Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reading Harry Potter

We just finished Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows today, after a breakneck Harry Potter marathon over the winter. I would have drawn it out longer, and sprinkled a few other authors in here and there, but we began running into an unusual number of kids who were far too willing to spill the beans about the ends of the books to the twins (why oh why do kids do this? it's never little kids doing this, either, but kids you'd think would know better than to ruin an entire 7 book plotline for a couple of seven year olds, leaving their mother to White Lie it a bit so as not to totally ruin the oncoming deaths of Important Characters). Since I couldn't very well duc tape anyone's mouth shut, I decided to speed up our consumption of that phenomenon known as the Harry Potter series.

We'd already read The Philosopher's Stone, The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban; they were begun in the lazy dog days of summer, when none of us could bear to think about school regimens. A good read aloud, I'd thought, that's what we need - that will ease us back into a schedule. And what better than a series about school (albeit a magical school)? Max and I had already read each book as it had come out, so I knew the story, or at least, I thought I did. The twins were captivated. It was a new and wildly delightful world for them. FDPG started carrying around a broomstick, from an old Halloween costume, and we found a website that told us how to make a Hogwarts wand so she could completely irritate her older brother with cries of Expelliaramus! Alohamora! and Wingardium Leviosa! She donned an old Waldorf silk cape and spent so much time whipping around the house on her broomstick that she eventually knocked over most of the houseplants and scared the you-know-what out of the cat (who still flees in utter panic whenever she enters the room). Dominic spent all his time wondering about the finer points: Did all wizard kids go to regular school or just Muggle-born wizard kids? Did they have to do math ever? Why did they wear those billowy cloaks when playing Quidditch? Why does Dumbledore ignore so much critical stuff? Why didn't Snape wash his hair?

We had a brief Diana Wynne Jones interlude (House of Many Ways, The Game, Dogsbody, Castle in the Air), to start the new school year, mostly so FDPG could steel her imaginative resolve a little in time for The Goblet of Fire and its accompanying movie, because we always had a movie showing after the book. But the series takes a more, err, mature turn here: perfectly nice people die, long dead parents have poignant cameos, and the Death Eaters have several creepy scenes (not to mention the fact that my old heartthrob Ralph Fiennes makes an alarming appearance in the film without a nose). I could see all kinds of problems arising if I started this book too early with FDPG: the combination of an impressionable seven year old and a very dramatic story about wizarding tournaments, not to mention sudden and irrevocable death, was not one I was willing to make. Besides, Max and I had seen Goblet of Fire in the theatre when Max was eight, and I was still slightly scarred from watching him cry as we left the theatre. "That was kind of scary," he'd said shakily. He was right - I'd no idea it would be quite so dark. I spent the final 20 minutes of the film cursing all the movie reviewers who'd neglected to mention this while Max hid behind his container of popcorn every time Ralph Voldemort screeched and swung and sliced. I had no intention of revisiting that place with FDPG: to hell with The Boy Who Lived, FDPG is The Girl Who Has Night Terrors. That trumps.

But then we went to a wedding, and some helpful little sod twit 13 year old told the twins that Dumbledore died in Half Blood Prince, and that Harry and Ginny got married in the end. "Oh, he's just having you on," I said, "he's kidding around." It was time, I knew. Either that or have every kid we run into spill what remaining beans there were.

So I hauled out Goblet of Fire. We read it. This book tested my ability for accents: there was McGonagall, Hagrid, Mad Eye Moody, AND Fleur Delacour to remember, to say nothing of keeping Hermione, Harry, and Ron straight. I have to confess that I used the accents of the actors in the movies: they were easy to remember and they made the movie viewing all the more piquant. A ripe Scots accent heralding the appearance of McGonagall in a scene made everyone grin madly, while Fleur's "Ooo, 'Arry, zat was so sweet of you!" had the singular ability to make Max (now 12) blush and scowl at the same time ("She doesn't really sound like that, does she?"). And when it came time to see the movie I simply sat next to FDPG and covered her eyes when the scary bits came. She was more than okay with it, too - she'd read the book - she knew what she was missing: she plugged her ears and I plugged her eyes. "Books are always more scary than the movie, Mum" she said one time. "I don't need to see Voldemort, I can imagine him and that's scary enough."

And thus we moved along, through Order of the Phoenix, The Half Blood Prince, and finally, through The Deathly Hallows. There were times along the way when I found the words too sad to read, and Max had to take over, and times when FDPG decided that she read better than Max and that SHE would take over when I got all emotional. I said earlier that I thought I knew the story, having read it already, but as each book opened up I found all sorts of things I'd forgotten or not noticed on the first reading. I also noticed things I hadn't before: plot lines that, if one reads the stories back to back, make it quite clear who's good, who's bad, and who's in between. I'd been in such a hurry before that I'd raced along at my own breakneck speed, desperate to see who lived and who died at the end, and sometimes I was left wondering. And here I was reading it again. It was more fun this time. It was fun hearing FDPG shout "And then we apparated out of there!" from her bedroom, while she and Dominic played Harry and Hermione at Hogwarts. It was also fun pretending to be McGonagall during math: I'd wear a red satin cape, smack the white board hard with a stick and let it rip with the Scots accent. I sometimes added or deducted points from the houses, just for the heck of it (Maxendor, Katenclaw, and Dufflepuff). We pretended to drink pumpkin juice at lunch and the boys dreamed of multiple desserts after each meal. And it was fun reading the little notes FDPG left for Dominic in his room, promising an entrance to Hogwarts if he behaved himself ("Dear Dominic, Now that you are 11 you can come to Hogwarts, here is your book list").

Finally, I wish I could have made a sneak video of FDPG's face while I read the books, because every grimace, grin, scowl, and look of anguish every character manifested, not to mention each flick of a wand hand, was tested out on her face (and hands) each and every morning, over her cup of tea. You don't get that in the theatre, and you certainly don't get that when you read by yourself.


Sarah N. said...

I've been reading your blog silently for awhile but I had to pop in with a comment since my husband just started reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to my 5yo daughter. It's been a great bonding activity for them and I sneak in after putting the 2yo to bed to hear as much as I can. Your experiences reading the series sound fantastic! And I'm glad to hear that your 7yo's were ok with the later books. I know my daughter won't be able to wait long to read more.

Suji said...

It was good to read this Sheila...thanks! If FDPG and Dominic are okay with it, maybe I could start soon too. DS still hasn't begun HP (unless of course he still remembers the time I read books 1 and 2 aloud to him when he was in my belly). I'm a little hesitant partly because he is still rather soft at heart and partly because I want to keep my copies non-dog-eared a little longer :) I had planned to let him read them independently but now I'm sorely tempted to read them aloud. It will be good to visit Hogwarts again. Now, I have to find a way to convince him not to tell anyone that we're reading it. :)

sheila said...

Hi Sarah! I'm glad to see you have the Philosopher's Stone, and not the Sorcerer's Stone! (you want the REAL thing!) Good luck with the reading: there were plenty of times when my two hid behind couches as I read. That's partly why I read in the mornings, actually - so the scary bits would be but a memory by the time they went to bed. But you know, I think the scariest images are in the movies. They really go to town on Voldemort, IMO.

sheila said...

Suji: doing it as a read aloud is pretty fun. We had such a good time. Good luck keeping it secret!

Vivian said...

This is such a fantastic series! How fun to read it aloud as a family and use your imagination to bring the story to life. You are such a great mom.