Thursday, February 4, 2016

Upon Returning to Hogwarts

No, this isn't going to be a political essay. I won't be drawing obvious and painful parallels to education reform and Professor Umbridge. It's a love letter to a series of books that so many of us love.

I was one of those readers who had to wait a year between books...speculating wildly about what the next book would reveal for our young wizards. I attended the midnight release parties and hung out with former students who were as eager to get their hands on a new book as I was. I did the unthinkable (not a curse) and would read the endings before I drove home and went to bed. For The Deathly Hallows, I bought a soft drink and a bag of Cheetos, and read the epilogue in the car. Until the day someone borrowed and failed to return the book, there were Cheeto stains on the pages.

I watched a generation of readers grow up with Harry and Ron and Hermione. Literally. They discovered the books when they were the same age as the three friends who met on the Hogwarts Express, and they were young adults when they read of the final battle for the soul of the wizarding world. Laura, Caitlyn, Bryn, Bryon, and so many others...who am I leaving out? -- we still talk Harry Potter. Aubrey and I listened to the books together, even though he finished first. Another student recently posted on my FB wall the meme of Donald Trump as Delores Umbridge...personally, I still like the one of our former Superindentist as Umbridge.

I listened to the books...letting Jim Dale's narration sweep me back to Hogwarts and the Burrow and Diagon Alley and the Forbidden Forest. His character voices were spot on. Ginny's low raspy voice, and Hermione's sweet wheedling one. The lovely and frustrating thing about listening to a book is there's no can't speed read -- unless you tamper with the speed and that's just a bad idea. You're forced to follow and enjoy each word...letting them wash over you in their own speed. The bad thing about listening is when you discover beautiful language you want to return to and savor, it's gone like a misty cloud.

So, what struck me this time through all seven books? The sense of community and sacrifice and vision and commitment to a goal. The sense of family -- even if you got a lousy family, you can build one. The sense of loyalty of friends, earned by Gryffindor courage and goodness of heart. The certainty that love is the answer. Always and forever. Love is the answer.

Like many readers, I wanted to believe I'd be sorted into Griffindor, but LISTENING to the Sorting Hat's songs, I discovered, I'm Hufflepuff all the way. Listen: "Said Hufflepuff, "I'll teach the lot 

And treat them just the same." And, "
Good Hufflepuff, she took the rest 
and taught them all she knew." I'd be proud to be a Hufflepuff.

I watched Harry deal with unwanted notoriety and an unwanted gift. I watched him grow into both, not without missteps and blunders. I watched him amass a group of friends who would literally follow him into the mouth of Hell, only because he asked them to come. I watched loss. Unsupportable loss...Cedric, Sirius, Hedwig, Mad-Eye, Dobby...oh, Dobby. Fred. Lupin. Tonks. Harry, who had already lost so much when his parents were murdered, lost more and more. I thought when I first read this series, and I thought again, how brave Rowling was to put her characters in mortal danger...and to actually kill them. That's what happens in a war. Good people die. A story without that loss would be cheating the youngsters who devoured this series.

There must be important causes that a young couple, just recently made parents, are willing to step up and be counted. Lily and James did that, and so did Lupin and Tonks. So did Neville Longbottom's parents. All three couples gave their lives for a cause....while Neville's parents are not dead, they are unavailable; they have left him. But, unlike Harry, Teddy Lupin was accepted into a family and loved. Harry even makes a joke at the end that Teddy seems to spend all his time at the Potters' home. Harry knew the burden of that loss, and jokes aside, he made sure that emptiness didn't happen to another child. And unlike Neville, Teddy is raised by people who believe in him from the beginning.

Neville's growth throughout his years at Hogwarts is spectacular. He shows his genius with plants early on, but he appears to be the mess his grandmother believes him to be. But Dumbledore's Army gives him such confidence...and his decision to follow Harry to rescue Sirius gives him battle experience. But it's the Battle of Hogwarts where Neville, who could have been 'the boy who lived (or didn't)' grows into a leader with whom to be reckoned. His stand against Voldemort (another orphan boy) shows us a man, making decisions that could cost him as much as Harry's cost him.

This time, the Malfoys intrigued me...they fell the farthest, but they survived. Not intact, certainly. The glimpse of them among the celebrating wizards and witches after the ultimate Battle for Hogwarts, sitting alone in the Great Hall...I'm still not sure what to make of that. And the avoiding of each other's eyes at the station in the epilogue.

I remember the raging arguments at the end of book six, Order of the Phoenix, about Snape's motivation for killing Dumbledore. I was in the 'Trust Snape" camp, and I was correct in my assessment of the sad, twisted Severus Snape. Dale's sensitive reading made it crystal clear how very sick Dumbledore was all through the his last words, "Severus, please." rang true.

I noticed something new as well. As new characters were added, characters who would have greater and greater importance, Rowling threw out a mention of their name, or introduced them in a minor scene, and then let them enter the story in their rightful place. Cedric was introduced before Goblet of Fire, along with his insufferable father. Mr. Weasley had to go rescue Mad Eye from trouble before he ever walked into Hogwarts. Subtle, masterful strokes by a strong story teller.

The Battle for Hogwarts brings all the characters who had learned to love Harry and his friends together to defend him and defend their world. McGonagall -- what a towering educator she was. Molly Weasley and her ferocity defending her remaining children against the mad Bellatrix. I cheered (again) when Molly uses a bad word and attacks. I also cheered when Kreacher leads the house elves into the fray...his loyalty won with love and respect.

I usually listen to my audible books as I walk and as I drive. More than once (ok, throughout the entire last book) I cried as I walked or drove. A couple of times, it was a totally ugly cry because I understood what was coming next.

So, what did I learn? We were not mistaken when we fell in love with this series. These children and their teachers and the Order worked together, fought together, and created a better world...together. Love will protect us and bind us.

 I was able to concentrate more this time on Snape...those glimpses of his lonely childhood, his hopes of a life with Lily, and his years of grief...and guilt. His courage in the lonely path he trod for Dumbledore and the Order, and how until the end, he never dropped that evil persona in which he wrapped himself. He deserved better. But those glimpses into his soul, "After all this time?" "Always." He sacrificed himself to save Lily's son when sacrifice was called for, and finally told Harry the truth through his memories.

My months back at Hogwarts were so rewarding...The world is magical. The battle is epic. The sacrifices are real. The rewards are precious.

I still love this book after all this time...I'll love it always.

No comments:

Post a Comment