Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

Eight Years with Harry

I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at about 6 pm on Saturday. It would have been earlier, but I wasted some of the day driving home from Melbourne to Romsey, with Harry sitting on the seat beside me. Anyone who knows me should be full of admiration because I did not try to read and drive simultaneously.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 

I first met Harry Potter in 1999, when the second in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was published in paperback. At the time I had just started my PhD and was wasting a lot of time on an email list that discussed ‘girlsown’ fiction; Elinor M. Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School series, etc. Someone mentioned this new series that was updating the boarding-school genre and after reading various enthusiastic posts I decided that these were my sort of books. I bought the two then available and, like millions of others, was hooked. Eight years later, I still am.

harry-potter_0005.jpg harry-potter_0004.jpg

The Age review of Book Threeharry-potter_0003.jpg 


From 1999 onwards the release of a Harry Potter book became an event in my life. If I was in Melbourne I bought the latest book at Readings on Lygon Street on the day that it was released, and then read the first chapter eating a pain au chocolat and drinking an Iced Coffee Big M at Thresherpersons. I cut out the reviews of the books and put them behind the book’s dust jacket, where they still remain, yellowing and becoming brittle. The historian in me can’t help it.

The one exception to my Readings – Thresherpersons ritual was the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. That came out when I was in Adelaide, doing research for my PhD and waiting for the 2000 National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia to begin. Reading Harry then kept me sane during the absolutely horrible debate about sexuality that happened at that Assembly. The fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, came out three years later, in time for the next UCA Assembly, where the debate was slightly less horrible, but where I still needed comfort reading.

Harry, with The Lord of the Rings and the entire Chalet School series, remains one of my favourite sources of comfort reading. Just before Easter 2005 I was told that I would not be exiting from Theological College at the end of that year; that the Faculty had decided that I needed an extra year of formation. I was devastated. My call to ministry, my vocation, was in question. Luckily my placement that year was at Trinity College and Janet Clarke Hall, so I didn’t have any duties over the Easter break, since the last thing I felt able to do that Easter was go to church and see other Uniting Church people. I pulled out all five Harry Potter books, bought two litres of Iced Coffee Big M and a family-sized block of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and read for four days straight. At the end I felt able to interact with other people again, which was a good thing, because that Easter, followed by tragedy after tragedy, was the last moment of quiet I was to have for a very long time.

Book Six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released in paperback just before I went to Switzerland. I had serious theology ready to read on the plane (what else was I going to do for 24 hours) but when I got to the final pre-plane shops at Tullamarine, having cried through customs, I put the theology away, bought the Half-Blood Prince, and read it all the way to the other side of the world. I reread it in January this year, still on the other side of the world, after my beloved step-father died, I read it, and I cried. That copy is still over in Bossey, and I hope it comforts some other homesick Bossey student.

And now I’ve finished the series. It’s over. Saturday night I felt empty and restless, not unusual for me after a truly satisfying read. But on Sunday I began rereading the series from the beginning; now that I know what is coming I can pick up the hints that Rowling has been dropping from the start.

On Saturday I described Harry to Veryan as our generation’s Narnia. It isn’t our generation’s Lord of the Rings – there’s only one of those, no matter how many other fantasy authors have been compared to Tolkien. But the Narnia series, aimed at children, full of mixed-up mythology and legend and fairytales, with over-arching themes of good and evil and the ultimate triumph of good, plus some completely anachronistic mentions of Christmas – that’s what Harry reminds me of. And when Damian and Olivia and Teagan and all the other children I know hit 10, I’ll introduce them to Lewis’s Narnia and to Rowling’s Harry and hope that they enjoy them as much as I have.

So, thank you, J. K. Rowling.


July 23, 2007 - Posted by | Pop Culture


  1. (Getting in now before any spoilery discussion starts):

    I’ll dispute you on “this generation’s Narnia”, but that’s mostly because I love Narnia and don’t love Potter. Quite apart from that, though: how long is the current waiting list on your copy (assuming I can catch up with you at some point…)?

    At the 2000 Assembly, I hadn’t yet begun reading the HP books, although I remember that you were excited. By 2003, I was reading OotP during the 2003 Assembly, and discussing it as I went with you, Morag and Robert… (one of the fun moments of that Assembly).

    — surrounded by boxes

    Comment by Heidi | July 23, 2007 | Reply

  2. Well, I think the bug is catching. I knew that Susan had pre-ordered her copy and was planning to be in the queue on Sat morning as soon as the shop opened, but I usually play it cool and wait till the books come out in paperback.

    But this time round I lost my cool, and strolled casually into Borders this morning, picked up a copy (with the “adult” cover design, so maybe I haven’t completely lost my cool… yet) from the shelf and equally casually bought it and strolled down to the Nova to see the latest Harry movie. Gosh I love Monday cheapie day at the Nova! (and they have choc-top ice creams in Bailey’s Irish cream with almonds flavour! Yum 🙂

    Comment by Caro | July 23, 2007 | Reply

  3. Great post, Av. That empty feeling would be the crash after your sugar-high from all that Big M and chocolate.

    My sister read me Narnia when we were kids, bless her. I’ve tried re-reading them in adulthood and found them horribly creaky.

    How is Christmas anachronistic in HP? Whenever the Christian Right attacks HP for its witchcraft (or whatever), I think, ‘But they celebrate Christmas at Hogwarts!’

    I’ve loved the HPs I’ve read and, this may seem to contradict the claim, but I can’t remember how many of them I’ve read. Or which film I’m up to. But then, I am so sleep-deprived, my memory is seriously faulty.

    Did you read about the guy in Canberra who jumped into Lake Burley Griffin to retrieve his lost pre-purchase receipt?

    Comment by Olivia | July 23, 2007 | Reply

  4. How long is the queue for my copy? Well, it’s a queue of zero at the moment because I’m not yet lending it out. I’ll need to reread it again when I’ve finished the previous six. At the moment I’m half-way through Chamber of Secrets, because I’m being responsible and doing other things (like my job) rather than reading non-stop. But after my second reading, Heidi, you might be able to borrow it. Not that you deserve it at all, since you admit that “you don’t love Potter”. Forsooth. Madam Stabb!

    Caro, keep consoling yourself with the thought that you haven’t “completely lost your cool”. Yeah, right! It may be the adult cover but we all know what you’re reading.

    Olivia, I think Christmas is anachronistic in Harry Potter because in all the discussion of good and evil and the power of self-sacrificial love between Dumbledore and Harry there is no mention of God. There are all these greater powers around, but it’s an a-theistic world. So, why Christmas? But not as absolutely and utterly anachronistic as Father Christmas popping up in Narnia. What was Christmas celebrating in Narnia – the birth of Aslan? No wonder Tolkien, with his high notions of ‘sub-creation’, was appalled by Lewis.

    Comment by Avril | July 23, 2007 | Reply

  5. I still haven’t read Harry, who knows I may one day but feel no actual need at the moment. It’s great the interest that kids have in reading due to Harry I see it at work all the time, but hopefully the other good books being written are not being overlooked in the hype. Personally I like Jonathan Stroud’s Amulet of Samarkand, and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series better, but it’s a big world with room for different opinions.

    Comment by Pete | July 24, 2007 | Reply

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