Several weeks ago, our family listened to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on a long (long!) car trip. We followed that up with a viewing of the movie adaptation. For several days thereafter, the children’s play was full of Quidditch matches and House Sortings: “Hogwarts, without Harry Potter”, as my six-year-old put it.
And it occurred to me then that my kids will never know a world without Harry Potter, without his complete story. They will never know the building buzz, the anticipation of the next release, or the speculation over how it would all end.
And even more than that, they will never have the experiences that shaped–long before Harry came on the scene–the way I view the series.
I first saw Harry Potter in my college bookstore, and was instantly attracted by its cover and blurb. It drew me in not because it was something new and different, but because it sounded so comfortably like other British children’s books.
Otherwise known as the Books I Grew Up Reading.
The too-horrible-to-be-believable Dursleys reminded me of Matilda’s terrible family in the book by Road Dahl. The whimsy that characterizes so much of the wizarding world is reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones’ charming and delightful books. And the whole boarding school aspect–stripped off its magic and co-education–is a lot like Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St. Clare’s school series
Blyton’s boarding schools, like Hogwarts, include the stereotypical Good but Stern Teacher, the Nasty Teacher, and the Timid Lacking-Classroom-Management-Skills Teacher. The headmistress is a an awe-inspiring, remote figure, who appears to dispense wisdom at the end of the book, rather like Dumbledore. Blyton’s boarding school girls tread the halls at midnight to have illicit feasts, while Harry’s illicit midnight trips are to the Restricted Section of the library. A chapter or two of a Blyton school story is nearly always devoted to lacrosse matches in the same way Rowling spends time describing Quidditch games.
But Hogwarts also shares elements with my own school experience, sadly, though, without the magic.
I didn’t go to a British boarding school, but I did go to one that had been founded by the British for the education of their young in colonial Karachi.
We didn’t have houses with names like Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin, but we did have houses called Frere, Napier, and Streeton (all men who extended and strengthened the British Empire’s hold on India–make of that what you will). And yes, we did earn points for academic and athletic achievement, and a House Cup was awarded at the end of the year.
We didn’t have a singing Sorting Hat, but we did have a school song. (It began with “O God whose mercy long has kept/Our school from age to age”). I still know the first two verses and the chorus–some things you never forget. Lyrics available upon request. 😉
We wore uniforms and had prefects. In fact, I was a prefect my last year of school, and I wore a badge and a black gown. Our main job was to keep students in orderly lines, check for uniform violations, and make sure there was no unseemly giggling/talking during Assembly.
Fast forward fourteen years, and here are my young, homeschooled children, who have no experience with this kind of school system. Who can’t help knowing major plot points of Harry Potter because they live in a world with Harry Potter (just as my 8yo who has only watched A New Hope knows the relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader). Who will read Diana Wynne Jones and Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton after their exposure to Harry Potter, not before.
My kids, who will bring their own, very different experiences to the story of the Boy Who Lived.
Tami Clayton says
Your school experiences sound almost identical to Harry’s, minus the magic wands and the whole Voldemort thing. 🙂 Schools like that are not very common here in America so I had no idea how similar Hogwarts is to other schools in terms of structure and such. I am reading Goblet of Fire with the 12 y.o. right now (after having read it once myself and once to her older sister) and I still enjoy the story, even on this third time through.
Yes, Hogwarts is based off a very typical English school experience–a model the British exported to all their colonies, apparently. The Americans got out of the Empire too early for it, though. *grin*
My 8yo’s plan is to read one HP book a year. He’s a high-strung kid who gets too involved and too nervous! This way, he’ll gain some maturity along with Harry. 🙂
Ellen Gregory says
It’s so funny you chose now to post on HP, because last Monday I formed a pact with my nearly 10YO niece to form a family “Harry Potter reading club”. She’s read the first three and desperately wants to read the 4th, but her mum won’t let her… So I thought we could all re-read books 1-3 and discuss them together (along with the movies).
I hadn’t considered the fact that kids today don’t know a pre-HP world… but I have been thinking about the dilemma kids face now as they come to read them: JKR wrote them for an increasingly older age group, so not all the books are suitable for young kids — but they’re there and available! I honestly don’t know how I would’ve handled that as a bookworm kid not allowed to read book 4 because my mum reckons I can’t handle one of the schoolkids getting killed.
I went to a private school with houses and such, athough we didn’t board, so the experience was quite different (although I too was a prefect). Nonetheless, I grew up reading Enid Blyton too, and loved the familiarity of Hogwarts.
You could also steer your niece towards other HP-like books. I heartily recommend Diana Wynne Jones’ Crestomanci series, which are not as well-known as they should be! There are lots of other MG fantasies she could get into while waiting for HP 4.
Your plan for a reading club is fantastic! What a fabulous aunt you are. 😀
It sounds like we had similar reading/school experiences. I hope your houses had less silly names, though. I still have a soft spot for Blyton books, in spite of their dated mentality, especially over gender issues (Why did the boys get all the good adventures?). My 8yo son got into Famous Five and my 6yo daughter into the Faraway Tree books (which is just about right, considering their preferences!). I’m reading aloud the Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons books, which does much better with the gender roles, though there is a lot of play involving natives and savages that might bother some.