remember going out with the same friends and we all just felt numb. We genuinely didn’t know what to do now it was over. We’d dedicated 10 years to this story and it was just finished… and with such a terrible epilogue. I didn’t know what to feel. I was a mix of sad, happy and kind of angry.

Which is why I think my feelings towards the series have cooled off a bit now. You see, unlike a lot of fans out there I haven’t obsessively reread the books every year since I first read them. I think it’s partly because, after I read the final book, I was done. It took so long for me to get over the book that, when I did, I wanted that to be it. It sounds really fucking stupid but it was like a breakup. There was so much pain that when it eventually went away I didn’t want to risk getting back to that feeling. Also, if I’m honest, I’ve never managed to get all the way through the first 2 books again. They just feel so childish now. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t love them. After all, they have shaped my life in such a massive way and in ways that I probably don’t even realise. Just as they have for so many other people.

After all, these books aren’t just fun children’s literature. They taught us all so much about life. It’s not a glossy and lovely Disney world where everyone is happy and good always triumphs over evil. This is  a story where awful things happen to good people and they struggle to go the right thing. We saw discrimination at work and we saw the oppressed standing up for themselves. The thing the book’s did most of all was offer hope. It showed that, no matter how awful things get, with people by our side we can get through anything. The books don’t sugarcoat life for children but inspire them to keep going. It’s no wonder that so many studies have shown that fans of the book show an increased sense of empathy towards others. They taught us that difference isn’t something to rally against but to embrace.

What has been so lovely in the run-up to today is the amount of people sharing memories about the books. On Instagram there are Harry Potter related posts everywhere and people from all over the world are bonding over one series of books. These books are decades old and they are still bringing people together. Writing this post has forced me to look back over my time in this fandom and it’s actually been quite emotional. I forget just how massive a part of my life this was. Little silly memories come back to me and it’s wonderful. I grew up with these books and will always have a place for them in my heart. I’ve since moved on to bigger and better novels but Harry Potter is about so much more than the writing. Yes, JK Rowling wasn’t the best writer but she improved in every new book. Yes, her ideas weren’t original and she took bits from other work. That doesn’t matter. Harry Potter doesn’t survive because of the quality. It survives because of how is makes you feel. It’s nostalgic and charming but it’s also important and embracive. It’s a community that, admittedly, sometimes can be a bit brutal but is somewhere you always have a place.

I was 10 when I started reading and I was 19 when it ended. I had grown up with this series and my love had only grown deeper with each book. I dabbled in both reading and writing fanfiction. I bought merchandise, played the video game, and went to see every film. I signed up to Pottermore immediately. I’m 29 years old now and I still can’t get enough. Harry Potter was my first fandom before I even knew what a fandom was. It’s something that I am so glad to be a part of and am so grateful to my father for buying that book. I’m not trying to be melodramatic but who knows how different my life could have been. I studied literature at university and I’m pretty sure these books pushed me deeper into reading. I have made so many friends over these books and continue to make connections because of them. There’s been times when I’ve kept my love of the series quiet because I feel too old for it now. Or played it down with friends who don’t share the love. Not anymore. As I’ve already said, I’m pretty fucking old now and I’m at an age where I don’t give a shit. I’m a Harry Potter nerd and there’s fuck all wrong with that.