Nothing like coming to a cultural phenomena a few years late! Yes, after years of not reading Harry Potter, I have finally succumbed and am only a few pages shy of finishing Chamber of Secrets. And I have concluded that the key to J.K. Rowling's success is that she coats each and every page with a fine, fine sheen of crack cocaine. There is no other way to explain just how goddamn addictive these books are.
So why am I so ridiculously late to the party? I tried reading the first Potter book when it originally came out but I just couldn't get into it. Which, I know, is totally blasphemous for a nerdy woman. But it's true. Maybe I just didn't have the right mindset. I used to be way snobby in my youth, reading the Times Literary Supplement each week and pretending I was obscurely European. Maybe I thought I was just too "smart" and "grown up" to read it. But let's face it, the far more likely reason was that I just got confused. It's such a big, sweeping mythology. I don't always do well with those big long novels with tons of characters -- that's why Tolstoy makes me cry. This Potter stuff can be daunting to newbies: what's a muggle? What's a Malfoy and why are there two of them? What's the difference between a Hagrid and a Hedwig? Yes, I was baffled by a world that was being consumed with clear-eyed ease and understanding by nine-year-olds. So much for my intellectual snobbery.
Over the years, though, I did see all the movies and while I was still confused, there were at least a whole series of pretty, colorful moving images to keep me interested. And ultimately, seeing the movies has helped me appreciate and understand the novels as I read them now. As I'm nearing the end of Chamber of Secrets, I can reference my movie going experience when needed and picture all the characters in my head -- ah, yes, Hagrid is Robby Coltrane, Malfoy is that Jason Isaacs guy who wooed Donna on The West Wing, Professor Lockhart is smarmy Kenneth Brannagh and so on. All the puzzle pieces have fallen into place for me and now I'm relishing these crack-covered pages as much as the next member of the nerdy literati.
I'm feeling a bit sad that I missed the initial hubbub, but in a way I'm grateful, too. Everyone who followed the phenomena from day one had to wait in agony to see if the movies were good, had to sit on the edge of their seat wondering if the next novel would be as good as the last, had to wonder and worry if such-and-such actor would embody a role the way they'd envisioned it. That's a lot of stress. Me, slacker that I am, can now just sit and cruise through these books knowing that there aren't any George Lucas-y/Jar-Jar Binks-y lapses in creative judgment, secure in knowing that the end of Harry's journey is just as exciting as those first opening pages. I still have those last movies to wait for, too, so there's at least some mystery left, just not enough to warrant any ulcers. And I think that's a good thing.
And speaking of cultural sloth, I'm totally looking forward to catching up on this Rubik's Cube craze I've heard so much about....