Thursday, January 14, 2010

deconstructing harry

i had hoped to reread the harry potter series before the glorious book seven came out a few years ago. but i didn't. and i read the deathly hallows as fast as i could in a combination of obsessive fervor and precaution, in case some joker tried to spoil the ending somehow. this was all the more difficult given that i was a) working on a feature at the time and b) having to share the book with my sister, my roommate, and anyone else who pleaded with me to loan it to them. ironically, i have never overheard any discussion of the series's finale and, had i not read it, i likely still wouldn't know. in fact, i read it so quickly that i barely remember what happened anyway.

last summer, brooke suggested a sort of "harry potter book club." i may have mentioned that i wanted to reread the series, i don't remember. but, as the desire to reread had lain dormant for two years already, i liked the idea of enlisting motivation in the cause. the catch was that most of my friends were over at my house three or more nights of the week already. talking them into another regularly scheduled activity didn't really happen. brooke was in, and i mentioned the idea to a girl i hometaught who thought it was awesome and wanted to be a part. and so wednesday nights became harry potter book club.

i was curious how the series would hold up under discussion and inspection.
it does alright.
in a way, i was hoping for a gold mine of subtext and allegory. harry potter cannot be pulled apart the way that the works of renoir, tarkovsky, or even kurosawa can (i had to list film directors, because i'm more experienced there. i suppose i could offer dostoevsky, dickens, and even alice in wonderland.) as much as anything, it does fit campbell's model of the hero's journey, populated with archetypal characters. and those (think star wars) are the most fun.

harry potter is not a stuffy literary work but a youthful adventure of fantasy so great it's impossible not regret being born a muggle at times. our book club is not one where we debate in what way the author's use of the prison symbolizes the protagonist's sense of irony (anyone?). rather, we talk excitedly talk about what happened in the week's 100 pages as if they were our close friends who went to a cooler school than us. and i couldn't have picked two better people to join me.

at movie nights, i can rattle off about whatever subtitled art house bore we watch, but brooke and emily are the experts on wednesdays. the girls have both read the series multiple times and seem to have it all at their disposal. which is great, because one of the fun things about reading the stories with the benefit of seeing it all is catching so much that meant nothing the first time. sirius black is first mentioned in chapter one of book one. the vanishing cabinet that draco malevolently repairs in book six is smashed by peeves in book two. and there's rumored evidence that the giant squid in the lake is actually gondric gryffindor (i need to look more into that one....) over seven books, many character come and go and return, and i have a hard time keeping everyone and their events straight. thankfully, the girls can always answer my questions, adding insights and tidbits about where we first saw someone or when they come back later. i've been told that ms. rowling sat down and really charted out the series after book three. we just finished the goblet of fire last night and, in my opinion, that is when the series really establishes itself, setting up plot points and objectives that will take a couple thousand pages to fully resolve. and that's another joy of it; each book gets better.

the hpbc usually lasts for about two and a half hours. the first hour is generally about harry potter and the associated awesomeness. after that, the conversation topic kind of goes free game, and we spent the rest of the night talking and laughing about whatever. kind of like being in the gryffindor common room.


Em said...

Adult conversation will always be envied by me. Sounds delightful to attend, and to have the resources (time, energy and attention) to do the associated reading. Perhaps someday I will live in a world where such things are possible myself.

Brooke said...

Sadly, the Giant Squid is only that...a Giant Squid. JKR made reference once to people and websites that tried to spoil the surprises of the upcoming books and made a light hearted joke of the Giant Squid, being the largest Animagus in the world, and it being Godric Gryffindor. She made it out like a "tabloid" kind of reference. Unfortunately, some took her seriously, and she has since had to correct their misconceptions. Would be pretty cool though, huh? I do love hpbc!

The Former 786 said...

While the Harry Potter movies are fun, the books really are magical. I enjoy them each and every time I read them.

Great Ferris Bueller's Day Off reference, too, Jeff.

--jeff * said...

joel, you make me happy.

Jaime said...

wow. that sounds fun! i'd totally invite myself, because i LOVE harry potter. (although i've only read the series twice.. i'm not quite the advanced expert as these two seem to be) but... remember how i'm super busy? especially on wednesdays. someday. :)(by then, it'll be over. but i think it's fun you have it.)

kwistin said...

i love this idea and this post.

a few months ago, i got into a conversation with my sister and sister-in-law about harry potter, and it was fascinating how fun it was to pull apart different elements and reconstruct them in different ways as we analyzed the different parts of the books.

i read the first 5 at least 3 or 4 times each, then slowed down with the last few. i hope someday i'll have time to read them again. ah, yet another way i am indeed, a happy geek. :)

kwistin said...

[nice ending sentence, too.]