Monday, April 18, 2011

All was well.

Due to a lack of time because I need to do homework and study (I hate the end of the semester; there's so much to do), I'm just going to post an essay I wrote about Harry Potter. I've mentioned before how much I love and adore and obsess over this series, and I wanted to share this. It was supposed to be a literary journalism/cultural critique piece, and I think my essay turned out pretty well. So enjoy.

My Letter From Hogwarts Is Just Late

Some people might think this is weird or claim that I’m just making these details up, but there are some nights that I just don’t forget.
            Six years ago, on July 15th, around 10:30 pm, I was standing outside a bookstore in Maine with my dad. I was fourteen years old and we were on vacation.
            A day or two before we’d learned about this midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and I’d convinced my dad to take me even though we had to be up early in the morning to drive home. I needed to have this book—mostly because I wanted something to read during the car ride home but also because it was Harry Potter, and Harry Potter was important. To me, anyway.
            I nodded my head slightly for each person in line, counting silently in my head. I was thirteenth in line. I clutched my small Dobby doll in my hands, adjusting his movable ears so they stood straight.
            The doors to the small bookstore opened at 11:00 pm sharp and the enthusiastic crowd was let in for Harry Potter themed games and trivia questions and socializing. I met a Rita Skeeter, a human sized Dobby, and numerous clones of Ron, Hermione, and Harry himself.
            It was my first experience being with other people who were just as obsessed with Harry Potter, counting down the minutes until the book was released and we could hold it in our hands.

I wonder if J.K. Rowling (Joanne Kathleen) ever thought that one day her book about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard would ever become as big as it has. She started out destitute, with no job and a child to feed; a mere five years later, Forbes magazine estimated her worth at one billion dollars.
            Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected by twelve publishing companies before someone took a chance on it; it was published in June of 1997. I’m sure that investment has paid off, considering Harry Potter is now a global brand worth about 15 billion dollars. The final four books consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold 11 million copies in the first day of release in the United States and the United Kingdom. The previous one, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, had sold 9 million copies in its first 24 hours.
            The rights to the films were purchased in 1998, and the first one was released in November of 2001. The film series is the highest grossing film series of all time, with over 6 billion dollars in receipts. The series won the Michael Balcon Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema at the 2011 British Academy Film Awards.
            Now, ten years after the first film was released, and fourteen years after the first book was published, as we slowly approach the release date for the second half of the final film, I’m starting to wonder what will become of us obsessed fans when we have nothing to look forward to anymore. Will it still be a huge part of my life? Or will I, as well as others, put the books on the shelves and move on?
            For the past six years, Harry Potter has always been there for me. There was always another book, another film, another midnight release party or midnight premiere to go to. There was always something to discuss, whether it be what we thought would happen in the final book, or what we thought the films would take out or add or change.
            Harry Potter has brought together so many people, it’s hard to imagine it ever ending. From Harry Potter fanfiction to Harry Potter themed Tumblr blogs, from all the different conventions to the theme park in Florida, from a small community on YouTube to wizard rock (wrock) festivals, Harry Potter has always been there.
            Hogwarts has been my escape from reality, a fictitious home for me to return to whenever I wanted. I’ve never wanted anything else to be real as much as I wanted Hogwarts and Harry and Hermione and Ron and the Weasleys to be real.
            I know so many people whose lives have been changed by Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One. Harry Potter isn’t just a book series, or a film series. It is a cultural phenomenon that has brought people from all over the world together.
            And in my opinion, Harry Potter will never really end.

Two years after my first book release party, I went to attend my second, and final, one. I’d been preparing for weeks, counting down the days and rereading the first six books. I spent the days leading up to July 20, 2007 reading about preparations for the release.
            People in London had started lining up two days before the 20th to ensure that they would be among the first to buy the book. Less insane fans started lining up at 7:30 am on the 20th, dressed as their favorite characters and counting down the hours.
            As for myself, at 6:00 pm that afternoon, I’d gone over to the Barnes and Noble where I would be later that night to reserve two copies of the book and purchase a gold wristband that designated me as one of the first hundred people that would get their books.
            Upon arriving at the bookstore, around 9:30 pm, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. There were so many people milling around. Some were sitting in the hallway outside the store, others were reading other books; meanwhile, there was a whole line up of Harry Potter activities going on upstairs.
            Bookstores across the country had been preparing for this night, as it was sure to be their biggest party of the year. In New York, for example, booksellers prepared by putting finishing touches on cauldrons, replicas of Diagon Alley, and Harry Potter themed snacks and drinks, like butterbeer.
            11:59 pm. A countdown had begun. It was like New Year’s had struck; when the clock turned twelve, cheers filled the store. Books were purchased and taken away by happy customers; I was the thirteenth person in my line. I got my two reserved copies and escaped the madness that was Barnes and Noble on midnight, July 21, 2007.
            On the way to the car, my dad and I passed people who had already cracked open the pages, beginning the final installment. I saw people who’d already flipped to the end to see what happened. I clutched my book tight to my chest the whole ride home.
            This was the last time I would ever read a Harry Potter book for the first time.

