Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


H is for Harry

I don’t usually go for  alternate realities in my own reading, but my imagination has been captured over the years by the triumverate of The Lord of the Rings, Mervyn Peake’s superb Gormenghast trilogy and the Harry Potter books. I so much loved the latter that I was quite keen to call my third child Harry, but my husband pointed out that Harry Otter is a rough name to live with. So he now has another, rather lovely, name which suits him perfectly, but there is a small part of me that mourns Harry.

I think part of Harry Potter’s universal appeal is that he is an orphan going it alone. Children respond to his ability to cope in an adult world and defeat a great evil. Personally, I just want to mother Harry. I really want to get him home, cook him a nice meal and talk about his day. I’d like to remind him to stop ignoring Ginny Weasley since she clearly is the girl for him and encourage him to listen to that nice Hermione and get on with his homework. I want him to open his eyes and see the good in Snape.

But I think it is more than that with Harry and me. You see, Harry Potter was my birth partner. Long-term blog readers may remember this, but for those who are new here, I’ll retell the story. One of my presents for my 32nd birthday, which is a week before Christmas, was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I wasn’t overly interested in the book, but I wanted to see what the fuss was about. Two days later, when I woke with birth pains and was directed by my doula to get straight into the bath and wait for her to arrive, I started to read it. Several cups of tea and some acute contractions later, I was hooked on Harry. The doula and my husband would pop their heads around the door now and then to check on me or bring me tea, and I’d wave them away, saying I was fine. I dived into Rowling’s world, subsumed myself in her detail, and came up occasionally to do some shallow panting. While I was going it alone in the bath with Harry, the doula gave everyone in the house foot massages.

When the pains finally grew more demanding than Hogwarts, I climbed out of the bath. By then – though we didn’t know it yet – it was far late to leave for hospital. My doula gave me a back massage, and I went to the loo. While I was there, baby coming down the birth canal, though I didn’t know that either, she sent my husband downstairs to put the suitcases in the boot and de-ice the windscreen. She knocked on the bathroom door and told me it was time to leave, and summoning the strength of Harry, I got off the loo, staggered to the door and croaked, “I can’t make it to the bloody DOOR, let alone the hospital!”

Reading my face for the first time, she said, “Put your hand in your pants and tell me what you feel.”

I followed instructions and replied, “I. can. feel. a. HEAD.”

Her surprise was not unlike that of Harry’s when Quirrell unwrapped his turban to reveal he was sharing head-space with Lord Voldemort. “Get on the bed!” she shrieked. Within seconds, my child was born. A few minutes later, my husband reappeared, ready to transport his pregnant wife to hospital, to be met with the news that he had a daughter.

Tucked up in bed with my gorgeous little baby, I finished Harry Potter and started the next one. My newborn’s nickname was Hufflepuff for her badger-like snuffling when she fed. After reading the series myself, I read it aloud to Hufflepuff’s big sister, and now that she is bigger I am reading it to her. Last night, we finished The Order of the Phoenix. Hufflepuff’s little brother sometimes listens in and he recently insulted his grandmother by telling her she was “as old as Neville Longbottom.” It wonderful to me that my kids love Harry as much as I do, since he is their literary uncle.

Maybe if we get a dog, we’ll call it Harry. As homage to our hero.


Garrulous Girls and Other Orphans

I am revisiting my childhood obsession with Anne of Green Gables by reading it aloud to my two enraptured daughters. I’m loving how the book is working its magic on my girls, just as it did on me. My grandmother worked as a school librarian and I was allowed to sit in the library while she worked, or wonder quietly amongst the shelves trailing my hands along the lovely cool spines of the books. Since it was a high school, many of the books were too advanced for me, but then I found Anne and fell in love. I was delighted by her zest, and learnt many useful phrases (“kindred spirit”, “scope for imagination”, “bosom friend”) which I immediately incorporated into my daily life.

It has been interesting reading Anne of Green Gables, which was published in 1908, directly after Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903) and Pollyanna (1913), since they all have the same synopsis: garrulous orphan girl goes to live with spinster and bachelor/spinster aunts and eventually wins their chilly unyielding hearts with her unique optimistic world-view and amusing talkativeness. In all three books, the orphaned child must enter a rather adult world and learn to live in it, but not without bringing her own charm to warm the childless household. The orphan gets a family; the spinster a child, and all is well with the world. It was clearly a formula that worked, as all three books were popular in their time and are classics now.

Much of children’s literature centres on the symbol of the orphan. In order for a book to grasp a child’s imagination, the small protagonist must battle alone in an unfriendly or fantastic world, without the help of adults. This gives the reader a chance to imagine herself into that situation and live with the thrilling possibility of a world with no grown-ups, where she has to make decisions and take the consequences. There are three main categories: orphans in the real world like the three books above, orphans in a fantastic world like Peter Pan or Harry Potter, or where children function in the real world but are left to their devices by their parents (most of Enid Blyton’s books, Swallows and Amazons, the Just William series). It is necessary for adults to be dead or absent or threatening in order to make the reading experience a thrilling one.

