by Pete Mazzaccaro
A few years back, I wrote an editorial in which I disparaged the Harry Potter phenomenon. How, I wondered, could people be so sucked up in a series of books (or movies for those with shorter attention spans) based on some strange fantasy of a boy wizard fighting evil magicians and a bad upbringing?
Personally, I’ve never had a lot of patience for fantasy writing. I’ve read “The Hobbit” and a handful of other books that fit the bill of sci-fi and/or fantasy, but I’ve mostly been baffled by the genre. In college, I took an elective on science fiction, thinking the class would be a critical look at the form. But the instructor, I discovered, actually wanted to discuss the stuff as serious literature.
Before mid term, I was begging the professor to let me read something different. After struggling to pay attention to Arthur C. Clark and Ursula K. LeGuin, I thought I might never be able to summon the strength to read again. The books were silly and a struggle to power through. I remember saying to the man, “I just can’t take this stuff seriously.”
I made it through the class, which fortunately did include at least two very good books – “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Phillip K Dick and “The Sirens of Titan” by Kurt Vonnegut – but the scars from that semester were certainly still fresh when I tried to read the first Harry Potter book and put it down before I was done with the first page.
In the time that has passed since the attempted read, I have to hand it to Harry Potter (and, of course, his creator, the writer J.K. Rowling). I haven’t changed my mind about the boy wizard. I still have absolutely no desire to spend my time reading about his adventures. I have, however, come to respect the character’s staying power the same way I respect the longevity of other works of fiction, from James Bond to James T. Kirk.
To get a good look at just how popular Potter remains, a visit to Chestnut Hill this weekend where hundred, perhaps thousands, will descend on the neighborhood in wizard wear to take part in activities for kids and adults up and down the Avenue.
The weekend event started last year as an extension of Chestnut Hill College’s growing Quidditch tournament, a nutty take on the magical sport played by characters in the Harry Potter novels. I happened upon the event by accident. I was driving up the Avenue returning from a nice hike through the Andorra Natural Area with the kids when we saw crowds of costumed people – kids and adults – marching up the hill from the college.
When I reached the intersection of Bethlehem Pike and Germantown Avenue, the sidewalks were thick with Potter reenactors of all ages. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to ever see more people on sidewalks in Chestnut Hill outside of its two annual arts festivals.
Whatever the attraction is, it is real. This weekend I’d expect to see the same size crowds, if not even more people, in town for the events. It may not be for me, but a lot of folks love Harry Potter.
My daughter, it turns out, is one of those people. Like every other kid who picks up the books, she is enchanted with Harry Potter. She’ll be here and plans to dress up as the character Hermione. So I’ll be here on the sidewalks with the other wizard fans, if not in spirit, at least in respect.
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