My contact with the Potter world goes way back to when J.K. was merely a millionaire and not yet a billionaire. Yes, I know that’s a long time ago; what can I say – I must be really old. I quickly devoured the first three books in the series back when Book 3 was the latest entry, and I downed Book 4 shortly after it came out. And then… I stopped. Not because I didn’t like the books; quite the contrary, I thought they were some of the most delightful fiction I’d read in a long time. It’s just that, well… I got busy doing other things.
I was given Book 5 as a present shortly after it came out, but it has languished on a shelf for lo these many years. And Book 6 materialized on the same shelf sometime later, though I don’t remember whether it was another gift from someone or whether CC took it upon herself to obtain it… or whether a kindly bookseller from Diagon Alley was sending me a message.
On this long Independence Day weekend just completed, I had made few plans and found myself struck with a sudden, intense inclination to dive into Book 5, Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix. Though it is the longest book of the series at 870 pages in the American hardcover edition, I finished it in a little over two intense days of reading. Last night, I launched into Book 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and I’d plowed through over 100 pages before sleep claimed me. As I am now hurtling with considerable momentum through the Potter world, I expect I’ll be done with that one in rather short order, after which I will have to set about procuring the fateful, final Book 7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Right now, I feel like the kid who saved his Halloween candy until Thanksgiving, who could then enjoy all that yummy sweetness while his playmates had nothing remaining but the memories of their own sugary feasts of Halloween and early November.
Part of Rowling’s considerable genius is how she has allowed the books to grow up with her characters. The first book or two could quite reasonably have been read to many a young child, but as I’m reading Book 6, I’m struck by how much more complex the language and concepts have become. I’d observed this trend early on in the series, and I’m happy to see that it has continued.
In my own childhood, I was frequently aware of grown-ups stooping far beneath my ability to comprehend “adult” concepts, and I remember how frustrating it was at times trying to get certain grown-ups to speak to me properly. For that reason, I wouldn’t hesitate to keep going if I began reading the Potter books to children, though there would come a point where I would have to watch out to make sure they were keeping up. I suppose that an issue like this is very much case-by-case, but I have some friends who’ve read the entire series to their children and they’ve reported that their kids loved it and seemed to comprehend it quite well, even if a few concepts got past them. So I’m just shoehorning in one of my pet causes here: to speak to children as aware, complex individuals unless and until you see evidence that you need to back off.
But back to Potter – No less an author than Stephen King has declared himself a considerable fan of the Potter books. He possesses a great admiration for Rowling’s imagination, though he has gently carped that “…Rowling’s never met an adverb she did not like!” In fairness, though, he has also opined that Harry Potter “…will indeed stand time’s test and wind up on a shelf where only the best are kept; 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.”