The Magical Realism of Fiction (& Harry Potter)

Last night, as I scrolled through my Twitter feed, I came across a post by Scholastic

Which led me to this page on facebook, a page filled with stories of readers and their experiences with the last of the Harry Potter series. I only read a few posts, but they reminded me how the first book and the last book punctuated two very important moments in my life, and how this book-to-life alignment made my life magical in a strangely real way.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1) was a tattered paperback passed along to me by my friend Julia from an elementary school teacher named Lisa Lord whom we had worked with in the Durham Public Schools. Julia came to visit me in Brooklyn, where I had moved in June of 1999, and left the book. I read it as fall descended in earnest on New York City; it was my first change of season as a new New Yorker, and a blurred line emerged between the book and my life. When leaves blew across my path while walking home, I saw them was a sign of magic. Clouds passing over a full moon seemed to tell of another plane of magical existence around me. The smell of a fireplace burning, a brisk cold wind, a rat scurrying around garbage cans–all of these experiences were new to me, and, when aligned with my reading of Book 1, seemed to be indicators of a magical world. The magic of the book seeped into my life; I couldn’t distinguish the two.

Of course, I was also totally depressed that I was obviously a muggle.

I read the next five books with the dedication of a true fan. The fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was released on my birthday (July 8) in 2000–the year I turned 26. I waited in line with my friends Erin and Virgil, we drew lipstick lightening bolts on our foreheads, they made me a Harry Potter themed cake and brought it to The Community Bookstore on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope where we stood next to John Turturro waiting for our copies. But I never felt that magical connection again until the last book.

Book 7, the last book, was released July 21, 2007. My close friend and downstairs neighbor Eric had died unexpectedly May 31. I had given birth to my first child, my daughter Alexandra, June 25th. Life as I knew it had been turned upside down a couple of times with the subtraction of my friend and the addition of my daughter. I was sleepless and sitting up all night with this small, animal-like baby at my chest, rocking her and watching the sun rise across backyards in Brooklyn, crying from hormones and the vice-like grip of grief in my chest, and reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. The book was dark yet hopeful–it mirrored my life at the time. Again, like in the Fall of 1999, everything around me took on a bizarre magical realism. Leaves blowing in a summer breeze seemed possessed by something other than wind, sounds from the street were coded with meaning, the oppressive heat was villainous and the cold rush of the air conditioner was a ghost entering the room. Reality and fantasy blurred as I read that last book, as my life rearranged itself into a new normal, and again the events of my life and a Harry Potter book strangely aligned.

I have friends who don’t read fiction, and I don’t understand them. Fiction has always been my escape, a lens through which I can better made sense of everything in my life. And every so often there’s a book that provides me with an unexpected dose of just what I need that that very moment of existence; it imprints itself on me so that I never forget how its words affected me as I read them years and years ago.