the state of things

 

The Phantom Buggery of Harry Potter - Part 2

by Douglas Lindsay - 11:43 on 17 September 2008
So there we were, on holiday, and we had a Black Hawk Down situation. Two kids flaked out on the couch, the stuffing knocked out of them by the Grand Theft Auto of twenty-four hour bugs. They were reeling, and all they wanted to do was sit slumped in a great heaving mass of self-pity.

We were, as it happened, in possession of the first Harry Potter novel. TPCKAM had read it years earlier, but I think we just had it then because we thought we should. I had read the odd page or two to Two of Two, but he hadn’t really been interested. The reading-to-the-kids-at-bedtime thing had gradually been coming to an end, one of the fundamental building blocks of solid parenting just about over.

So, presented with a chance to rekindle this in a situation where they weren’t going to complain, I picked up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and got stuck into it. The deal was done. By the time they emerged from the other side of their twenty-four hour bug, six days later, ready to head to the beach and swim in freezing Scottish waters, we were already well into the second book in the series.

They had enjoyed it at the time, but at first it seemed it might be more of a holiday romance. Back in the school routine, the reading was fitful, generally just me reading to Two of Two. Slowly, however, we were all sucked in, so that by last autumn it had become a nightly ritual, the four of us snuggling down around the fire at bedtime, reading a chapter of HP. Slowly, night by night, we worked our way through the series.

It sounds like idyllic family life, as depicted in an advert for Bisto or Germ Genocide cleaning fluid. You know those awful things where a kid spills his cornflakes all over the floor because he’s messing about, and the mum smiles wryly at him and whisks out a a shiny new bottle of Mess BeGone, rather than screaming at the kid and frothing at the mouth, like A Normal Person. In the way that skinny models make young girls and women fret unnecessarily about their weight, Parents In Adverts make the rest of us feel totally inadequate because we don’t smile ruefully and have a bit of a laugh whenever one of the kids walks mud into the house, can’t be bothered doing their homework, or locks their grandma up in the basement for a fortnight.

The Reading of Harry Potter was never, of course, as idyllic as it would have been if we’d been appearing for twenty-five seconds on tv. Some nights there would be shouting and threats. (HP aside, most nights there are shouting and threats, so reading Harry Potter wasn’t really going to make that much of a difference.) Generally however, as a family experience designed to stop the kids growing up and becoming drug dealers and football louts, we nailed it, and it was entirely by accident. If we’d said to them at the beginning, lets all sit around and read three and half thousand pages of Harry Potter, they’d have descended into wailing and despair.

Sadly, it has transpired that the nightly hour with Harry Potter had become the cornerstone of our family life. Since we finished the seventh and last book a few weeks ago, the whole thing has just gone to hell. In-fighting, arguments, shouting, screaming, pitched battles at bedtime. We’re desperately trying to find a replacement, but it’s not happening so far. Artemis Fowl failed the audition. Next we’re going to try the screenplays of Quentin Tarrantino. If that doesn’t pan out, we may give Dostoyevsky a go.

We all loved HP by the end, and I never did, and never will, write my Harry Potter buggery tale. Instead, we sit around in the evenings, staring at the empty fireplace, waiting miserably for JK to get bored doing whatever it is she’s doing, and to write the eighth installment in the series. We’d settle for anything. Harry Potter And The New Toothbrush, Harry Potter Paints The Living Room A Different Shade of Magnolia or Harry Potter & The Curious Growth. Anything.

At some point during the seventh book, when major characters we’d grown to love, were being bumped off by the page, One of Two asked why JK felt the need to kill off these people, and why couldn’t she kill off goblins and other characters that we didn’t know so well? I was about to go into a long explanation about the art of writing and the way that you try to play with your reader’s emotions, when Two of Two - an eight year old boy it’s worth repeating - said, ‘She’s trying to show you that even when the people you love die, life still goes on...’

There’s more to the wee man than a great right foot and the ability to see the worst in every situation.

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