Back in 1999, I was playing with my 9-year-old cousin Jason and I happened to have a copy of a Entertainment Weekly's Best of 1999 in my hand. As I moved it aside, he screamed, "Oh my gosh, Harry Potter!"
"Who?" I asked.
He pointed out a tiny postage stamp-sized drawing of Harry Potter from the book cover. Next thing I knew, he was talking nonstop about a fantasy world so intricate and detailed that I just couldn't follow. Wizards, witches, spells, and magical creatures? So not for me. I was never one to care for fantasy, sci-fi, or any stories not rooted in reality.
But there was something about the way he talked about these characters -- like they were his friends in school -- that intrigued me. So I got my hands on a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone... and before I knew it, I was sucked into this magical world myself.
Sure it was exciting to soar through the skies on Buckbeak with Harry, turn back time with Hermione Granger, taste every flavor of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Bean with Ron Weasley, and indulge in butterbeer with the trio, but what really made me fall in love with the Harry Potter books was, ironically, how human they all were.
When Harry was shunned as an outcast only worthy of living in a broom closet, I felt his pain. It was the same way I felt when all my friends in high school suddenly turned their backs on me the first day of school. When he stressed about finding a date to the Yule Ball, I felt his nervousness. It was the same way I felt when I thought no one would ask me to the big dance at school. When he was faced with He Who Shall Not Be Named's evilness, I shuddered in fear with him. It was the same way I felt when a bully just kept putting me down and I was so shaken I couldn't find the right way to get myself out of the situation. And when he finally realized that Ginny Weasley was the love of his life, I felt his passion. It was the same way I had felt when I realized a close pal just might mean more than a friend to me.
Through life, love, and even looniness, Harry Potter's world became my world... any situation I found myself in, as silly as it sounds, I often started pulling from the strength of his character. When I moved away from my parents, I thought about how Harry had made a new life for himself and created his home away from home and a "family" of friends. When I was heartbroken and in tears over a crush gone wrong, I thought about how when someone like Cho Chang turned him down, he let the weight of the emotions sink it, learned from it, and moved forward. And when I found myself in difficult situations, whether it be a tiff with a friend, a scolding from a teacher, or even literally being stuck between a rock and a hard place (as I did when I hiked through a trail that required some serious rock climbing I couldn't figure out), I've found myself asking myself, "What Would Harry Potter Do?" And as crazy as it is, it always works. I can always depend on Harry.
Reading the books on my own, I felt that connection to Harry -- this was a personal journey I was fighting for along with him. When I started having in-depth discussions with friends about the books, I remember feeling a little violated... how did they know the secret adventures I'd been on with Mr. Potter? But then that's when I realized why Harry Potter is such a sensation... everyone can relate to the characters and the stories in their own way.
When the first movie came out, I finally felt like I was able to share the story with all these people... a universal tie. Movie after movie, I came to discover what being a Potter fan was all about: Life. Challenges will always come, enemies will always attack, loves will always come and go... but what you always have to count on are your friends, your family, and your own strength.
As I sit glued to my TV on any given ABC Family Harry Potter Weekend or geek out in New York City at Discovery Times Square's Harry Potter: The Exhibition and at Taipei, Taiwan's Train Station's Platform 9 3/4, I'm also just grateful about what Harry Potter has taught me about life -- it's an adventure... and it's your personal journey, so live it the way you want to!
So as I headed into the theater last Tuesday for an early screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2, I was filled with mixed emotions. So thrilled to be seeing Harry Potter's final chapter on the big screen, but so sad that this journey has come to an end.
And that's why it's been so difficult to bid adieu, zai jian, auf wiedersehen, ciao, adios... or however it's said in the dozens of languages that J.K. Rowling's books have been translated into... I realize not only has Harry Potter himself grown from an 11-year-old orphan who lived under the stairs into the ultimate hero who saved the wizarding and muggle world from evil, but I've also grown through the years with him. I'm no longer the shy little girl who would agree with what anyone said and just go along with anything even if she didn't believe in it... somewhere along the way, I've learned to be confident, strong, and stand up for what I care about... and for that, I'll always have Harry Potter to thank.
(aka known as Ra"Cho Chang" in the wizarding world)
I totally geeked out at Harry Potter: The Exhibition at Discovery Times Square in New York City with fellow "super fan" Greyson Chance!