Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Three Harry Potter Questions

Janet Batchler over at Quoth the Maven has posted three questions about Harry Potter which she found originally on two other HP-related sites. It's a bit of a Harry Potter meme!

I posted my answers in Janet's comment section, but they got so long that I thought I'd post them here too.


1) How/when did you become a Harry Potter fan?

I came late to Harry Potter. Somehow I missed almost the whole, early phenomenon, maybe because I was in graduate school and didn’t yet have a child! I think it was probably not long after Goblet of Fire was released that I first began reading the series. A friend loaned me Sorcerer’s Stone, but loaned me a heavy dose of literary snobbery along with it (“well, you know, it’s not Tolkien”). I hadn’t heard of the religious concerns that had been voiced by some, so that wasn’t an issue, but I admit I went into the first book highly skeptical because I knew it was so popular. I figured anything that popular must be pandering to the lowest common denominator of its audience’s taste and intelligence (how’s that for cynicism?!).

I liked the first book but it wasn’t until a few months later that I really became a fan. By then I’d had my baby, and I was home a lot with her, nursing her and getting in lots of reading time. I picked up Chamber of Secrets thinking I would finally get around to reading the second book, since I had enjoyed the first more than I expected. Somewhere in the first few chapters of Chamber, something clicked in my heart and mind and I just fell in love with the story and its characters. I read the whole thing very quickly, then went out and bought POA and GOF almost immediately. By the time I’d finished POA, I was definitely a big fan. It’s still my favorite book in the series.

The last two books have been very different for me, because I’ve waited for them along with everybody else, taken part in reading groups and discussion forums, and also come to them with a background of reading some of the secondary literature that’s sprung up – especially John Granger’s work. I found his work very early because the librarian at our seminary, where I was then working, had met him and purchased his first book on HP for our collection. I gobbled that right up and it opened my eyes to deeper qualities in the books that have enriched my many re-readings.

2) What was your first reaction (physical and/or mental) when you read the scene in which Snape killed Dumbledore?

I wasn’t stunned that Dumbledore died, because I had expected that. I was stunned, however, by the identity of his killer.

I don’t know what made me weep harder (and I did weep, sitting there on my couch) watching along with Harry as his wise and beloved mentor was blasted off the tower, or watching Snape make what I then believed to be an irrevocable choice to turn back toward evil. I know everyone has theories and speculations galore about Snape and his allegiances, and I’ve had my share, but my FIRST and immediate reaction to the scene was the feeling that Snape, who had been given so many second chances and so much forgiveness by this gentle, gracious man, had finally given into the darkness that had always been a temptation for him and made a terrible choice. When Dumbledore said “Severus, please…” I really thought he was begging him not to make such a wrong and terrible choice.

As I’ve re-read the scene since, I think my tears often come at other moments than the actual killing, especially those moments where we see Dumbledore, so true to himself and his loving nature until the very end, offering dignified speech and tangible mercy to so many.

3) How/when will you read Deathly Hallows?

I’ve pre-ordered at a local bookstore, and actually hope to get to the midnight release party with my husband (if we can find someone willing to babysit that late). We’ve never gone to one, and we figure this is our last chance!

If we can’t make it to the party, we’ll go early the next morning and pick it up as soon as the store opens. I’ve asked for a “Harry Potter Day” as much as possible, with plenty of hours just to go somewhere quiet and read. I don’t know how realistic that is, but we’ll see.

After I read it once, I will start it again and read it aloud to my husband, as that’s been our pattern with pretty much every book. I only hope I can stop myself from talking about the book with him before we settle in for the read-aloud. I’m afraid I let slip way too many spoilers before we read HBP aloud. (Probably my weeping on the couch gave away lots all by itself!).


Would love to hear others' thoughts on these three questions!


Erin said...

Okay, I'll bite...

1) My aunt gave me the first book for my 18th birthday in 1999. I'd never heard of Harry Potter before. I figured it probably was pretty good - my aunt's an expert when it comes to picking out great books - but as I recall I set it aside and didn't decide to pick it up for a month or so. And then I started reading, and I think it was when Hagrid showed up again that I was really hooked. I think I got Chamber of Secrets shortly after finishing Sorcerer's Stone; I remember reading it out loud to Nathan and having a lot of fun with Lockhart... Anyway, Harry hooked me pretty early, and I didn't start hearing the criticisms of it until several months later, by which time my opinion on the series was firmly decided.

2) I wasn't too surpised that Dumbledore died; it seemed almost inevitable, since he was the most powerful protective force in Harry's life and in the wizarding world at large, so removing him really would make the final stage of the saga especially difficult for Harry. I do think I was pretty startled that Snape did it. I was hoping he would do something at the last minute that would somehow protect Dumbledore and get Malfoy off the hook. It pretty shocking to see him just fire that curse off point-blank. Even at the time, though, I had my doubts as to whether this proved Snape ultimately evil, largely because I hated the thought that Dumbledore's compassionate worldview was faulty...

3) Either I'll buy the book from my aunt's store and start reading it over the weekend or I'll wait until we get back to Erie and start reading it on Monday. Decisions, decisions... Part of me wants to stretch it out as long as I can, but I don't want to accidentally find out what happens either...

Beth said...

Yay! Thanks for playing. :-)

Seems like almost everybody else knew Harry before I did! How neat that Hagrid was the one character to pull you in and keep you in. I have a feeling Hermione might have been that character for me.

