Monday 13 January 2014

The Magic of Fiction and Power of The Novel

Disclaimer: This is probably the most dorky thing I've ever written on Scarphelia. 

Something a little bizarre happened to me a couple of weeks ago.

I was endlessly scrolling through my Tumblr dashboard as I often do, when out of the blue I saw a picture which filled me with such sudden surprise, familiarity and a tiny bit of sadness, that I actually had to stop and stare for a moment. It was as though I'd unexpectedly stumbled upon a picture of myself as a child, an old friend I hadn't thought about in ages or perhaps a cherished half-forgotten childhood home. 

But this photo was neither of these, yet in some way it was all three. And when I saw what it really was, it kinda made me laugh a little at myself for the instant reaction it had instilled in me.

It was a picture of Hogwarts castle. 

I stopped for a second and realised I couldn't remember the last time I'd thought about the place, and that made me feel... guilty. Liked I'd forgotten my Mum's birthday or something.

And there was something about my immediate knee-jerk reaction to seeing this which made me realise something altogether more remarkable about the Harry Potter franchise, it's inexplicable link with my life, and the sheer power of the novel on the mind of a child.


Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone came out when I was 6 years old, but it wasn't until after Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which was followed by the first movie in 2001, when I was just about to turn 11 years old, that I became well and truly OBSESSED. 

It was the movies, above all else, that struck the first chord of this intrinsic bond that my life would go on to have with this franchise, as it would with countless millions of other children my age. Because the timing of the movies were just so, that little 11 year-old me was staring in wide-eyed wonder straight into the face of 11 year-old Harry Potter, who stared right on back. 

And so that was how my childhood began, and I subconsciously absorbed another life and story, a dual existence - one in reality, and one in this world. 

Some of my strongest memories from childhood are centered around Harry Potter; going on school trips with our class to the cinema to see the latest installment then writing about them in our reading journals, staying up late under my covers with a torch and frantically stuffing the book under my pillow when I hear my parents come up the stairs, being the first in my class to finish Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix and jumping up shouting 'Eureka!' to which my teacher promptly told me to sit down and be quiet.

In countless ways, Harry Potter and this wizarding world was just as strong a reality as what real life actually was. The two were equal and inexplicably inter-twined in my perception. In fact, sometimes this world felt more real to me than reality ever did. 

The highlight of my schooldays would be coming home from school, slinging my bag on the floor and rushing upstairs to eagerly open the book I was on, like popping in to visit old friends. I'd pick up where I left off and it would seem like nothing had changed - as of course it hadn't. And I could resume the conversations and adventures with these fictional friends as though I'd just had them on pause while I had to complete the mandatory rudiments of so called 'real-life'. But that was the sheer seamless magic of Harry Potter. 

This was not just reading a book or watching a film - sometimes it was impossible to remember that you actually were. It was so real, so convincing and flawless that these books were more like a portal to another perfectly formed world that we had been given permission to peek in on, than really... just a book. It couldn't seem possible that all of this was just 'made up'.

I actually remember at one point half-convincing myself that the stories were in these books were actually truth but presented to muggles as fiction by the works of J.K Rowling, who was in fact the real minister for magic in the wizarding world. 

Oh come on, I was only 12.

Another huge contributing factor to my infatuation, was when I was a kid I loved video games. I think it was another form of escapsim of which I so craved - not from a bad life, but from a mundane life.  My head was so full of stories of magic, saving the world, fate, destiny and being the chosen one - If someone were to have turned up on my doorstep and tell me that it was down to me to save the world, without a hesitation I would have believed them. Sometimes the hardest part to come to terms with was the fact that actually, I was just the same as everybody else. 

My Dad had been a keen gamer too, and always treated me to the new Harry Potter Gameboy and PC Game when they came out, and I played them endlessly over and over. So I was never away from Hogwarts. Even between the films, between the books, I was always somehow within those great stone walls, whether tagging along with my friends stories on paper, watching my old friends on the big screen or exploring the virtual labyrinths of Hogwarts all on my own, there was never a point of my childhood where I was not at Hogwarts. 

It was after the third movie, when my focus on this world shifted a little, and I became absolutely determined to be in one of the movies. I was old enough to see this fourth wall and understand that it wasn't ACTUALLY real, but I realised there was a way I COULD make it real. I could, in real life become a Hogwarts student. 

I used to spend hours and hours on end on the family computer, looking up members of the casting team, scrolling through the credits and pausing every split second to see if I could find the right name to contact, and scouring the Newsround website to find open casting calls and auditions. After finding quite a few open calls but tragically unsuccessfully convincing my parents to let me go, I discovered a woman called Fiona Weir. 

And for the next 6 or so years of my life, I wrote endless streams of letters to this poor woman called Fiona Weir practically begging her to let me be an extra in one of the movies. 

A very strong memory I have is reading through the Order of The Phoenix for the thousandth time, and with tiny little post-it notes, every time I found a tiny little minor character or speaking part, I would mark the page with a post-it note and practice saying their line out loud. By the end, I had compiled this huge list of bit-parts and extras which I added into one of my letters to Fiona Weir, saying I'd happily take on one of those roles. 

