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Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry and me

I first started reading the Harry Potter books sometime after Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban came out. I had heard about the books for some time before that, of course, but had assumed they were simply a fad, a bandwagon that lots of people were jumping on. After a glowing review of the series in Newsweek (or was it TIME?) I decided to give it a look for myself.

I bought the hardcovers cheap at Sam's Club. I don't remember if I bought them one at a time, or bought the first three all at once. Once I started reading them, I was hooked. I was fascinated by the richness of the storytelling, the diverse cast of characters, the almost Dickensian air that permeated what could have been juvenile literature, but wasn't, really.

I came to that realization as I was finishing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. There on the cover we see a happy, smiling Harry, hanging on to the tail of what looks like an oversized Flamingo. Whee! Look, I'm flying! On the back cover we see Harry's happy, smiling friends hanging on for the ride, having the time of their lives.

That cover was a lie. As anyone who read that story would know, none of the characters were smiling at that point, or particularly happy, other than happy to have not died gruesome deaths. Both Harry and the Phoenix he's holding onto should have been covered in Basilisk blood; Ron should have been covered in mortar, I believe, from having a wall collapse on him; and Ginny should have looked mostly-dead, from being, well, mostly-dead.

So who was the lie on the book cover aimed at? Ignorant, naive parents, I suppose, who presumed they were buying some light twaddle for their kids, something to trick them into reading books on paper. Parents who might object to the themes contained within those covers.

And there's plenty to object to. Oh, never mind the central theme of "magic" which so many Neo-Christians have railed against in these books. Sirius Black, after all, is Harry's Godfather, and each year the characters observe Christmas, complete with, if I recall correctly, traditional Christian carols. No, there are other things to object to.

Harry Potter is a terrible role model. He lies, cheats, and steals to achieve his ends, and his friends assist him in lying, cheating, and stealing. He breaks the rules whenever he feels like it. He is often protected from the consequences of his actions, but he is never entirely open or honest even with his protectors, and often acts in a way that suggests he doesn't trust them. He ignores good advice. He lets his impetuousness and, later, anger get the better of him. By the fifth book one of his friends - completely out of character - even attempts to suborn murder. One of my favorite characters, Professor Snape, voiced a protest against Potter's special dispensation from the rules, but to no avail.

But I digress.

By the time the fourth book was announced, I was fully prepared. And what a name: Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament! Finally, the danger that was hidden beneath the surface would be brought out for all to see! And, rumor had it, a major character would be killed!

I was a little disappointed when the title was changed to the more family-friendly Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But the story did not disappoint: murder, mayhem, chaos, bad guys ascendant, good guys on the defensive, the death of a not-so-major character, and in the conclusion, the return to a war footing. Plus one of the single coolest characters so far, and one of the most chilling reveals of a plot twist ever.

I can't recall if this was the first book released with all of its spellings and terminology in the original British English, or if it was the next. I did receive as a gift a boxed set of the first four Harry Potter books from Ireland, as published in England, so I did get to experience them all in the original form. (I first read about the "Philosopher's Stone" in an Uncle Scrooge comic when I was a kid. Why was it changed to the "Sorcerer's Stone" for American audiences?) Some of the language does take some getting used to - "iced lollies" and "trainers" (which conjures up images of either bras for pre-pubescent girls, or elasticized diapers for toddlers) and other such terms.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out in June 2003, after I had begun reading blogs but before I had begun blogging. I consumed it quickly, interrupted by some basement flooding. I found its darker, angrier, more political tone and its clumsy adolescent romance to be disturbing, as they were intended. I was also glad to see a sudden infusion of adult characters that older readers could relate to. I believe I had already finished it when I came across a spoiler on someone's blog.

It was an honest thing, someone expressing outrage and heartbreak over the death of a favorite character on a blog I don't read regularly. Still, it was the sort of thing this blogger could have easily been more circumspect about. Once someone reads a spoiler, they can't un-read it.

I have to admit that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, released two years ago, struck me as the weakest of the books. A few key elements were introduced, things that will need to be wrapped up in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - or not resolved at all. But the new characters seemed pretty lame, and the central mystery of the title seemed fairly pointless. Still, the scene depicted on the cover, awash in a nearly phosphorescent acid green, was extremely cool and very gut-wrenching - hearing an aged adult character regress into a beaten, abused child is something that will be eerily familiar to anyone who has dealt with someone with Alzheimer's. The flashback to Dumbledore in the 1930s was worth the price of the book alone; regardless of the description, I imagine him as having decided to go incognito among the Muggles dressed as a Huggy Bear-style pimp, complete with a purple feather in an oversized fedora.

That was when the spoiler brigade came out in force. From what I have heard, people would drive past lines of people waiting to buy the book and shout out the surprise ending to them. But why? Why would people do this?

The simplest conclusion is probably the correct one: some people are just assholes.

Yep, some people are just born rotten, and get their pleasure from destroying other people's happiness whenever possible. It's probably a form of mental illness, a variation on the sociopathic personality disorder, and maybe these people can't help it.

Maybe. I'm not inclined to be so forgiving.

Some people are out in force already, trying to thrust Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows spoilers in the faces of fans, presumably because they're fresh out of kittens to strangle or butterflies that they can stick pins through the wings of. In less than twelve hours this book will be released, and in less than 24 hours more than a few readers will have torn through to the end. I will take slightly longer to finish it. Until that time I'm going to have to avoid any news reports that may report spoilers, any blogs that claim to carry them, and even any friends who claim to be privy to the ending via illegally obtained copies of the book. This means that I will have to temporarily disable at least one link on my sidebar. I will also take the precaution of not allowing comments on this post until after my friends and I have finished the book.

If you're the sort of person inclined to spoil things for others - well, a)Don't, and b)Get a life. And if you're looking for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows spoilers, go here.