Eleven years ago July (ELEVEN years!). I’m on my way home from an internship, just a few weeks before I go to college. It is Pre-Twitter. Pre-Facebook. Pre-easy access to the internet.
I settled myself on a blue line train at Federal Triangle with a woman who is holding a pretty hefty book in her hand. It’s a green cover with a cartooney looking boy with horn rimmed glasses.
She ends up sitting across the train from me, but still within my line of vision, and as we travel I find myself without anything to occupy myself, choosing to look out the window instead….and people watch. We approach Crystal City. Stop. At this point I notice the woman looking up with the classic oh I missed my station expression on her face. She half stands, then sits back down, pulling out the book to read again.
She reads on, and we travel past Braddock Road, King Street, and Van Dorn Street easily 30 minutes past what must have been her original stop to the end of the line. She closes the book, finger firmly marking her place, exits out of my train and then renters the one waiting on the other side of the tracks to take her back to her destination.
As I move up the escalator I can see that she is lost to the outside world again, engrossed in whatever is written between the hard green covers.
I want to say that I was drawn to the series because of the cover because even then you could see it in bookstores, coffee shops, and on the Metro. But I wasn’t. I was drawn to the texts ability to draw in the mind, and clearly the imagination.
But it was the cover that told me what to read.
Now, eleven years (ELEVEN!) later I spent the weekend watching the final chapter of the Harry Potter saga on the big screen. Nothing is more exhilarating than Midnight Madness for a movie of a book that changed how you look at fantasy and storytelling. Feeling slightly otherworldly, you find yourself playing Harry Potter twenty questions for two hours as a stream of kids roll by dressed up as the Hogwarts Express in a conga line. In my head I was thinking that this must be how those moviegoers felt when they sat for the first Star Wars movie in 1977—the feeling of wonder and surprise that a story of dragons, and quests, heroes and heroines opens your hearts and makes your imagination travel to new heights.
But while the on screen spectacle was arresting, it was another reminder of just how strong of an impression a book can make. I testify that this series made me smile and at times, cry. There were tears when Deathly Hallows book first came out, and again as the revelation that we had all misjudged a certain potions master played out across the screen. While this series grew up with its primary audience, I can say that it saw me through my twenties–through college, grad school, job uncertainty—essentially the start of my adulthood. And so while I was never in the same age range as the trio of friends, I recognize the impact the story had on my love of storytelling and writing.
As for my physical copies of the books? I really did end up choosing them based on their covers. Even though I was curious after that initial metro ride, it wasn’t until a trip to India that I started collecting my personal copies. Each book has its own story: 1, 2, 3 & 4 I got in Mumbai during a family vacation (though at the time 1-3 were in paperback, my mom got me the hardcovers after someone donated them to her library). Book 5 (Order of the Phoenix) I bought in the States, until a fortuitous trip to visit a friend revealed that this was the only book where she had the British version, so we made a switch. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince made it to my shelves after a midnight purchase in 2005, another midnight trek to a bookstore in the London suburb of North Harrow.
For Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I was in New York City, moving my sister into her first apartment. I stood in line, by myself, at the Union Square Barnes & Noble, until someone told us (well past midnight) that there was another store a half a block away with no line and plenty of copies. I’ve never read a book faster in my life. (Once again playing switcheroo helped me complete my matching set as a friend visiting abroad made an exchange when she returned to the states.)
After seeing the movie this weekend, I wanted to write a piece in farewell. However, I realized I’m not quite ready to say goodbye, and probably never will be. Many articles this week have listed favorite parts, characters, objects—and have posited clever praises on Rowling’s femininity (or lack there of). Instead I thought I would leave you with a passage in the book that made me think—one that speaks to the power of imagination, but also of knowing your own self—and trusting what is in your own heart.
From Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (pp579)
“Tell me one last thing,’ said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”
Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
The Sorting Hat Says Goodbye
When we first met he was very young
As, of course, were we
But as we grew, he found his place
To fight Voldemort and be Free
In our minds the wonder sparked
And imagination soared
Whimsical and fantastical
We were never bored
And then the end in published form
Came to say goodbye
But we all knew we’d still have
On the movies to rely
Soon there will be no more Harry Potter
To look forward to in time
No Hallows, Horcruxes, or Hogwarts
And I’ll have nothing left to rhyme
So join me on the 15 of July
As the stroke of midnight chimes
And we’ll say fare-the-well to the wizarding world
With a flick of our wands, our hearts and our minds
—P. Chhaya 6/21/2011
Note: More on The Power of the Cover will follow next week.