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Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

April 22, 2019

YANDAVA | Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Nostalgia

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Last Friday, I went to Risley’s annual Harry Potter Night, and I have to admit, seeing all the wands and cloaks, the chocolate frogs and owls made me just a little bit sad. However, the oddest moment for me wasn’t seeing a centaur galloping through the halls wearing a unicorn head but when I saw my friends getting their Hogwarts acceptance letters and decided against getting one, asking myself, what on Earth am I going to do with this piece of paper? My next reaction was surprise at that sentiment, that I could reduce this object to its simple materiality. Such an action would’ve absolutely appalled my 11-year-old self, but my 20-year-old self was simply hungry and tired.

It’s strange when we reminisce on the things that defined our childhoods and think about how much they meant to us then and later realize the apathy with which we’ve since come to regard them. As a pre-teen and teenager, I’d been obsessed with Harry Potter. I spent so much of my time reading and rereading the books, watching the movies and (especially) writing shitty fanfiction that the series almost became something like my identity. While the Harry Potter books were by no means the first or last books I’d ever loved, they were what first got me to first write seriously, and I made so many close friends through those communities.

Nevertheless, a few years after my obsession faded, I went back to the first Harry Potter book and tried to reread it, expecting it to be as good as I’d remembered it to be. When, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t, I was more than a little disappointed. I couldn’t figure out whether the problem was with me or with the book itself since the series has been popular with children and adults alike.

Much of the appeal with Harry Potter, I think, is that J.K. Rowling is so adept at world-building and creating a wide array of characters who are easy to empathize with. However, in comparison with other children’s books writers, Rowling now seems to fall flat in my eyes. Perhaps some of this is due to her celebrity, that seeing her personal life and opinions show up in the media spoils the romance of childhood we so desperately want to hold onto with such books. Or perhaps it’s simply the blatant consumerism which has fueled the Potter franchise, especially after the publication of the last book, that seems so at odds with the home-grown, collaborative, creative community I had come to love.

In an article for The New York Times, novelist A.S. Byatt made the observation that “being taught literature often destroys the life of books.” So maybe it’s equally true that as someone who spends a lot of time picking apart books for their literary aspects, I’ve forgotten the simple pleasure of a good story, even if it might not hold any sort of “deeper” meaning.  Likewise, as I’ve grown up, I’ve no longer come to define myself in terms of books or movies or any other sort of “fandom.” This has been rather liberating. Although Harry Potter might once have shaped and helped me discover who I was as a person, that very discovery entailed a repudiation of its instigator, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

To see the magic fade out of the things we once cherished and held beloved is sad. But maybe it’s only a necessary step in growing up, becoming ourselves.  As Rowling herself once wrote, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” 

Ramya Yandava is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ry86@cornell.edu. Ramya’s Rambles runs alternate Tuesdays  this semester.