When I was a kid, in my young teens, and like many other people, I totally fell in love with Lord of the Rings. The wonderful complex and rich storyline, the fantastic creatures and people, the amazing landscape…I was really captivated. The characters became my friends, the evildoers my enemies, my fondness for Gandalf (and my grief at his death, the first time I read that passage) genuine. I read the entire series an inordinate number of times…always starting with The Hobbit, as to only read the Trilogy was a type of sacrilege…sometimes repeatedly for days on end, as I did over one long Christmas Break as I was stranded in the snowy woods of Maine, far from my friends and too young to drive. Had my obsession been over any other thing, I’m sure it would have raised alarms in my parents…but as these were books, I generally got an sense of approval and encouragement. It was a fantastic escape from my complex and mundane life, and I cherished the books deeply.
As I grew, the majesty and mystery faded and I grieved a little that there were not other stories that grabbed me the way LOTR did. Over the years, through college and young adulthood, I tried getting obsessed with other series of books, reading lots of fantasy series trying to recapture that infatuation….but nothing ever came close.
Then, about 15 years ago, the first Harry Potter book came out. Like so many other people, I assumed it was a children’s book, maybe on the level of Pippi Longstocking, and it sort of felt ‘beneath me’…but I appreciated that kids were finding a new joy in reading. By the time the third or fourth book came out, a public sensation had begun to form and everyone was talking about the books, with massive lines forming for bookstore deliveries and newscasts about release dates, and I began to realize that maybe there was more to this series than just a children’s tale. By the time the last few books were released, I decided that I really wanted to read them, but on my terms.
I hate social hype. The fact that the series had become a worldwide phenomenon, with movies being released, superstars created even before they had finished filming the first installment, products flooding the market, kids confusing the joy of loving a good story with the materialistic obsession of owning some marketed product…all these things were anathema to me. I did not want to be identified with the hysteria…I wanted a chance to re-experience the joy of discovery as I did with LOTR again, if that was a possibility. I wanted to keep the surprise bottled up and feel it fresh it for myself.
So for the last decade or more, I have known that I was going to read the books. But I also wanted to avoid knowing ANYTHING about the story…and I mean ANYTHING. I avoided overhearing conversations from people talking about them, I have avoided seeing any of the movies, reading any articles about the actors, even looking very closely at products featuring scenes from the story: if I had a chance to lose my virginity again, I did not want anything to ruin it. This was going to be my little secret and it was not easy, but I have successfully stayed blissfully ignorant about pretty much everything about the story since it first came out.
This summer, I picked up a copy of the 1st and 3rd books at a yard sale for about a quarter each, and decided that the time had come to start reading. The 1st book lured me in with its childish glee and charming story, so I found the 2nd book at a used bookstore and continued. As I read, part of the adventure was to find the following books in unusual places. I had the 3rd book already, was given the 4th by a friend, found the 5th and 7th at another used bookstore, and checked the 6th out at my school library.
I won’t describe the story, as you either are blissfully unaware (probably not) or have read or watched them so you’re fully acquainted. But I will say that this was the best thing I have done for myself in many years. This is no children’s story, regardless of how it begins…the plot is fantastically complex, the characters deep and likable. The entire experience of reading totally brought me back to my youth and my love of the fantasy world that LOTR invoked. I have just finished the last book after a marathon session, and I’m in a bit of a daze from the great experience.
The only time in the last 15 years that someone almost ruined my efforts at staying ignorant of the story was when an airline agent saw me move one of the books in my luggage, and she could not contain herself, and she had to tell me that the story unfolded in such a way that every time you read it, it seemed like a different story because you saw everything in a different light. I have to admit, although I was very angry at her for telling me ANYTHING, she was right. I think in a few weeks I might re-read the entire thing again, just to gather details that I lost along the way. Then I get to explore the movies and re-discover the characters again. I’m sure I won’t lose myself in obsession like I did with LOTR, but a good book deserves to be read a couple of times, I think. But I’m not going to run out and join a quidditch team or anything.
Really nice read. Really. If you haven’t read them yet, don’t hold back.