Archive for Sunday, July 12, 2009

Growing up Potter: From recess to college graduation, a generation matures during J.K. Rowling’s famed series

Daniel Radcliffe is shown in a scene from “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

Daniel Radcliffe is shown in a scene from “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

July 12, 2009


Mia Iverson is going to pull a black cloak and red-and-gold-striped tie out of her closet this week.

It’s not Halloween, but she’ll don the clothes Tuesday anyway and head down to the movie theater before midnight. Iverson, a Kansas University senior from Frisco, Texas, will be around other people dressed up in the red and gold Gryffindor uniform, people in the silver and green of Slytherin and countless other fans waiting to see the newest Harry Potter movie for the first time.

Tuesday night at midnight, movie theaters will begin showing “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth installment of the eight-movie series modeled after J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series. In the movie, Harry and Dumbledore work to search for Voldemort while hormones run wild for the magical teenagers.

Tickets to the first two of three midnight showings at Southwind 12 sold out already, but die-hard fans can still get tickets online for the 12:10 a.m. showing.

Many of these fans grew up the same time Harry did, reading the first book when they were in fifth or sixth grade and finishing around the time they graduated high school, just like Harry. Along with reading an intricate fantasy story, members of this Harry Potter generation say they’ve learned lessons from the books and identify with Harry, the seemingly normal boy with an abnormal past and powers.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince * 1/2

The sixth movie in the "Harry Potter" series is its most disappointing. For all of its visual splendor, it bungles the details and reduces J.K. Rowling's rich fantasy world to a vague and arbitrary dullness.

Get movie listings, reviews, and more at


‘Childhood ended’

Megan Do, a KU junior from Wichita, was introduced to the Harry Potter series by her fifth-grade teacher. It became her favorite part of the day listening to the story, and from then on she was hooked. She has been to every midnight release of the books and movies since then, and she plans to see the movie Tuesday night.

Do has been no stranger to showing her love for Harry Potter. She went to several Harry Potter parties throughout school, where she dressed up as Cho Chang, Harry Potter’s love interest for a few of the books. She says part of the reason she loves the story is that she can relate to its characters.

“I totally had an awkward phase,” she says. “For Harry Potter, he stuck out like a sore thumb and didn’t really make friends well.”

Do, who says she could never get tired of the books, used to stay up all night reading them when they were newly released. For her 16th birthday, her aunt, who owns a toy store in Chicago, sent her different Harry Potter memorabilia — a light-up wand, Quidditch balls and supplementary books mentioned in the series. During high school, she also helped a friend develop, a Harry Potter fan site with biographies of characters she helped write. Then, she graduated in May 2007, two months before the last book in the series was released.

“I grew up the same time he did, and after I read the last book, I felt like my childhood ended,” she says.

‘Good vs. evil’

Giselle Anatol, associate professor of English at KU, will teach a children’s literature class in the fall where her students are required to read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first book in the series. She says it’s important to study the books because they’ve become so popular with children and adults alike, many of whom read them multiple times.

“A lot of the narratives are ingrained into kids’ minds,” she says. “There are subtexts, social lessons and morals.”

Anatol has edited two books with essays that take a critical look at different aspects of the books. She says the books have different layers, which make them interesting to interpret and talk about. They have echoes of other familiar stories: adventure like in Arthurian legend, mystery like classic Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys novels, orphans finding homes like in Oliver Twist and also budding romances and fairy tales.

“Some people argue that it’s the classic tale of good vs. evil that draws people in,” she says. “It’s not like a lot of fairy tales where good is the perfect good. Harry has all these faults.”

A scene from “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” features Michael Gambon as Dumbledore and Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter.

A scene from “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” features Michael Gambon as Dumbledore and Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter.

‘It guided me’

Austin Falley, a junior from Wichita at KU, says there’s something basic and universal about Harry’s life and the struggles he goes through. Falley graduated high school at the same time as Do and grew up reading the books.

“I feel like it guided me into the end of high school,” Falley says.

