One of the most miraculous things about sharing your life with a child is that doors open up, and windows slide down, to reveal worlds that you never would have noticed—let alone have dwelled in. With my own kids, it’s a constant introduction to new phrases, new dance moves, new fads, but very old riddles (knock-knock jokes and corny puns still score big with six- and eight-year-olds). Amid all the hype over Silly Bandz (my two had to answer history and geography questions to amass any) and desiring a Nintendo DS (I refuse to budge and buy one for them to share), Tommy and Jane have learned that I’m not a total pushover when it comes to pocketing treats and toys. They have to work for a special surprise, or I have to see something as having value and significance before I purchase it for them. Over the past month, a captivating, commercial creation has charged into my home, taking me for a spin. He has elbowed his way into their playtime; he has them drawing comic books and playing dress-up. Their dolls are now named Hermione and Ron and Draco. The ringleader’s name is: Harry Potter.
I know, I know—the boy wizard has been a global phenomenon for more than a decade now, but I was childless in 1997 when his publishing franchise first made a splash. Though I knew of Harry (I was working in children’s literature, for a rival publishing company, however), I never got caught up in his spellbinding adventures or his forays into friendship. Now, however, Harry has become a living, breathing entity in my home. It all began when my children began to watch his film incarnation, and gathering around the telly (a little Britishism as a nod to Master Potter) became a rewarding night of family togetherness. Noticeably, though, when we’re done viewing the films en masse, the children watch them again—and again—the following day.
We’re three movies into the whole Potter canon, and I know that the subject matter is going to get grittier and more PG-13 as we proceed, so I’m not sure if I’m going to slam on the brakes at film number 4 and let a year or two go by before we then approach the last four flicks. I know in “real time,” moviegoers had to wait years in between the theatrical releases, but once you have the DVDs made available—well, patience goes flying out the door on a broomstick, doesn’t it? It would seem very villainous of me to stop this ride through “Potterville,” but my maternal blinking light is saying “caution” might have to be applied as we forge forward.
As it stands right now, my son enjoys the films because of the soaring-through-the-air sporting games the students at Hogwarts Academy play. He is on the edge of his seat watching the aerial athletics (which Harry’s team always manages to win, imagine that). He is also thrilled by the combat that Harry and sidekick Ron engage in. It must be incredible for an 8-year-old boy to witness a fellow grammar student slaying trolls, staring down giant spiders, and vanquishing serpents. (By the way, I wish Harry would come to the Bronx, which is a hop, skip, and a jump from where I live. There’s a huge cobra on the loose up there, an escapee from the zoo, but jaded New Yorkers are taking this slithering snafu in stride.)
My daughter, however, is taken with the whole magical element of the films, and beyond that, she is caught up in the history of the characters. She is constantly trying to figure out which character is a half blood, who is a mudblood, and are the purebloods really that special! She just asked me earlier today if she could enroll in a sorcery school one day, and when I explained how we are “muggles”—the term for non-magic humans—I could see her little face become positively crestfallen. It made me wish I had magical powers to chase away her tears and disappointment.
The Potter obsession has become all-encompassing now. This morning, Jane chatted her way through breakfast with “Harry this” and “Hermione that.” Finally, she was given a cut-off quota: one Potter question allowed before breakfast and one after dinner. Magical tome closed! (I’ve heard of book banning, but now we’re banning discussions about books at the house.)
With all of this talk of alchemy and wizardry and transmutations, I can’t help but feel caught up in the whole enchantment Jane and Tommy are experiencing. It makes me long for those days when I was a child and I would find myself wanting to re-enact the heroes and heroines who traipsed across the screen. And that is what is so heart-tugging for me. Just like the celluloid images that flicker and disappear, childhood and the accompanying ability to believe so completely and fully lasts for just a moment, and then fades away. I’m lucky now to have a front-row seat to two children who have had their imaginations touched and unleashed.
I’m already gearing up to hit eBay in search of Harry Potter paraphernalia for summertime play: Legos, board games, the original books, and the dolls are all fair game for my bidding prowess. I know that Robert Tonner has fashioned the ultimate Harry Potter likenesses (all shown here as illustrations) and I will be scouring his site, dealers, private sellers, and summer clearance sales to see what I can uncover and afford. (Meticulously investigating all marketplaces often reveals the most amazing bargains—something that is supernatural and surreal when you want to stretch a buck beyond its normal constraints.)
For now, Jane’s Hannah Montana doll is Hermione and her Jonas Brother likeness is Harry, and Ken is Ron, and a Transformer has been drafted into service as Lord Voldemort (or he whose name can’t be spoken—it says nothing about writing it in the films). I know that these dolls have slid in and out of so many guises over the past year—it’s dizzying—but that’s what is so fabulous about childhood playing. In a way, Tommy and Jane are as powerful as any well-versed sorcerer. Through sheer willpower and determination, they can turn any article, any piece of plastic, into who or what they want it to be.
Sooner than I wish, those skills will burn away, and they will grow into well-adjusted, well-mannered members of society. Hopefully, a bevy of Potter dolls will be on their bookshelves or in their curio cabinets, and they’ll remind them of the days when a movie could be a moving experience, and yearning to be magical seemed an everyday request. I hope the dolls will be a touchstone to the time when it was ordinary to ask: “Mom, pass the orange juice, and when will I ever learn to fly?” And, hopefully, both my children will learn to soar in their own unique ways.