But in that 6 years I never heard so much as a peep back from her.  

As the franchise progressed and I grew older, eventually I stopped spending ALL my free time inside these virtual realms, and began to integrate myself a little more into 'real life'.

I was terrified of moving up to Secondary School in 2005, as every single person except me and three others from my old school, had gone somewhere else. I was going to a school on the complete other side of town with no friends at all. 

However it turned out to not nearly be as bad as I expected, and a couple of years later I made one of the greatest friends of my entire life. And being a bookish and precocious young girl, going to school and finding a best friend called Harry only added fuel to the ever raging fire.

Being around Harry totally reignited my obsession as he too had grown up so intertwined with this franchise - it was all we'd ever known. We used to spend our time dressing up as the characters and making little videos, (if you really want to laugh, take a look here at one of the pictures of us dressed up as Harry and Hermione.) We even went in fancy dress to the cinema to watch the latest releases and play the latest games on his wii. I was in my mid-teens now, and a good 7 years and 2 foot height later, I was as engulfed within this world as ever.  

But it was never going to last forever. 

The postman handed me over the heavy rectangular parcel on the doorstep at 7am and smiled at me knowingly. "Already delivered about 10 of these this morning." He said and left, to no doubt hand out 10 more. I remember hugging it to my chest with a combination of giddy excitement and sadness. This was to be the last first time I'd receive the new Harry Potter. 

And ohhhhh how I cried when it ended. Sobbed my bloody eyes out.

And this was only made worse in 2011, at almost 19 years old, when it all truly ended for real. Weeks prior to its release, the movie posters emblazoned with the giant words 'IT. ALL. ENDS.' sent shivers down my spine.

It had been a decade since the first moment my life had been inexplicably melded with this magical world. for 10 years, through being a child, to a pre-teen, to a teenager and almost through to an adult, my life had never been away from this world, a little part of me, varying in size with age, had always remained there. 

I had seen love and hate, my own family fall apart, be rebuilt and fall apart again, I had known death and despair and greatest of happiness, I had gone through the most intense period of change that a human will ever go through, all forever backed with the shadow of the castle, my immortal friends and their stories.

Harry and I saw the final film together and we wept.

And I think, to those who grew up in a different time, those who never really got into Harry Potter or those who are just outsiders to the franchise, this whole thing seems totally stupid and sad. Crying because your favourite film series ended. 

But after all this, after everything, it was never truly about the books, or the films, or the characters. It was about what they represented, and the vital lessons of morality and underlying messages of equality, virtue, friendship, loyalty, dedication, perseverance and love that they taught - and all in such a gloriously relatable coming-of-age tale that grew up with me.

As readers of Harry Potter, we are not just thrust into this world alone to try and figure out what all the rules and such were, we had a wonderfully naive and clueless protagonist to accompany us, so we learnt about the world with him - his marvel and wonder was our marvel and wonder. 

This allowed us to begin as children, emotionally, physically and mentally, and enjoy this happy kids book about spells and magic. But as the story glides seamlessly into a more adult narrative with darker more violent storylines, we too mature, and subconsciously understand this story as a fable, a mirror of our life, our society and our world. 

And after it all, I don't think I cried because it was over. Books and films are remarkably immortal - they will never change with time. I was crying because of the one and only thing that had changed - me. These books had grown up along with me and allowed me to dream, they had captivated and ignited my imagination, teaching me life lessons that no classroom ever could. And here I was, after heading in to this franchise a little kid with an overactive imagination and a head full of dreams, emerging on the other side, an adult. 

I believe that everything I have grown up to be, has at least in some way been influenced and shaped by the fictitious works of this one woman's mind.

 Growing up as a child of the Hogwarts generation, growing alongside the characters from childhood to adulthood in this enormous globally-effective multi-sensory adventure has been an entirely unique phenomenon that will never ever happen again. Many giant book-to-film franchises have since tried to emulate the success of Harry Potter, and forever more will, but none will ever come close. And I feel so lucky to have been a part of this uniquely iconic and life-changing phenomenon.

Although the 'Chosen One', saving the world, coming-of-age tale has been a storytelling medium since the dawn of literature, there is something about the idea of it set within a magical school than is inexplicably relatable. 

And being part of this generation, I think that Harry Potter (and the boom of teen fantasy literature which followed quickly afterward)  is part of the reason as to why Millenials have grown up with an almost positively detached view of reality, believing truly that we are destined for greater and that we are unique and deserve to achieve our wildest dreams. 

We have grown up knowing and believing that we are the author and protagonist in the stories of our lives, and that we alone have the power to change the plot.

And I guess I can't help but wonder who I would be now and what kind of person I would have turned out to be, if this one woman on a train had just ignored that little idea in her head.

So with all the gratitude of my 11 year-old heart right through to my 21 year-old heart, thank you J.K Rowling.

 Just, thank you.


You can check out my full album of pics from Hogwarts at Christmas at The Warner Brothers Studio Tour here.

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