How I Grew to Hate Harry Potter (and Learned to Love it Again)
I tried to reunite with an old flame in the summer of 2013, emphasis on the word tried. We were introduced by my cousin when I was 11. He was an orphan with a tragic story, and his messy black hair draped ever so effortlessly onto his forehead. Did I mention that he was also a star athlete at his school? It was a magical summer. I was in love.
So was every other girl at my school. And boy. The year was 2003, 6 years after the first book of the Harry Potter series was published in the UK. The mandarin translation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had just come out in Taiwan, and all of my classmates hid copies of the book under our desks so we could read during class. The school banned non-academic related books alongside jewelry, ankle socks and free-thinking. The Harry Potter series provided us an escape in an environment, which valued only academic achievements. Hogwarts, among its many appeals, was a fantasyland in which students actually got to wear attractive uniforms (we had uniforms too. They were neon yellow with green stripes on the side. We looked like giant, rave-ready glowsticks.).
In the summer of 2013, a decade after I first read the books and a few years since the movies had concluded, I revisited the world of Harry Potter. I was about to become a senior in college, and the time had come for me to decide whether to join the Order of the Phoenix or the dark side. Kidding. But I felt that Harry would offer support and escape for me, just like he did during middle school and many years afterward.
I picked up a copy (this time in English) of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My heart was pounding. Blood rushed to my face as my fingertips experienced the tingling sensation right before I open a highly anticipated book. As I flipped through the pages, however, a terrible, paralyzing realization came to me: I hated Harry Potter.
To begin with, the narratives were overwhelmingly single sided. The Dursleys were portrayed as piggish and selfish villains instead of believable human beings. The storyline of Dudley giving Harry hell did not seem realistic to me, since overweight children are so often the victims of bullying today. And poor Colin Creevey! He was nothing but a sweet boy who wanted to document everything he saw at Hogwarts for his milkman father, yet Rowling depicted him as such a bothersome fool!
As the books progressed, I at last pinpointed the aspect of the Harry Potter series that bothered me the most: Harry was exceptional. Not only was he a world saving hero, he also happened to be the youngest seeker in a hundred years. Now that I have grown older than Harry, the boy who was once my companion now appears to be someone I cannot relate to: a jock who was in the popular crowd at school (which was not really emphasized in the books. Why didn’t Harry have more friends or get laid more?). I suspected that most people were unlike Harry during their teenage years, and I found that I would much rather see the wizard world from Hermione or Neville’s vantage points. In fact, if there were one person in Potterverse whom I related to, it would be Neville. I, much like Neville, was a chubby and clumsy teenager who ruined her international school’s bake sale by failing to boil water for the tea we wanted to serve. (Yes, one can fail at boiling water. It is easier than you might think.) As I aged, not only did Harry lose his relatability, I also could not picture him as someone I would hang out with, or even like.
Hermione, whom I worshipped for her intellect and wit, also did not live up to my expectations. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with being smart and loving books. However, as I slowly grew out of an academic environment, and had to confront issues larger than whether a woman can be smart or not, I found that Hermione had little to offer. Her tendencies to cry and break into hysteria grew tiresome to me. She also had a classic rom-com moment of “the dorky girl takes off her glasses and becomes hot!” at the ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which I found frown-worthy. The grown-up me still valued intellect, but found Hermione less inspirational than, say, Buffy the vampire slayer, who stopped the hellmouth from opening in her prom dress and high heels (kick ass AND unafraid of her femininity!).
At this point, I had lost all faith in Potterverse, and was convinced that I was just a child who liked the Harry Potter series and did not know any better. And then, a 9-year-old girl who happened to be a friend of mine started reading the books for the very first time. And, surprise, she loved them. She was enchanted with the wacky snacks on the Hogwart’s express, the magical courses and the fast-paced Quidditch games. Her passion got me thinking: why were the sparks gone between Harry and me?
The answer, I think, is growing up. Whereas a child beholds Potterverse with absolute wonder, a burdened adult sees it through tinted lenses. A child sees a villain. An adult sees a multi-dimensional, and possibly misunderstood human being. A child sees magic. An adult sees the flaws in the magical world. Neither party is wrong. Children cannot help but wonder, and adults cannot help but overthink. Underneath all of its flaws, however, the Harry Potter series is simply a fun ride with a healthy dose of darkness. Potterverse is not for those who overthink. Much like ice cream and Nora Ephron movies, the Harry Potter book series is unbelievably enjoyable, but a better Bildungsroman ultimately is a task for more capable hands.