What’s great about Harry Potter gatherings is that there is never any shortage of things to talk about. Sometimes all it takes is just one little thing to turn it into something bigger.
            Between the releases of the sixth and seventh movies, one of my best friends sent me a link to a song called “Lumos Flies,” a Harry Potter parody of the Owl City song, “Fireflies.” From there, I became so involved in the online Harry Potter community, it was like I lived and breathed Harry Potter.
            And there wasn’t just one YouTube channel that started and continued because of Harry Potter. There were dozens and dozens of them. One channel I started following extensively was the one called fiveawesomegirls. It was a collab channel with five girls who had become friends because of Harry Potter. A few of them hadn’t even met in person when they started this channel, with each girl making a video every weekday.
            From there, I discovered wizard rock bands like the Ministry of Magic, The Whomping Willows, The Parselmouths, and Diagon Alley.
            In November of 2010, my friend and I went to the New York City Wizard Rock Festival in Brooklyn, where we danced all night to songs that were inspired by the Harry Potter series.
            Things like wizard rock are what have really launched people into the eye of the community. Kristina Horner, for example, who has a YouTube channel that I subscribe to, is one of these people. She got her start with writing Harry Potter fanfiction, then moved onto making videos on YouTube. She is a member of the previously mentioned fiveawesomegirls channel, and a singer in the band the Parselmouths. They sing songs from the point of view of two Slytherin girls.
            Because of this series, she gets to travel around the country going to Harry Potter conventions and speaking at them. Without Harry Potter, her life would be vastly different.

Three years after the final book had been released, setting records in book sales, the final film opened in theaters. The midnight premiere drew in approximately $24 million in about 3,700 locations. The previous film, the Half-Blood Prince, opened at midnight with sales of $22.2 million, at 3,003 locations. Despite the fact that the series had come to a close, the phenomenon that is Harry Potter hadn’t died down a bit.
            It was 7:00 pm when my friend and I arrived at the movie theater for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One. We weren’t the first ones there, though we were among the first dozen to arrive.
            We picked some good seats and for the next five hours played Harry Potter themed hangman; I played Harry Potter Lego (Years 1-4) on my DS; we watched as more and more people filed into the theater.
            As each hour chimed, someone would announce how much time was remaining. To pass the time, people played charades, passed out homemade versions of The Quibbler, Luna Lovegood’s father’s quirky magazine, and chased around a human Golden Snitch.
            The previews began and people continued to talk excitedly over them, booing Twilight as it came on the screen. When they ended and the theater went completely dark, a hush fell over the crowd like a blanket.
            The end had begun.

But will there ever really be an end?
            The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has opened in Orlando, Florida, where you can drink butterbeer at The Three Broomsticks, buy a wand that chooses you, go to Zonko’s and Honeydukes, and ride through Hogwarts.
            It is the closest people will ever come to Hogwarts besides traveling to Europe and seeking out the castles where Hogwarts scenes were filmed, and people are flocking to the theme park. It’s received good reviews and was well received by Harry Potter fans and non-fans alike. The grand opening for the cast and crew of the films, J.K. Rowling, and the media took place on June 16, 2010; it opened for the general public two days later.
            While I haven’t had the opportunity to go there yet, people I follow on YouTube and a few of my friends have been there. Their tales of how amazing and detailed and accurate it was to the books only make me want to go more. I’ve spent so much time wishing Hogwarts was real and that I could be there, surrounded by the magic and the people, that I can’t imagine what it will be like walking through the gates and seeing Hogsmeade, the Hogwarts Express, and the castle of Hogwarts standing before my eyes.
            Not to mention the numerous Harry Potter conventions and festivals that take place all over the country and throughout the year. Just recently, the Miami Yule Ball was held in Miami, Florida. LeakyCon will be held in July in Orlando, just in time for the midnight premiere of the second half of Deathly Hallows. LeakyCon is a charity conference that had its first year in 2009, in Boston, with only about 740 attendees. The next year, that number jumped over a thousand, and for 2011, that number has only increased even more.
            It’s not the only charitable event that revolves around Harry Potter; for the past four years, the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) has been working to inspire people around the world to get involved in social issues the world faces. Some of their successes include raising funds for thousands of women and children in Darfur and Myanmar (Burma), as well as collecting and donating thousands of books for a youth village in Rwanda.
            I think the greatest thing about Harry Potter is that it isn’t just a popular series; it uses its popularity for good. Because of all the people that love and adore Harry, they can do something great for the world. In 2010, the HPA and other communities raised over $123,000 for the Haitian people through Partners in Health.
            Will all these things come to an end when the films finally come to a close? It’s hard to imagine them stopping after fourteen years of fandom.
            The days are ticking away to the end of what truly is a cultural phenomenon. But as Stephen King said, “I think Harry will take his place with Alice, Huck, Frodo, and Dorothy and this is one series not just for the decade, but for the ages.”
            Harry Potter has made the world a smaller place, bringing people together from unlikely places and in unlikely ways. Things like that don’t just vanish into thin air.
            But no one can really tell what will happen. Sure, the fandom will continue, but the same obsessive air that surrounds it now will probably disperse a little. With nothing new to look forward to, the less obsessed may retreat from this thriving community.
            As for myself, I only know that once the credits start to roll in July, so will the tears. But I won’t be alone.


  1. Rachael,
    This was beautifully written. A good amount of the stuff you said is how I feel about the series as well. Can't wait for the next movie and I hope you get to go to HP World sometime soon! It's incredible and you deserve it :)

  2. Ahh, thank you. :D
    I really hope I get to HP world sometime in the near future; I'm so incredibly jealous of everyone that I know who's already gone.