When you discovered a favourite author… J.K. Rowling edition

I wasn’t among the first readers of J.K. Rowling. I caught up around Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’s release, which involved a number of late nights reading the first three books before cracking open the most recent.

At the time I was working on my PhD thesis about Disney animated and theatrical musicals. My supervisor gave me a rather stern look: “I know you’re enjoying Harry Potter, but you should put it down and focus on your thesis.” I’m always a rebel. At the following meeting, I brightly smiled and handed him a short essay comparing Harry Potter and Simba from The Lion King. He chuckled.

When I started teaching children’s literature, of course, the Harry Potter books were an essential part of our curriculum. I was actually teaching the first generations who grew up with Harry Potter. When the last book was due to come out, we held a symposium and compared notes about waiting at Borders for our books and how we clutched our Hedwig plushies, which came with the book, as we started reading.

So, Harry Potter has really been with me throughout the start of my academic career. I still teach Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is my favourite volume of the series. I’m not actually a great fan of the films, although I enjoy them well enough, so I’m always surprised these days when people identify the films before the books. It just seems wrong. Harry Potter is about books. Harry Potter is about those amazing, halcyon days when it seemed everyone on the planet was reading the same book on the same day.

The influence of Harry Potter is still being felt. Anthony Gierzynski, with Kathryn Eddy, has published Harry Potter and the Millennials (covered in i09), which examines the political influence the series has had on a generation:

Specifically, the evidence indicates that Harry Potter fans are more open to diversity and are more politically tolerant than nonfans; fans are also less authoritarian, less likely to support the use of deadly force or torture, more politically active, and more likely to have had a negative view of the Bush administration.

Indeed, the series has prompted much activism and charitable behaviour. The Harry Potter Alliance, for instance, is a brilliant gateway to these activities, as is Lumos, which works to free children from institutions. As J.K. Rowling herself has said, “Isn’t it time we left orphanages to fairytales?” Indeed.

I’ve also loved the creativity of fans in creating stories, art and even knitting patterns inspired by the books. To end this post, here is my completed Ginny’s Cardigan with its pattern of owls on the back.

Ginny's Cardigan

Ginny’s Cardigan

Maybe I should make some butterbeer for Christmas?

When you discovered a favourite author… Neil Gaiman edition

This morning I booked to see Neil Gaiman in January. I’ve seen him speak before, of course, and every time I leave with a pocketful of new insights into storytelling, despite the occasional moment of squirming when he makes a remark about his works being taught.

When did I discover Neil Gaiman, though? I was a comparative latecomer. I still haven’t actually finished reading Sandman.

I discovered Neil Gaiman one night after being locked in University Parks, Oxford.

Really.

I was in Oxford with my best friend. We’d just been by Tolkien’s house.

The house where "The Lord of the Rings" was written.

The house where “The Lord of the Rings” was written.

We decided to wander the park for a while and enjoy the trees (if you’ve read The Lord of the Rings, you know Tolkien liked a tree). Twilight fell and the park was ever so pretty.

Twilight in University Parks

Twilight in University Parks

But twilight passes quickly in England at that time of year and soon our view was considerably darker.

Night

Night

We decided we’d better hurry to the gates. But the gates were already closed and locked. We looked at one another. My friend is rather tall and spry (she is the elf in our friendship). She was sure she could jump the gates. I’m shorter. I was wearing a long skirt. I pointed this out to her. Eventually, a lovely lady walking her dog, who happened to have one of the precious gate keys, took pity on us and, with a chuckle, freed us.

By this point, we were starving, and I promised my  friend cake to make up for our misadventure. We went to a little cafe in one of the big bookstores down on St Giles.

Afterwards, we were wandering the stacks and I saw Neverwhere on the shelf. I admit it, I was attracted by the copper rat on the cover and the promise of rat kings and the author being “like some demented cook” (the Clive Barker quote on the back over).

The book that introduced me to Gaiman

The book that introduced me to Gaiman

My friend had read Neverwhere before me. She’d seen the BBC television series, too. She assured me I couldn’t go wrong, so I bought my first bit of Neil Gaiman storytelling.

I really haven’t looked back since. As my students can probably tell you!