Coming of age under the spell of Harry Potter

Nov. 10, 2005, midnight | By Audrey Kubetin | 14 years, 9 months ago

Blazers describe the effect the wizard of Privet Drive has on their lives

Nothing gets between sophomore Whitney Skippings and Harry Potter, not even the Atlantic Ocean. Skippings, a hardcore Harry Potter fan, was vacationing in the Bahamas when the sixth book of the popular children's series was released this past summer. Noting the islands' lack of book stores, she had a copy of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" shipped to her from the U.S. on the day of its release rather than let 700 miles of deep blue sea separate her from Harry.

Although Skippings admits her interest in Harry Potter may border on obsession, she is not alone in her love of the series, which tells the story of a boy wizard trying to balance a rigorous school schedule and hectic social life with his ongoing battle against the forces of evil. According to an informal Silver Chips survey of 100 students on Oct. 19, 61 percent of Blazers have read one or more of the "Harry Potter" books, while 88 percent have seen one or more of the movies.

For students like Skippings, Harry Potter feels like the wizard next door. They have followed his adventures through six books and three movies, with a fourth coming to theaters Nov. 18. Harry Potter has come to play an indisputable role in their lives, ranging from a harmless hobby to a full-out obsession.

Growing up with Harry

Since the 1998 release of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," Harry Potter has become a world-renowned pop culture icon. He ranks as the world's fourth most valuable fictional character, surpassed in worth only by Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh and Frodo Baggins of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, according to As of 2004, Harry Potter-related books, movies, video games, toys and other merchandise had earned about $2.8 billion in sales.

Skippings speculates that Harry Potter is so popular, especially among her generation, because she and her friends have come of age with him. The series started out relatively innocently, she says, and became progressively darker with each installment, maturing as its readers did. "It came out when we were six or seven, and it'll end when we're sixteen or seventeen," she says. "As we grew up, we were the perfect age for each book."

Like Skippings and many other members of Harry Potter's teenage fan base, sophomore Maddy Raskulinecz discovered the series while in elementary school and followed it into high school. When she read her first "Harry Potter" book in fourth grade, she was immediately smitten with its vivid characters, complex plotline and enchanting subject.

Six years later, Raskulinecz's fascination with the series has become an infatuation. She can quote her favorite passages from the books word for word from memory, and she has been known to spend hours surfing Harry Potter-related web sites in her spare time. Although she knows the situation could be worse, she still feels her obsession is not normal. "I don't go to conventions or stuff, but it's pretty unhealthy," Raskulinecz admits.

When "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" was released this past July, Raskulinecz picked up a copy in the airport on her way out of town for an extended vacation on the West coast. Six hours, 652 pages and one bad airplane meal later, Raskulinecz was stranded in the middle of Arizona, devastated by the book's ending with no fellow Harry Potter fans to support her. Hoping to alleviate her distress, she wrote fuming postcards to her friends back home.

Weeks later, when Raskulinecz returned from her vacation, she found her friends were similarly distraught by the book's ending. She and her peers have been following the series for almost a third of their lives, explains Raskulinecz, so the "Harry Potter" books are deeply rooted in their minds, to the point where they feel like they know the characters and can identify with their troubles. "We're sort of like the Harry Potter generation," she says.

From inspiration to obsession

As of Oct. 4, BBC News reports, 300 million copies of the "Harry Potter" books have been sold worldwide, placing them among the all-time most successful works of fiction, and sales show no signs of slowing. Such widespread success is made possible by Harry Potter's universal appeal, which Skippings says is one of her favorite aspects of the series. "You can be younger or you can be my age and still find something interesting in it," she says.

For Skippings, the "Harry Potter" books present a perfect blend of reality and fantasy, one that seems within reach. Although the series may be set in a mythical world of witches and warlocks, she says, teens can find parallels between their lives and those lead by Harry and his friends. Sure, Harry can talk to snakes and travel by broomstick, but he must deal with the torments of bad teachers and the ups and downs of adolescence just as his readers do.

For others, the books provide refuge from reality in between their pages. For junior Laura Cole, whose eyes light up at the mere mention of Harry Potter, the books act as windows into another dimension. "I like to think it's just a real world that I go into," she says.

After receiving the first book as a gift at her third grade birthday party, Cole quickly fell in love with the whimsical fantasy world author J.K. Rowling had created. Since then, Cole has read each book in the series more times than she can remember, and her appreciation for the books has escalated into obsession. To Cole, the "Harry Potter" books are no longer just stories; they are a fixation. "For a while, whenever I heard the words 'Harry Potter,' I'd go, 'Oh, Harry Potter!' from across the room," she says.

Cole's family shares her enthusiasm for the "Harry Potter" series. Each time a new book is published, they buy it the day it hits stores and then take turns reading it out loud in the evenings, a process that can take weeks. When a new movie comes out, Cole and her sister dress up as witches and head off to a theater. Their father tags along, too, in costume as Albus Dumbledore, the sage old headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Harry attends class. "People always stare," she says. "My family's kind of weird."

Time to let go

Stares are something Harry Potter fanatics must learn to expect. Even though according to a recent Silver Chips survey three-fifths of Blazers have read at least one book from the series, fans of the books have to deal with a stigma that has been associated with Harry Potter. Senior Mary-Beth Inyang, who was introduced to the series in middle school, has noticed that many of her friends view Harry Potter as "a childish thing" she has gotten too old for. Even so, she isn't ashamed of her interest. For her, Harry Potter is timeless. "Things like that you're never too old for," she says. "Even if I'm 60 and I'm still reading it, I'll be darn proud."

Inyang may be willing to stand by Harry, but Skippings hopes to eventually outgrow the "Harry Potter" series, although she is not ashamed of her interest now. She feels the books are an appropriate passion during her teenage years, but after a certain point, she knows she must move on. "If I'm like 30 years old and I'm still like, 'Oh my God, it's Harry Potter,' then there might be a problem," Skippings says with a laugh.

For now, however, the "Harry Potter" series remains high on her list of priorities. "It's up there on the list, you know: friends, family, food, Harry Potter," she says.

Audrey Kubetin. Audrey lives off of tea, tofu and Tool. The end. More »

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