Monday, May 10, 2010

On HPANA (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the web)

I’ve been holding back… Or, I haven’t deliberately, but there has been one thing I have neglected to tell you. I am a Harry Potter geek. There, I said it. If you want to know what the scar on Dumbledore’s knee looks like, I can tell you. The rules of quidditch? I’m your gal. Ask me how to de-gnome a garden, and I will give you a 20 minutes long lecture. Then again, many of the people reading this regularly wouldn’t be too impressed, because they are Harry Potter geeks as well. See, my internet network (internetwork?) begun with Harry Potter. But the story starts even further back. Prepare for the inside story...

It was the night before Christmas. Actually, it was probably not, even if my mother constantly complains she is late with preparations for the holidays. Anyway, she was out Christmas shopping and she did not know what to get me. This being my pre-workinginabookshop days, she decided to give me a book, which would always be a hit. That she landed on Harry Potter og de vises sten [and the Philospher's Stone] seems fairly coincidental.

I had only barely heard of Harry Potter before this, as it was right after its release in Norway which pegs it right before it became a major international success. It wasn’t even all that known in Britain yet (you know, according to JKR [Joanne Kathleen Rowling, duh!] standards. What I had heard about the book had not actually intrigued me all that much, so chances are I wouldn’t have picked it up had I not received it as a present (though, with the following attention circus I might have done so at a later time – even if I have managed to stay away from Twilight which is the only hype I can think of that is even remotely comparable). Since I had the book in my procession, however, I started reading it, and a whole new world opened up.

What drew me in at first wasn’t the magic or the orphan thing or even the boarding school (applications for which I’ve heard increased rapidly after the Potter-books became popular). No, it was the humour. Right from the start the Harry Potter books offer a comic twist that most likely is a big part of what has convinced millions of adults all over the world (as well as their children) to read the series of seven books. As I chuckled my way through those first few chapters, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.

Once I had finished the first book, I craved for more. The problem was, it hadn’t been published yet. In Norwegian, that is. I was about 14, and I had learned English for three-four years. However, I was not yet at a stage where it came natural to me to speak it, or read it in large quantities. The books I had previously read in English were mostly those I already knew very well in their Norwegian translation, and many of these, even, were put away because I got tired of using the dictionary for every other word.

Having the carrot of getting to read the sequel to a book I loved, however, made all the difference. I quickly dropped the dictionary. What I couldn’t understand from context would have to wait – I understood enough to follow the story, and that was all that mattered. By the end of that book I could read English. I have read all the books in Norwegian translation as well, but always after having read the original (at least once) first, and always with a foul taste in my mouth (I have issues with the translator). Basically, reading the Harry Potter books opened up a whole new world of books to me.

I caught up with the British publication dates around book four (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, or GoF as us geeks know it), my favourite in the series. I read it twice the day (and night) I got my hands on it, and I have read it at least six or seven times after that. After GoF, however, I was stuck in the same pain as other Potter fans around the globe – the endless waiting. It was years between the last few books in the series. Oh, the torture!

Until then it had not occurred to me to share my expectations for the books with anyone. Several of my friends had read them (one is almost as big a fan as I am. But not as big a geek), and we discussed the books occasionally, but we were teenagers. Most of our time was spent discussing boys (and none of them were named Harry). This is where the internet opened up another new world to me. I found several fansites online, and I think I joined a few as well to feed the addiction the Harry Potter books had become. However, I was not very active in any of them until I found The Harry Potter News Aggregator (HPANA).

I don’t know how I came across HPANA, really. According to my member stats I joined the day before the launch of The Half Blood Prince (HBP). At this point I had already read the strictly forbidden, highly protected, don’t-you-dare-to-sell-it-before-the-release-day book as a result of my bookstore employee benefits (*evil laugh*). I was dying to share, but didn’t (something I still credit myself with till this day). But I was ready to join the debates I knew would arise as soon as the rest of the world got to read it as well.