Falley’s mother, who was a teacher, read the first book to him and his brother, using different voices for characters such as Professor McGonagall. He and his friends started to get into the books and went to most midnight releases. For “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the last book in the series, Falley and his friends made T-shirts sporting sayings such as “Ginny is a fox” for the night, eventually landing on the evening news for their preparations. They bookstore-hopped that night and tried Hogwarts Express and Hogsmeade staples, such as butterbeer and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.

Falley is getting a group of friends together to see the movie Tuesday. He says the story is sentimental to him and that he doesn’t know anyone who doesn’t get obsessed with it.

“As we grew, it grew with us,” he says.

‘They’re an escape’

Elise Higgins, a KU senior from Topeka, thinks the books have good lessons to teach. She says the themes of compassion and creativity are all within the book, in addition to values like love and kindness. But the books offer more than that to her.

“They’re an escape, and they’re funny,” she says. “As a kid I always wanted to levitate, shoot sparks and unlock doors.”

Genevieve Apel, a Lawrence senior at KU, says the style in which the books were written are what she likes. She’s fascinated with the fact that Rowling spent years before writing the book to figure out a seven-book story and developing believable characters.

“I think she does a really good job capturing the adolescent age,” she says. “She writes them so well you think they could exist.”

Apel got into the books right when they were released and has read each book at least four times, seen all the movies and listened to them all on CD at least twice. She’s already got her midnight showing tickets.

Iverson says her costume probably won’t come out again until the next movie does. It’s been used a lot — for book releases, movie releases, and one year during Halloween when she and her brother, seven years her junior, dressed up as Harry Potter. The stories gave them a way to bond, but also gave her an escape from real life.

“With each book,” she says, “I understood what he was going through because I was going through the same thing.”


Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 11 months ago

I am sixty-three own all the books and have gone though the series four times. I also own the other books about Hogwarts and Harry. I am very impressed by the word play in the books and how each characters name means something. The name of the spells come from Latin and Arabic. The herbs are for the most part real, though she does make up a few. The story behind the Mandrake root is fascinating.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 11 months ago

Thank you so much labmonkey for the link. It made my day, really it did. I am remembering what Harry said when asked why he didn't blow someone out of the sky with his wand, "I don't squash people who get in my way. That's Voldemorts job." Do you have slitted nostrils?

denak 8 years, 11 months ago

I am one of those adult women who reads Harry Potter. In fact, right now, I am reading Half Blood Prince to my son in preparation for the midnight showing. I can't wait!

I love these books. They never fail to amaze me in how nuanced they how many layers they have.

When I look back on my son's childhood, Harry Potter would have played a big role considering until they came out, I really couldn't get the kid to read. And for a mom who is a reader, having a child who doesn't like to read is like sticking a knife in her heart.

And as a foster mom, these books never failed me. I got every single one of my kiddos (those that could read) involved in the books and I can't tell you how many times I would have a kid swear he or she hated reading but within a few weeks, they would start to read them. Priceless.

So, on Tuesday night, I and my son will be standing in line for the midnight showing(which we have never missed) and will be one of those people Henry Rollins hates. :0)

And I couldn't be happier about it!

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 11 months ago

I totally agree with you denak, having my particular mental illness the Order of the Phoenix is really meaningful to me and my daughter. Harry is desperate to have people tell him the truth about what is going on and no one will. For the first time I understand from the child's point of view how not saying something can be far worse than simply telling the truth. A lot of people are in one sense or another living like one of the characters. Hermione had muggle parents but they encouraged her in her talents as a witch. We can all learn from that. Guess what character I was at the midnight book releases and at Halloween. Wouldn't you like to be a metamorphismagnus, I think I got that right, like Tooks?

overthemoon 8 years, 11 months ago

Finding the first book of Harry Potter before there was a Harry Potter phenom is one of the more luscious memories my daughter and I share. Like the students in the article, she was in fifth grade and had a gift certificate to the Children's Book Store that she had won for some academic achievement. We have all of the books (most grabbed at midnight at the Raven) and both she and I and my husband have read them all over and over. As Irish and Denak have pointed out, they are so very well written, the stories are so compelling. What's interesting to me is how the style has changed and grown along with Harry. The first book is a charming tale told in a sweet way, but the later ones become real psychological and social studies.