Your response to Snape on the tower seems much more level-headed than mine! It took me a re-reading or two to begin to really get my mind around the idea that perhaps not everything was as it seemed on the surface.

I wonder if there have been other books that people have agonized over how and when they will read... it's like we're all plotting reading strategy, and hoping to read it in optimum conditions, sans spoilers!

Kambria said...

Here are my answers:

1. I was absolutely convinced I'd hate the books and that they were useless teen fluff. A professor (one I didn't like much at all) offered extra credit for reading books 1 and 2. I reluctantly picked one up and started reading. I'm not sure how long it took for me to decide that I had been completely wrong, but I'm sure it wasn't more than a couple chapters. I've been hooked ever since.

2. I was aghast when Snape killed Dumbledore. It completely blindsided me--perhaps not so much Dumbledore's death as Snape's (assumed) betrayal. Like you, I've read the myriad theories. I'm still not sure what to think about Snape.

3. We're going out of state camping on the day of the release, so we're hoping to make the midnight release party. Otherwise, we'll stop somewhere along the way...it's a 9-hour trip; I'm sure there will be a bookstore *somewhere* with the book still in stock!

Beth said...

I'm glad I wasn't the only one who started out as an HP skeptic. :-) "Teen fluff" is a good way to characterize my worst fears about what the books might be. I am so glad we were all wrong!

Big Ben said...

Ooh, interesting . . .

1) Honestly, I don't remember hearing all that much about the Harry Potter books until Goblet of Fire came out, and even then I still had this idea that it was, if not "teen fluff", then certainly for younger kids and teens. (Not that that's stopped me before; I reread Narnia almost yearly). Anyhoo . . . this is a little embarrassing, but I finally borrowed Philosopher's Stone from, um, a ten-year old, and read it right through on the way to a wedding. I was hooked immediately. It wasn't so much the writing itself, although I definitely feel that Rowling is a great storyteller. I was drawn in by the characters, for one thing. For another, as much as I feel that Tolkien and Lewis are far superior writers (a feeling confirmed by rereading The Silmarillion), Rowling shares their ability to create an alternate world that feels accessible. I always sort of actually half-believed that I could get to a place like Narnia, and the legends of Middle Earth seem like stories that could inform our own history. I think that Hogwarts, too, appeals because we almost feel like it could exist.

Blah blah blah . . . so anyway, I ran out and bought the next three books, read them in sequence, and have been eagerly following the books and films since then. I heard the Christian criticisms of it afterwards, and thought that to be fair, I'd read a couple of the books. Well, it's not really criticism if you don't actually address the issues in the book as raised by the text itself rather than twisting the text to support your reading of it. Wow. Sorry about that.

2) I wasn't surprised that Dumbledore died; it really felt like the book was heading to that conclusion all along. I was shocked that Snape did, in fact, wield the wand, but even initially, I never thought that Snape had gone into the darkness. Something just felt too off about the whole scene for that to have been the case, and while I was horrified (and sobbed), I still thought--and think--that Snape will turn out to remain a member of the Order. (Beth, I'm sending you an e-mail later today that talks about this more). As Sirius said, the world isn't divided into good people and Death Eaters, and I believe that Snape, while at times nasty and fault-ridden, is not a Death Eater (or one working for Voldemort, anyway).

I do think that, in spite of appearances, we don't know everything about Snape's reasons for turning on Voldemort. I think Dumbledore did, and that he chose not to fully disclose them to Harry in the final conversation in the Headmaster's office. We'll find out soon, though . . .

3) I pre-ordered from Amazon. I went to midnight release parties at a bookstore for the last two (the same one in Florida, even though I've never lived there; just happened to be there both times), and as much fun as that was--there's nothing like the atmosphere, and people come in costume!--what tends to happen is I stay up all night reading and totally wreck my weekend, and by extension, the rest of the week. I can't afford to do that this summer; I have a bunch of papers to write, and they have to be good, so I need to function at full capacity. That means proper sleep. My hope is that the book will be delivered early in the day--or least by afternoon--and then I can spend the rest of that day and Sunday reading. Wait--the release is a Saturday, right? Otherwise, my logic needs to be revised.

Speaking of sleep . . . good night! Thanks for posting these.

Beth said...

Kari, so glad you stopped by! I'm liking this meme more and more, as more people respond to it. Getting ready for HP7 provides wonderful opportunities to connect and re-connect with folks...

I DID believe that Snape had turned back toward the dark on the tower, but only when I first read it. If we're right (and I say "we" because I agree with you about Snape's ultimate allegiances...though as we get closer to the actual release of the book I find myself feeling a bit more anxious about that) then I am really amazed by JKR's abilities to pull me in that far.

I'm looking forward to your email!

I also think it's important for me to say that I trust Rowling as a storyteller. Wherever she goes with the whole saga (and with Snape's character in particular) I think it will be a satisfying conclusion and it will be internally consistent with her vision as a whole. I think you're right about her being an excellent storyteller, by the way. She's not the prose stylist that Lewis or (most especially) Tolkien was, but I think you are *spot on* about her ability to craft a believable sub-creation.

That's one reason I am feeling sad about having to say good-bye to Harry's world soon. Yes, I know we can return to it every time we re-open the books, but nothing ever quite takes the place of that first magical time you step from the wardrobe into the snowy woods...or traipse the path from Bag End into the wider world of Middle Earth...or push your way through the barrier at platform 9 and 3/4!