Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter's significance

So, this is it. In five and a half hours all will be revealed.

Actually, that's rather an exaggeration since the book is over 500 pages and I'm not necessarily extreme enough to stay up all night reading until the end. (Although perhaps that would be a nice way of paying homage. So maybe I will stay up, we'll see.) But still, for those who flip to the last chapter - all will be revealed very shortly.

I don't think I'm the biggest HP fan out there. Not even close. I do love the books. I think the movies are mediocre but I still go to see them either opening night or week. I've gone to a book release party - the 2005 one at McNally for The Half-Blood Prince. I've dressed up as a Gryffindor student for Halloween. I've got an HP poster on my bedroom wall.

But this is all unusual for me. I don't usually dive into fandom like this (seriously). And not all of my HP memories are nice, happy ones.

In fact, my first memory of HP goes back to before I'd ever picked up the first book. Dip into the pensieve and you'll see my mom sitting at our old kitchen table, reading the Winnipeg Free Press. The third book has just been released and the article describes the frenzy of fans rushing to Chapters to get their copies. My mom is exclaiming in a dismayed voice about how troubling it is to see so many people are interested in a book filled so blatantly with witchcraft. She sees it as another sign that we're living in the Last Days.

I don't know if this was the moment I became intrigued by Harry Potter. I honestly can't remember when that was or what went through my head when I decided I wanted to read the books. But I know it was sometime around then that I bought the first book from our local Chapters. This was probably around 2000.

This wasn't the first contraband book I'd ever read (or even the first that I'd read and kept in the house). My reading of literature that went against the JW grain started in Grade 4 when my class read The Witches by Roald Dahl. I wasn't allowed to read it, of course. So while my class would gather on the floor around my teacher while she read, I was sent to play Winnie the Pooh on the computer.... all the way on the other side of the room. Noteworthy is the fact that the other side of a room is rarely out of hearing distance. It certainly wasn't in this case. As I played I couldn't help but hear the story being read aloud and finally I didn't even bother trying not to listen. To this day, The Witches is one of my favorite "kids books." (If you've never read it, read it - its fantastic!)

The next "turning point" (although at the time I'd never have called or recognized this as such) was reading the Chronicles of Narnia. My teacher had the entire set in our classroom reading section and she recommended them to me (she remains one of my favorite teachers to this day... unfortunately I can't remember her name).

I picked up The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and couldn't put it down. I was so into that book! I had never, ever read a book as good before and I was in heaven. I went through the whole series as fast as I could. I brought them home from school with me - getting them past my parents somehow. In fact, I remember reading them on the couch just before our family study began and being reprimanded by my dad - not because of the book but because I was reading when I should have been getting my Bible. They didn't even notice the title (that time).

And so it went - through our entire time at home, my sister and I read books that deep down we knew our parents and our congregation (church) wouldn't have approved of us reading. But that didn't stop us.

Why? Were we just willfully disobedient and rebellious? Well, partially yes - we were pretty stubborn kids and I feel sorry for my parents somewhat, in hindsight, and hope that my kids aren't as stubborn and bratty as we were at times. But at the same time, I've always thought of our stubbornness - when it came to challenging authority - as rather special and something to be proud of. It meant that we always questioned things - even things we were told we shouldn't question and that we were being taught as "gospel truth." This didn't mean that we didn't believe - at least, I know I did - but we never saw a problem with debating our beliefs in order to understand them more fully or to see if there was another way of doing something or interpreting something. (For me, this was particularly when it came to the JW interpretation of womens' role in the church - it began when I was 12.) I don't think it was until much later that we realized that there would never be another way and that challenging would never do any good because this was very definitely not a democratic or egalitarian religion. And I never would have thought that asking questions would ever get us into so much trouble.

Of course, we weren't reading books because we wanted to get into Satanism or the occult or even because we were purposely trying to piss off our parents'. We were reading because we couldn't help being drawn to good books and that was that. Coincidentally, the good books were often the ones with the timeless stories of good verses evil. Just because the books featured magic didn't mean we weren't going to dismiss them. We refused to believe that magic in itself was an evil thing (or, in my case, that it even existed in real life and not just in a story as something fictional and intangible). In all of the stories we read, there were always two sides and the good side always won - the right side, the god-approved side, or even, in my interpretation of things, the "JW side."

Plus, our friends were bending the rules, too - only in slightly different ways. They'd listen to music with explicit lyrics (I still remember the first time I listened to Shawn's Redman CD and my horrified reaction) or get drunk at parties or go to dance at "worldly" clubs or "school date" worldly boys (oh, man, I can't believe we had a term for that), and they had no problem with watch the Lord of the Rings movies when they came out. What we were doing seemed pretty tame in comparison.

Of course, ultimately it ended up being the reason for everything.

So back to Harry Potter. One of my other not-so-sweet memories is of my dad finding one of my HP books and ripping it into pieces in front of my sister and I. Another not-so-sweet one is of my dad going through the books that my sister had been given by the Claw and taking all of the ones he thought looked questionable, putting them in the car, and tossing them into random dumpsters. For two girls who loved books as much as we did (do), this was a travesty and there were tears and rage.

Its weird to remember all of this right now, actually. But as I think back on it, I notice that we were always on the side of the books. Always. Knowledge - no matter what the cost?

When we were called in for "questioning" before our church elders, I defended the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter even then and chimed in when Karina defended herself for having taken out "questionable" books on evolution out from the public library. (I remember using the good verses evil argument, but comparing Frodo to Jesus - not explicitly, but I guess it was pretty much implied - didn't really go over very well.) In hindsight, this was of course incredibly stupid of me and I should have realized how it would have been taken as a sign of deviance and rebellion.

But then, I've never been very good at keeping my mouth shut when I think that someone or something is wrong. Something wells up inside of me and I have to speak out (Jeremiah 20:9). And, even though it ultimately ended up with our leaving them, I still credit the JWs with giving us all this boldness. I still see it in each of us and I think that its one of the more admirable parts of our characters.

Back to Harry Potter again. I've lost a lot in the way of family and friends, but I've gained the freedom to read whatever I choose. I think my indulgence in HP fandom is the way I exercise this right.

And now, with that abrupt conclusion, I'm off to the release party in the park. Its going to be a historical night.


Elliot said...

Good post!

I suppose my parents were pretty tolerant for JWs. My mom had misgivings when I started reading The Lord of the Rings in the fourth grade, but she didn't stop me. Even earlier, when we were living in the country, she gladly signed the parental waiver form that permitted me to get books from the adult section of the Centennial Library. I was really into Tarzan at the time and they were in that section.

My parents read a lot, and had lived all over the world. Maybe that made them a little more intellectually adventurous? Plus they were somewhat older than your parents. Who knows why.

It still weirds me out to see you use the word 'church' in connection with JW congregations, etc. It just doesn't fit.

Anactoria said...

I think of it as just being a "church" now and that's the only way most people will ever see Kingdom Halls.

I remember our Heidi book being all marked up where my mom had taken black highlighter and crossed out all of the times "church" was used and written in "Kingdom Hall" instead.

Now *that's* weird! :P

Anactoria said...

I think my parents did what they believed was right in the JW context - i.e. their interpretation of scripture, etc. It just seems harsh and kind of crazy now that we no longer have that same worldview.

Anactoria said...

You were lucky to be able to share that kind of thing with your mom.

Still are! :)