My husband scoffed at the first book as he complained that our girl was not reading the classics of children's lit. Then he slipped up and started reading the Sorcerer's Stone. He realized that we had found a new classic that will take its place with Treasure Island, the Narnia Chronicles and all of the great books that bind children of all times and ages together.

overthemoon 8 years, 11 months ago

And I also recall one friend's response to my enthusiastic review of the first book. She would not permit her children to read it because it taught children to be wizards and Satan worshipers. Wow.

My daughter and I had a secret wish that you really could be a wizard and go to Hogwarts. And to this day, we have not come across any of her peers riding broomsticks and casting spells.

Linda Endicott 8 years, 11 months ago

I am well past childhood, and I have all the Harry Potter books and have read them multiple times...

mdrndgtl 8 years, 11 months ago

I haven't read any of these books but from what I understand, Rowling brings to light the difficult journey of a young, homosexual male growing up in suburban America. Could I start with the latest book and still understand the story?

yoornotmee 8 years, 11 months ago

My 6th grade teacher introduced me to Harry Potter. It really is neat growing and maturing in sync with the characters.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 11 months ago

mdrndgtl Where on earth did you get that from? The books are all written in , and set in, England. Harry Potter is not a homosexual and as far as I know, no one in the books is. Harry and Hermione marry in the last book and the last chapter is about them taking their children to the train station to go to Hogwarts. Ron marries Hermione. If you only read the last book you should be able to grasp what is going on, but would miss some of the nuances that have developed between students, and students and professors over the years.

jonas_opines 8 years, 11 months ago

Only problem I had with the books, other than some quibbles about the ending, is that all of the Slytherin kids are written as bad. That always bothered me.

spiff 8 years, 11 months ago


"Harry and Hermione marry in the last book and the last chapter is about them taking their children to the train station to go to Hogwarts. Ron marries Hermione.:


"Sweet. Magical polygamy."

G_E 8 years, 11 months ago

"Harry Potter is not a homosexual and as far as I know, no one in the books is."

Dumbledore is.

jonas_opines 8 years, 11 months ago

I think Rowling tossed that out for talk value, frankly. The sexual orientation of the teachers is simply not a topic the books were made to consider. 'cept maybe for Snape.

denak 8 years, 11 months ago


You could start on the last book but what a shame that would be. You would not be able to see how certain characters evolved and will not be as emotionally involved in those characters if you start with the last book. Plus, there might be some confusion as to what happened with certain characters previously. If I were you, I would start with Socerer's Stone.

Irish, as for being able to change like Tonks, I think it would be fun. I think it is a shame that she and Lupin have to die but in reality, their lives would have been hell because of all the prejudice.

As for the Slytherins, they aren't all bad. Or at least Dumbledore often points out that they have both good and bad qualities. And remember, Narcissa Malfoy saves Harry's life. If she hadn't told Dumbledore that Harry was dead, Voldemort would have finished him off. Of course, she did it to save her son but that's a Slytherin for you.

Got to go back to work now.


jonas_opines 8 years, 11 months ago

There are reasonable Slytherin adults (or at least one's with redeemable qualities). Slughorn is another. But no kids with any redeemable qualities are mentioned.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 11 months ago

My bad. I meant to write Harry marries Ginny. Snape wasa hard one to figure out. Lily always loved James though. There is good and bad in everyone. But the four wizards who started Hogwarts had different views and so the four houses came about. They came together in the end to fight Lord Voldemort when the whole school including the Slytherins turn as one to support Harry. My favorite scene though is when the Weasley twins get the best of Umbridge and then go flying out though the doors. I loved reading that. Ron wanted Harry to kill Draco Malfoy in the fight in the room for all purposes when they are trying to get the horcrux, but Harry refuses to, and because of this Malfoy's mother saves Harry. Think of what role Nevile Chamberlain ends up playing?

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