I may not have swallowed veritaserum, but I have a confession to make: I never finished reading the Harry Potter series. In fact, that reference was supplied by a friend who, like apparently most of my generation, adores J. K. Rowling’s boy wizard. Yet, somehow I was never so spellbound.
When I steel myself and admit this to fans of the series, the response is typically shock, followed by genuine sympathy. To an extent, I share in this puzzlement. As a closeted Trekkie, I grasp the appeal of well-developed characters set loose in an expansive fantasy universe. Indeed, I have fond memories of reading the first four Potter installments in elementary school.
I can’t explain precisely why I abandoned the books after this point, just as they were beginning to test the tensile strength of bookshelves worldwide. I swear it was not an act of cultural snobbery. Although I recognize that there is certainly a phony elitism associated with avoiding something popular, just as there is with coveting something obscure.
Yet, even watching some of the later Potter films in high school did not send me searching for the source material. I suppose it didn’t help that my favourite element of the movies, the sumptuous art direction, does not directly translate to the books. Admittedly this is a somewhat grim comment on my own powers of imagination.
My disinterest may follow from the fact that my last drink of the Potter series came from The Goblet of Fire. I am told that this fourth volume marks a turning point. Supposedly it is here that the series became weightier in its themes, as well as its page count. This transition apparently underlies what my friends mean when they claim that they “grew up with the series.”
Their connection to the books surpasses simple nostalgia. They remember not just the simple thrills of Harry’s adventures, but also the larger experience of maturing alongside the characters. For many, the seven volumes became a shared journey through adolescence. As the students of Hogwarts grappled with the escalating non-magical trials of romantic frustration, stormy friendships, and intimidating new responsibilities, so did a generation of readers.
I think that most people have had this experience of discovering a work of art that perfectly captures their inner life. Whether this connection is made through the flick of a wand or the strum of a guitar, art can powerfully echo our deepest hopes and anxieties. Moreover, this bond is often profoundly linked to a particular stage in our lives; if the work had come along slightly earlier or later it would not have spoken with the same power.
Perhaps I have never returned to the Potter books because I am concerned that this key element of their appeal, the opportunity to come of age alongside the characters, is now closed to me. This is not to suggest that I am entirely mature or that the books do not have other wonderful merits. Indeed, I fully expect that if I read the books I would enjoy them, but for now they remain low on my “to-read” list.
This reluctance should not offend those fans that grew up with the series. Rather they should feel even more fortunate that they came across the books at an ideal moment. Indeed, my generation’s devotion to Harry Potter affirms the extraordinary power of literature to speak to us profoundly at a particular and fleeting stage of our lives. Forget veritaserum, this connection between art and audience, is true magic.