In a mythical castle hidden under misty cover away from reality, children of all ages flock to classes in robes with books under their arms. In gothic classrooms, colorful smoke arises from cauldrons and the students’ textbooks talk about things we’ve only heard about in fairy tales. They study magic.
But the magic I am used to doesn’t come from a wand. It is in the binding, in the texture of the printed ink on thin paper, in the anticipated turn of the page.
There is an unknown power that takes hold of me each time I crack open a new book. A kind of relaxed excitement builds up in me as I read the first few lines, and within seconds I am transported to an entirely different place and time. Between pages, I visited the ruins of Vietnam, pirate ships in the Caribbean, Victorian England, the French Quarter and our very own city of Phoenix.
But I have yet to visit Hogwarts.
I guess I was expecting another great adventure. I read books to escape the dull routine of everyday life, and the ideas behind the Harry Potter series seemed so far removed from reality that I couldn’t imagine a better book. I was told it had adventure, romance, magic, the unthinkable and the traditional good-versus-evil.
It seemed like a perfect book, but something held me back.
The series of books created by the beloved British author J. K. Rowlingcaptivated readers and earned its place in the pantheon of great literature of our time. As contemporary literature classes start to require the books, the world of witches and wizards, of magic wands and potions, has become a staple in the lives of many readers and continues to bewitch new generations of bibliophiles.
I know that I am committing some kind of sacrilegious act against the institution of literature by not reading about brooms, snitches and the boy with the round glasses and a lightning bolt scar on his forehead.
As I continue the sinful act of never reading the book series that has defined a generation, horrified looks plaster my friend’s faces. Jaws drop, eyes widen – you’d think I had confessed to being pregnant.
Believe me, I have tried numerous times to get lost in Rowling’s words. At least four times I have opened to the first page of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and tried to read. I tried to see the dim English street, crowded Diagon Alley, and our protagonist on a broomstick in a gravity-defying game similar to British cricket.
But for some reason, I could never get past Chapter 3.
An invisible mental barrier seemed to activate whenever I reached for the hardback dressed in its richly illustrated jacket. I would settle into my pillows underneath the window in my room and open to the first page. I was excited for the story, but after 20 pages my mind was bored. I would start to fidget and would frequently take a break from reading to gaze out the window. My mind would wander and soon my thoughts were too loud to focus on the text. I was unable to immerse myself in the story and, therefore, couldn’t stand to read more.
It’s similar to when you’re trying to read required books for English classes on a deadline.
It is important to note that this never happened to me before I picked up the Harry Potter series. I would absorb the words of nearly any book I could get my hands on. Like Roald Dahl’s “Matilda,“ I would check out stacks of books from several libraries and was known to spend lunch and recess with my nose buried between the pages.
To this day, I am often lost in a classic Charles Dickens or a dystopian Suzanne Collins. Words are just in my blood.
So what is the deal with this book? Why is it so difficult for me?
The answer still eludes me to this day, as fellow bookworms insist I try again. Friends have acted as literary matchmakers, offering advice to encourage a relationship between the “wizarding world“ and myself.
One friend assures me that the first book is unimportant. One pushes me to begin with “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” And one friend audaciously recommends I start from the final book in the series.
I know it isn’t the subject of Rowling’s work that turned me off to reading the series. As odd as it sounds, I have always been interested in the world of magic and witchcraft — sans the dark, Puritan allegations. To me, magic was something among us and not completely removed, as it is in Harry Potter. I envisioned witches to be similar to Samantha of “Bewitched,” a person with power living the same routine life as all of us. Maybe it had something to do with my own desire to live a normal life, but with a bit of abnormality to spice it up.
Several Halloween nights I have donned a pointed hat and black cape and willed my fingers to perform impossible feats. However, while I maintained this stereotypical view of sorcerers, I could never see myself dressing as Hermione Granger to go trick-or-treating. I’ve never been one for imitating favorite characters, excepting a Disney’s Belle costume when I was five.
Maybe I am too much of a realist, but every time I break out the bestseller it no longer matters how interested I am in the magical and enchanting. I still can’t get past those first few chapters.
The same thing seems to happen with any kind of fantasy novel, from “Wicked” to “The Lord of the Rings.” My brain becomes fuzzy and my eyes glaze over as I get restless and must move on to something else. These concepts are too far removed from reality for me. I just can’t imagine any of these things without a strong anchor in the world I know. That part of the brain that allows readers to escape into the unreal is just missing for me. It must have been replaced with an unhealthy obsession for murder mysteries.
Even watching the movie adaptations of these series is exhausting. I feel like I am drowning in the mythical language and creatures. Sometimes I literally get headaches from trying to keep up with these stories.
However, I do love the books for one specific reason: their ability to make people fall in love with reading. I am a firm believer that everyone loves to read and they just need to find the right book to get lost in. For many, the Harry Potter series not only gave people the opportunity to love reading, they united generations. Just watching the proliferation of this book series is inspiring to a person like myself, who would like to write books in the future.
I have always considered myself an imaginative person, but I am nowhere near that of Rowling and J. R. R. Tolkien. The way these writers created such worlds from nothing but their own minds is amazing. I don’t try to belittle their work; instead I admire it from a half-engaged point of view.
I followed the films from beginning to end. I laughed at every joke, hated every villain and held my breath for every death. The honest truth is that the story is undeniably wonderful. The portrayal of characters, the vivid scenery and the engaging plot-line evoke emotion from readers and viewers alike. One cannot help but care for Harry, suspect Professor Snape of villainy and despise the bully Draco Malfoy. Having the story become more tangible than just sentences and paragraphs made the story more accessible to me – it was more real.
And so it became tradition for me to see the new films every year on my birthday.
I don’t claim to be a die-hard “Potterhead.” While I enjoy the concept of the story, I simply do not have the mental capacity to understand these works in their written form.
Although, I am certain I will make several more attempts to delve into Rowling’s world of magically inclined good versus evil. But for now, I am content to enjoy ABC Family’s running Harry Potter marathons, as I continue trying to break down the barrier that plagues my reading of fantasy.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @mackenziemicro