Banned Books Week: The Thanksgiving That Potter Trumped the Mashed Potatoes
Your grandchildren should thank you for many things, but there’s one that’s left quite an impact: instilling a love for magic. I’m referring to Harry Potter.
I can’t remember what we were doing or how the topic came up. I only remember your words, your facial expressions, and the dim light as I read in the corner. I remember After so vividly that Before is hazy. So for the sake of entertainment, allow me to embellish the story, to take some creative liberties.
About thirteen years ago, we were rolling out the crust for one of your delicious Thanksgiving pies when you asked me how school was going. I told you all about my class, my friends, Girl Scouts, and the latest American Girl book I was raving over. I was a reader – not as big as I am now, but definitely read more than my classmates. You smiled and asked if I’d read Harry Potter yet.
I was offended. “Ugh! No! Why would I want to read a book about a boy who goes to a magic school? It’s not even real!”
You stopped rolling out the crust and looked at me square in the eye. I’m still intimidated, even though I tower over you now. It’s that look you get when your grandchildren have crossed the line, and rather than dig a hole to try to get back on your good side, we attempt to stand as still as possible and wait for your calm, disappointed reprimand.
I turned bright red at that stare.
“Laura,” you said, “have you even tried reading the book?”
A timid “no” was all I could muster.
“Then how do you know you don’t like it?”
I couldn’t think of a response.
You brushed the flour off your hands and wiped them on your apron. “I have the books. Why don’t you go upstairs and read the first chapter of Sorcerer’s Stone. If you like it, you can borrow it. If you don’t like it, then you can come back down and finish making this pie.”
“Read the book, Laura, or you don’t get any mashed potatoes.”
That did it for me. I was a very picky eater (if things looked funny, smelled funny, or contained food I claimed I didn’t like, then I wouldn’t eat it. I think you were giving me two-lessons-in-one this night). No mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner pretty much meant an empty plate for me, and definitely no pumpkin pie after.
So I bolted up the stairs to your art studio, grabbed the first paperback off your desk, and scampered to Grandpa’s office to sit on the window seat. It was rainy out, like it is in a Cincinnati autumn, and I didn’t want to turn on the light. Mom was always pestering me about how my eyes would go bad if I didn’t turn on the light, but there was something about the faint blue glow of natural lighting I loved. Old habits die hard – I still read in tight spaces and dim lighting, and yes, my eyesight is horrendous now.
I’m not sure how much time passed. I remember my little brother yelling from downstairs that dinner was ready, but I didn’t move. I remember Mom calling up to me, but I didn’t move. Finally, you came up the stairs, each step creaking with age.
“Laura? Dinner’s ready.”
“But Harry just got a snowy white owl, and he gets to take that owl to school! And he’s traveling with this giant, Hagrid, only he’s not full-giant, he’s half-giant, and—”
You laughed. You plucked the book out of my grasp and clasped my hands, leading me down the stairs to the dining room table to eat. I devoured my meal, bounced in my seat anticipating pie so that I could devour that as well and get back to Harry.
I must’ve taken the book home and kept it till Christmas. I remember jumping around and nearly screaming with excitement in my school library during the Scholastic Book Fair when I saw the paperback boxed set of the first four books. I blazed through them all, I joined message boards without my parents’ permission, I wrote poor fanfic and read great ones, I discussed theories for Book Five, and I went to see the movies.
With each new book release, I raced to the bookstore at midnight, read and laughed and cried and threw the books around, and then mailed my copies to you at your vacation destination.
Our enthusiasm for Potter extended to my younger cousin the second we discovered she loved to read. Like me, she was skeptical too. But one chapter in and she was hooked.
Thank you for introducing me to the world of magic and fantasy. Who knows what else that inspired? Did it inspire my love for Gothic literature? My enthusiasm for all things British? My interest in folklore and Celtic history? The pursuit for a degree in books, a job with books, and life surrounded by books?
You and JK Rowling and Harry shaped my past, present, and future. Potter isn’t great literature by any means, but it’s certainly a stepping-stone into the magical, adventurous, alternate world of imagination.
Thank you, Nana. Thank you for threatening to take away my mashed potatoes.