Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dear Ms. Rowling.

Dear Ms. Rowling,
I probably should have written sooner, when the last Harry Potter book came out, because in the heart of a true fan that's when it ended. But because we loved your books so much, we held onto the movies, separate and incomparable as they were. We held onto them and waited for each new one, and while the movies were never the same, they offered some consolation for our loss.
But now, with the last movie out, it seems it really is finished. Obviously the books are there to be re-read, the movies to be re-watched, but the discovery, the staying up until the wee hours of dawn to finish a new book-all of that is passed. And it's sad. It's sad because you created a world on napkins at a cafe a million miles and minutes ago that these million miles and minutes later we deeply and truly love. And even though that world is still there for us, we now know how it ends. 
And so I thought I should take this opportunity, not to, as I first planned on, quibbling with the final film, but to thank you, from the bottom of my heart. It would be melodramatic and untrue to say you saved my physical life, but it would be absolutely accurate to say that your books saved me, the true me, from the depths of a deep adolescent identity crisis that threatened to spill over into my adult life. 
I was thirteen when I walked into a bookstore in Richmond and saw the table of Harry Potter books in the front. At the time there were only books 1-3. I knew about the books. By then it was impossible not to. But I didn't want anything to do with them. I didn't want anything to do with any books. This was not a natural way of life for me, and yet I clung to it in the desperate, irrational hopes of the chronically uncool child who wants more than anything to be cool. Books had been everything to me when I was little. I devoured them, everything from The Babysitters Club to Little Women, from the Diary of Anne Frank to the Redwall series. I couldn't get enough of books and stories, and so I would write sequels to the books I loved on an electronic typewriter given to me as a birthday present (does this date me? I think it does). I lost myself routinely in other worlds. I went from the big woods of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to Indians in cupboards and castles in the attack. I was a writer then, even when I was still learning how to write. It was obvious.
And yet somehow, about the time 5th grade struck, I decided that this was all wrong. Books and writing were the enemy, because loving those two things, loving them dorkily and all-consumingly, made me what I was but so badly didn't want to be, unpopular. I went to a school with 50 kids in it, and we all knew who was cool and who wasn't. And even though to this day I'm not sure why, I made it my mission to be cool. 
This pains me to recall, but I started doing badly on tests on purpose, so I could turn to the cute, popular boys next to me and show them that I wasn't one of those smart nerds. I treated good friends like dirt to get ahead, to move into that elite echelon of eleven year olds that I was convinced was my eternal key to happiness. Trips to Abercrombie replaced afternoons reading. I decided I hated writing, and purposefully wrote awful prose for the fiction tutor my parents signed me up with for private lessons.
This sad, misguided half life continued for most of middle school. I wish I could say why it was so important to me to be popular, why I thought it was worth it all, but I honestly can't. Maybe it was just that rebellion we all go through against who we really are, when we try to convince ourselves that who we are isn't good enough, and that being someone else is better. 
I was in the throes of this stage of my life when I came upon that Harry Potter book. We were going away for the weekend, and my mom suggested I get a book for the car ride. Surprisingly I agreed and I bought Harry Potter. I would have been mortified if anyone from school saw me reading it, but I reasoned that if I read it in the privacy of my car with my parents it didn't count. 
I was finished with it by the time the weekend was over. The next two books went just as quickly, and I was surprised to find myself waiting eagerly for the fourth book to come out, even if I would never have admitted that to anyone at school.I didn't immediately go back to school and give up my quest for popularity. Life is never that simple. I was a brat for years to come in some aspects of my life, but after reading Harry Potter, for the first time, parts of myself began to come back. I would try to quiet them, but they were there and they weren't going to be shut down again. Harry Potter opened a flood gate back to myself. It was that first shock, that first spark of creativity and enthusiasm and dorky passion hidden at the core of my being.  
Ms. Rowling your book did something that no one, not my true friends or my family could do for me at that age. Your book got past that forced, cruel layer of middle school social climbing, past my dismissal of everything that made me me as uncool and it found me, the real me, the nerdy, book-loving girl that at the time I had shunned and hidden away in a dark place in my brain. 
I fell in love with the world of Harry Potter that weekend. It was a done deal from the very first chapter. But more than that your book reminded me of how, as desperately as I wanted to be popular, it couldn't compare to how desperately I need that part of myself, that part that could fall hopelessly in love with another world and who wanted nothing more than to grow up and create those worlds of my own. 
I hate to think about what would have happened if I never picked up that Harry Potter book. I know I would have found my way back to myself eventually. Middle school doesn't last forever. But I don't know how long it would have taken. I don't know how many years I would have lost.
You brought me back to life that October of 1998. And since that October, your books have meant more to me than any other book ever could. I can never thank you enough for what you did for me, for what these books and these characters and this world has done for me. 
It seems so insignificant, these two tiny words on top of the mountains of words you have written, but thank you. 

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