The thing is, when you discuss something you feel so passionate about with people who are passionate about the same thing, it is easy to make new friends. And it is easy to overcome differences such as age, background, religion or political beliefs. Through our mutual love for the Potterverse (oh, come on! The universe of Harry Potter, of course!) I got to “talk” (type, technically. But you know, this is 2010. It’s socially accepted to talk online now. Which you, as a blog reader, probably is aware of. But I am pretending to address this to a sceptical audience, so it would be great if you could flaunt some prejudices…) with people from all over the world. Some of them I gradually came to consider as great friends. Some of them I have met in person (six and counting) over the years, many of them I keep in touch with on a regular basis. When I was going to the US it was one of my old HPANA buddies who tipped me of someone in her neighbourhood who might be interested in a tenant (they were). While I was there I was able to visit two additional HPANA friends. For the past few years I have cooperated with many of them in my writers group. If and when I finally write a book it will be largely thanks to the connections and inspiration I have gained from my acquaintance with Harry Potter in general, and with HPANA in particular.

Assuming my mother had not bought me that present all those years ago, I might never have read these seven great books. I might never have bothered to learn English well enough to be able to use it on a daily basis. Had I not been able to do that, my choice of education (95% of my entire curriculum reading on the university has been in English) would have been difficult. If I had gone to the US at all, it would have been a completely different trip. And chances are I would not have continued to nourish my dream of writing books. I certainly would not be writing this, since I only ventured into the world of blogging because I was already familiar with online forums as means of communication and because several of my friends – HPANA friends – were already bloggers.

To say that Harry Potter has changed my life would be an understatement. Thus I think it is appropriate to express a great, big THANK YOU to both JKR and all her minions. HPANA-buddies – I love you all!


Not Hannah said...

Hmmm...I love learning how you came to know and love the Potterverse, but what is fascinating to me is how reading HP helped you learn to read English. I really want to be more literate in German...I wonder if this would work for me? I wonder how one goes about finding a German HP?

Watery Tart said...

Mari-you KNOW I shouted a big ME TOO all the way through this--though I already knew English, but it's been a life-changing event--the books and the community. It made me a writer, when I'd all but given it up.

The humor was what pulled me in, too. I probably would have patiently read along with my kids without. Instead I snuck the books that they were getting for christmas into closed rooms and read ahead... couldn't WAIT.

TreeX said...

We're all one big happy family ;) (Well, we were, weren't we? By the time DH came out... :) )

Leanne said...

Ohhh yes. I have close friends all over the world because of HP (did that package get there yet?!) and have gotten to do all kinds of mad things, including knock about the UK, learn to sew ('cause they don't seem to make Ravenclaw robes commercially, damnit...), and, yes, of course, get writing again.

And a big ol' JA! to the brushing-up-languages-by-reading-HP-in-'em idea. I've got 6 of them in French, 5 in German, and 2 in Latin, and having them essentially memorized in English (to the point that, when I listened to the great Fry narrating the UK version I was able to tell every change they made to the US version... :-P) REALLY helps with funky grammar and/or vocab. Go for it!

Cruella Collett said...

Not Hannah - I should imagine they had German Harry Potters on Amazon? Maybe even in a local (big) bookshop. I have he first six books in French, but this has not helped quite as much. Perhaps partly because the incentive wasn't as strong once I knew the story, probably because French comes harder to me than English, and - oh - perhap because I only ever read the first few chapters of the first book... But it is definitely a worth a shot. One added bonus to reading the books in English, though, was that I got to read the ORIGINAL, which in my opinion always beats the translation. Thus reading books translated into German (or any other language) might not have the exact same effect (but listen to Leanne - she's done it).

Tami - yes, I think we should all send a gift basket to JKR when we get published :) (And I mean that, actually)

Joris - we were, and in many ways we still are (but some of the cousins are more remote than they used to). I guess the death (or survival, actually) of our most prominent family member, Harry, made it difficult to stay as close as we were, but blood is still thicker than water :)

Leanne - I haven't heard yet, but give it a few more days and I'm sure it'll arrive. We have A LOT of holidays in May, though, so delays are to be expected (I gather yours haven't arrived either? I sent it at the same time as that postcard to Tami, so clearly a package takes longer time *crosses fingers for friendly customs officers*)

Bridget Margaret said...

Looks like I might need to comment on HPANA myself, but in the mean time... I love hearing how others got caught up in the Potterverse! HPANA's done the same for me - provided me with a wonderful network of friends and writing buddies, and I wouldn't be me without it.

I think it's amazing that Harry Potter opened the world of English literature for you, that's so cool. Maybe I really should buy a Spanish Harry Potter to work on my Spanish...

Cruella Collett said...

Bridget - I'll be looking forward to your post on HPANA, then :)

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