Happy 34th Birthday, Harry Potter! Yes, I do know that July 31st is Harry’s birthday. (It’s also Joanne Rowling’s birthday, although she is a bit older than Harry.) Harry’s birthday is even marked on my calendar because he – or, rather, the books that J.K. Rowling created about him – has been very important to my family.
I bought the first two Harry Potter books on the recommendation of a friend who worked in the children’s department of the bookstore when the books were just starting to be known in my region of the US in 1999. They were an end of school year gift for my younger daughter, who was then in elementary school. She was having trouble getting into the first book, the beginning of which was too reminiscent of Raold Dahl, who was not a favorite of hers – or mine, so my husband began reading the first book aloud to her and soon the whole family was hooked.
Thus began our family tradition of reading Harry Potter books aloud. We read all of the subsequent books as a family, the four of us taking turns reading subsequent chapters. We would receive first day deliveries or go to midnight launch parties as the new books were released. Because release dates of the later books in the series were summer Saturdays, we would embark on marathon weekend reading days, getting through the bulk of the long books over Saturday and Sunday, with the exciting conclusions reserved for after my husband’s return from work on Monday. (We hid the book on a high shelf in our bedroom so no one would read ahead!)
The book launches became important events for us and the later books coincided with times when our family needed the strength of our mutual support. Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) appeared when our older daughter had just been diagnosed with an intractable migraine, after missing most of a semester of high school because she was ill and no one could figure out what was happening. Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) appeared during the three-week span between the death of my father-in-law and his memorial service. The declining health and death of Dumbledore acted as counterpoint to our own family story, as Grandpa had been a long-serving and much-loved school principal with striking white hair. When Deathly Hallows (Book 7) was released, our older daughter had just been diagnosed with fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome, giving a name to the puzzling assortment of ailments that she had endured for years, including the aforementioned intractable migraine. She was about to start her senior year in college with a semester away in Vienna. The family time we spent reading together was a precious time before she set off into the unknown.
This was especially fitting because the Harry Potter fandom had gifted her with some of her best friends who had sustained her through some of her worst times. As a precocious literary-minded secondary school student, she had joined some of the adult fandom online. She had taught herself some web design to start her own Harry Potter themed website, including an advice column in which she and Snape answered questions about both muggle and wizarding concerns. She wrote some fan fiction and engaged in literary analysis in online groups. When she became ill with what turned out to be the 8-month migraine and couldn’t leave the house, her online friends became her main social outlet outside of our family. It helped that several of her best online HP friends were in different time zones, as she often could not sleep at night and there would nearly always be someone online with whom she could chat, whatever the hour.
These women are still some of her closest friends. She has now met several of them in person. Two came to her senior voice recital in her last semester of college. She met more at a Harry Potter convention and has even spent time travelling and visiting with them in Japan.
In a way, they are even responsible for her current master’s thesis project. Some of her Harry Potter friends were also fans of J-pop (Japanese popular music), in which our daughter also became interested. Her decision to pursue a master’s in ethnomusicology and to study at University of Hawai’i – Manoa were related to this interest. U of HI is known as a center of excellence for Asian studies.
The life of our family was made richer by Harry Potter and Joanne Rowling. Happy Birthday to them both and eternal thanks for everything you have given to our family!