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The Varsity

The University of Toronto's
Student Newspaper Since 1880

Harry and I

By Assunta Alegiani
Published: 2:59 pm, 24 July 2011
Modified: 7 pm, 11 January 2012
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UPDATED

Harry and I go way back. I can thank my mom
for that: in a catalogue, she’d spotted a new
three book series — Harry Potter. It was, supposedly,
magical. Though I had a stack of over
1000 pages lying on my bed, I wasn’t very
excited to get started. To this day I still have
to be in the right mindset to delve into a new
world. Usually, I like to be comforted by old
friends.

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I once read somewhere that the beginning of
a novel is not unlike the beginning of a friendship.
There’s this kind of excitement and the
desire to get to know as much about the other
person as fast as possible.

As a Harry Potter reader, it’s easy for me to say
that its cultural significance is unparalleled to
any other narrative of our time. But consider
this: in the summer of 2005, my dad, my younger
brother and I went on vacation to Italy. On
the day of the worldwide release of Harry Potter
and the Half-Blood Prince, the three of us
went to the local bookstore and bought a copy
each. Over the course of the next two days,
we barely spoke, save for asking each other
“What page are you on?” To think this same
book was keeping two and a half generations
awake into the night — that’s rare. And yet,
this has been the case for a good decade now.
I’ve always taken pride in the fact that I’d read
Harry Potter before the hype started. When
the inevitable happened and Harry Potter got
turned into a movie, I was not impressed. The
Lord of the Rings was released around the
same time and, both being fantasy novel adaptations,
they were soon competing for fans
and box office receipts. This was the Team
Edward/Team Jacob question of the early
millennium. I ferociously vouched for Middle
Earth, to a large extent because I didn’t want
the movies to destroy my images of Harry,
Hogwarts, and Hogsmeade. I was also
slightly appalled by the speed at which
the marketing machine had picked up
Harry Potter when The Lord of the Rings
had taken almost fifty years to make
it to the big screen. Not that The Lord
of the Rings wasn’t milked for all it was
worth, but it was made thanks to Peter
Jackson’s passion for the novel. In contrast,
Harry Potter was made to cash in on
the hype.

As Harry grew up and had to deal with teen
angst, so did I. But amidst all the confusion
— “do I really want to be an auror when I
grow up?” — Harry Potter remains tame. In JK
Rowling’s world, despite Voldemort and his
evil gang, innocence and idyll set the tone.
The halls of Hogwarts serve as a refuge from
the dangerous outside world and, unsurprisingly,
many decried the increasingly dark
turns Rowling took with the story as the series
progressed. Dumbledore’s absence after
the 6th book and the setting away from Hogwarts
force Harry to grow up — and his readers
along with him. Rowling reminds us that
eventually Hogwarts will be replaced by
the real world.

Meanwhile, in the real real world, Harry
Potter has become the best-selling
book ever. It’s been translated into
70 languages, sold more than 450
million copies worldwide, and
been made into eight feature
films, which have grossed 6 billion
dollars worldwide thus
far. Rowling’s latest coup?
Announcing the soon-to-come
website “pottermore.
com.” With the eighth and
final movie coming out
this Friday, something was
needed to keep the machine rolling. For
now, there’s no shortage of daily news updates
on Emma Watson’s wardrobe, Daniel
Radcliffe’s almost-drinking problem,
and Rupert Grint’s, well, there’s nothing
on him, actually. But in a few
weeks, when the box office numbers
are dying down, Harry Potter
fans will let out a sigh of relief — or
pain, knowing that it’s still not over.
My relationship with Harry ended
with the last page of the seventh book. It
was the longest I’ve had so far — 10 years
of anticipation and excitement. Naturally,
I grew more critical of the series as I got
older, saw flaws and shed tears, but still,
whenever I need comfort and I want a
light read with head and heart, I turn
to my old friend Harry.