Rereading the Harry Potter Books to Understand the Fandom

Confession: I didn’t get into Harry Potter until the last book was announced. I know that it was 2007 and I was working full-time at a doctor’s office, preparing to move South for graduate school in August. I was 26, and for reasons I can’t remember had eschewed Harry Potter up to that point. Maybe because I was too busy with work and graduate school applications, or maybe it wasn’t even on my radar. It’s only been fairly recently that I’ve even really taken an interest in fantasy or sci-fi, so maybe I just brushed it off as that sort of thing. I don’t remember Harry Potter being the phenomenon it is today. At any rate, at some point, I decided to find out what the fuss was all about and went to the bookstore. It might have even been because the bookstore near me was holding a midnight Harry Potter party for the release of the last book, and I wanted to go because it sounded fun, but wanted to actually read the books first.

I bought the first one in paperback—only the first one, in case I hated it—and though I felt like I was jumping on the Potter bandwagon, started reading. I finished it in a day or two and I remember feeling like I NEED TO READ ALL OF THESE RIGHT. NOW. I remember buying the next two at one time, and then once I was done with those, buying each other book one at a time. Because the books got longer as time went on, after the first 3, I focused on buying only one, and waiting until I was finished to get the next one. I bought them rather than take them out of the library because I knew I was reading something special, even if I couldn’t put my finger on it. I wasn’t a Potterhead, and didn’t fall in love with the series when I first read it, but I couldn’t stop reading the books when I got them, and disappeared into Hogwarts when I opened the books.

I did end up going to the release party for book seven. In fact, I had fallen down the stairs at my mother’s house a few hours before the midnight party in such a spectacular fashion that she was concerned that I should maybe stay home instead. Despite the fact that I could barely sit down or lean against anything without massive pain radiating down my legs and across my back, I made her go with me to the party, as I sat gingerly on the sidelines of all the games and festivities. We lined up to get the books, and when that hefty tome was placed in my hand, I’m pretty sure I started reading before we had even left the store.

I took my time with the last book, and when I closed the back cover, I didn’t know what to think. Unlike many people who had followed Harry over a period of years, I crammed it all in within a matter of weeks. What had I just read? Is that it? It’s done? Soon after that, I packed up my life and moved several states away for grad school, and if I’m being honest, didn’t really think about Harry Potter or Hogwarts much after that. As time went on, I didn’t understand the fandom enthusiasm, wasn’t interested in the spin-off books, and never felt the need to see the movies. I saw the fourth or fifth one (I think) at some point with some friends because it was the featured outdoor movie over the summer, but haven’t seen any since. I didn’t take the quizzes to find out which house I was in, and had sort of just left Harry and Hogwarts behind as something I’d read years ago that was enjoyable, but just another series I’d read. When Pottermore came out, I didn’t find out my house, my patronus, or my wand, and I didn’t really get the fuss about it.

And then this summer I was talking with a friend who loved Harry Potter. He was trying to explain to me why he cried at certain points and the finer aspects of qualities found in each house. I decided to try and reread Harry Potter to see what I “missed,” so to speak. What is it about Harry Potter that draws people in so completely? I know that each fandom is unique, and what one person loves another person might hate, or maybe only like a little bit. But I kept feeling like maybe I rushed through my initial reading of Harry Potter, and so I embarked on my rereading journey. (This also may or may not have coordinated with Target’s release of their Harry Potter stuff, which only reinforced my decision to go back and reread).

Right now I am about a third of the way through Book 4. What I’ve noticed this time is that because I’m not ravenously consuming them to “catch up” on something, I’m noticing all of the nuances—like the deceptively simple things Dumbledore says that are actually pretty profound, or things like the Mirror of Erised. I didn’t realize the first time around that it was Desire spelled backwards. I was so busy rushing that it went right over my head. So this time, I’m reading the books at a leisurely pace, really taking everything in. I’m paying attention to the characters of the classmates and the details of Hogwarts. I’m holding off on watching the movies until I’m done my reread of the series, but I will say I’m getting a lot more out of the books this time around. While I’m sure my experience is very different from that of someone who grew up with the books, I’m really glad I decided to do a slower read of the series so I can get to know the Wizarding World a bit better. When I need a break from reality (and with current events, who DOESN’T need a break?), or when the sadness of watching my grandmother go on hospice gets to be too much, or when I need to escape the tedium of a day with a toddler, returning to Hogwarts when I open up the books feels like…well, in a strange way, feels familiar and comforting. Almost like home.

And it turns out I’m Ravenclaw, my patronus is a leopard, and my wand is aspen wood with a dragon heartstring core.

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