One book that springs to mind where an adult is present and part of the action is Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World, but even there Danny’s father is a renegade fighting the status quo (a poacher), and the positive outcome of the story depends on Danny alone. There is a scene where Danny must drive his father’s car alone, which resulted in many childhood nightmares for me – clearly a little too much autonomy for me to cope with.

In all good children’s books, the child protagonist must effect a change – defeat an evil wizard, beat the pirates, escape the wicked aunts, win the chocolate factory, find the missing parents – and this allows the powerless child reader to enjoy the vicarious pleasure of being in control, making adult decisions and being given free reign. In last night’s chapter from Anne of Green Gables, Anne’s temper got the better of her and she lashed out at the dreaded Mrs Rachel Lynde:

‘I hate you,’ she cried in a choked voice, stamping her foot on the floor. ‘I hate you – I hate you – I hate you -‘ a louder stamp on each assertion of hatred. ‘How dare you call me skinny and ugly? How dare you say I am freckled and red-headed? You are a rude, impolite, unfeeling woman!’

I can’t tell you how much my children enjoyed that.


International Harry Potter Day

OK, it wasn’t, it was International Workers’ Day and in Germany, Father’s Day, but somehow the theme of our day was Harry Potter. Today, the girls mixed magic potions which they poured into little glass jars and threaded onto string to wear around their necks. Lily’s was a potion for luck, and Daisy’s was a multi-functional “do-everything” potion. Then they saddled up the broomsticks for a lively game of Quidditch in the garden. Lily was the Seeker.

At some point, I was up in the bedroom with Ollie, and we had the following HP-related conversation:

Ollie (pointing to a Harry Potter paperback which I have been reading to Daisy at bedtime): That’s my Harry Potter.

Mummy: Oh, do you like Harry Potter?

Ollie: Yes.

Mummy: Is Harry Potter a wizard?

Ollie (laughing): Nooooooo.

Mummy: Oh. My mistake.

Ollie: He saw his Mummy and Daddy in the mirror.

Clearly, he was taking in some of the story as I read it to D. And it would be hard to forget the scene, as both Daisy and I cried when we read it. Then Lily joined us and took part in the crying. As a family, we are very moved by Harry’s orphan status.

This evening, while I was reading a far less interesting book to Daisy, Lily – who is now on HP and The Half-Blood Prince came in and noted that all the baddies in the Harry Potter books are known by their surnames: Voldemort, Snape, Malfoy, Quirrell. She’s right, of course. I forsee a great future for her as a book blogger.

Tomorrow, I’ll be posting on the Literate Kitten’s writing challenge Fess-Up Friday, where writers confess to how much or how little they have written that week. I’d better go and tackle the monster that has become Chapter Five. I call it Voldemort.


How I Love A Booky Meme

Aphra tagged me to write about books. My rubber arm duly twisted, here is the Booky Meme:

Number of books you own:

Between my husband, my kids and I, probably a few thousand. What is visible to the public eye is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, because downstairs in the Keller in the Room That May One Day Be Someone’s Office, there are many many more. I need to give some away, but am ridiculously attached to them. They spark memories and tell stories of other times in my life. I really like owning my own fiction and reference library (with special focus on literary, feminist and film theory, travel, history and all things geeky).

Last book you bought:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I haven’t read it yet – it’s joined the teetering piles of TBRs scattered around my bedroom.

Last book someone else bought you (I had to add this one. Sorry to the person who invented the meme):

My husband understands the book addiction and his latest treasure trove for me contained: Darkmans by Nicola Barker (which I’m presently reading and can’t wait to post about, so fabulous it is), Mr Pip (which I’m reading next) and the now much pored-over Rough Guide to Berlin (which I must post off to my friend in South Africa as a reminder of our lovely week together).

Last book read:

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. Strong on narrative, but with superficial characterisation, as always.

Five Books that Mean a Lot to Me:

This is hard because I’m not a great re-reader. I tear through books and move on, and I’m realising now that all those classics I like to say I’ve read, I have completely forgotten.

How To Eat by Nigella Lawson. Despite the tragic lack of photos, this is the book that got me interested in cooking. It is peppered with great wisdom and I love her lack of issues around food. I now have a large cookbook shelf in the kitchen, but this is the one that I always return to and always find inspirational.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by What’s ‘er Name. The book I was reading in the bath when Daisy decided to give us a surprise home birth. It’s a book that’s now understandably close to my heart. For the first few months of her life, I called her “Hufflepuff” which seem to suit her style of being.

The Narnia books by CS Lewis. They lifted my heart, comforted me and assured me that life would go on at a time when I believed it was hardly possible.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram. The first book I read to each of my babies. I think I got more out of it than they ever did, and I’m sure it taught me more lessons about parental and unconditional love than any parenting manual. “I love you right up to the moon and back!”

The poetry of William Wordsworth. Hilariously described by AA Gill in last week’s Sunday Times as “lyric brown sauce, an unctuous, fruity slop that’s supposed to be a complement, but actually drowns nature in rhyming sycophancy”, Wordsworth’s poetry was my first experience of words as transcendental. They made my soul tingle and I don’t care if that makes me the literary equivalent of ketchup. I am clearly v. middle-brow.

Consider yourself tagged!