November 2002

Michael Farrelly

library rakehell

A Very Harry Potter Halloween

“I am not dressing up like Hagrid.”

That’s how it started.

I had been working at the library for less than three months, not as a librarian mind you but in a much less auspicious subservient role, and Halloween was just around the corner. The children’s department was done up with the traditional orange and black, candy was becoming as plentiful as cynicism in high school and everyone was twitterpated about what kind of beastie they were going to come dressed as for the big day.

Then came the department head’s bold idea a Harry potter theme. Each librarian would choose a professor from Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to dress up as, while other staff would have their choice of fantastic beasts and supporting characters. This was back in 2000 when the Harry Potter craze was reaching such a frenzied peak we were hoarding the adventures of that young wizard in our own Chamber of Secrets (the basement) just to keep them in stock.

So the plan was disseminated at a staff meeting. Professor Dumbledore, an older librarian snatched up the doddering elder fellow of the venerable institution. Professors Snape and McGonagall went just as quickly. Even the ghost, Nearly Headless Nick, was grabbed up right away. Being the low man on the totem pole left me with the role of Hagrid. A role I turned down flat.

For those of your who haven’t read Harry Potter, or been exposed to the marketing Maelstrom attached to the first and second films, all these vaguely Anglophone names have very little meaning. Why is being a “Hagrid” worse than being a “Snape”? It’s all about literary sex appeal really. Hagrid is a big ugly bearded trouble-making oaf. He’s often described in the J.K. Rowling books with all the inherent sexiness of a warm lumpy log. Professor Snape, played in the films by the slick and cool Alan Rickman, is as elegant as they come, a fact that can be attested to by the numerous “slash” fiction sites on the net devoted to the mysterious professor.

I’m a pretty big guy, football player big, so everyone assumed that I wanted to be Hagrid. This was, of course, completely inaccurate. This dissent caused a near riot. The head of my department even suggested it might be “advantageous” to my library aspirations to play along and fill the role. I was being muscled by the Potter mafia. I was expecting to find a broken broomstick wrapped in newspaper in my mailbox or wake up with a Griffin’s head in my bed.

In the end I chose the path of least resistance. I was a muggle, a non-magic user. I even had to wear a placard around my neck that attested to my muggledom (mugglehood? muggleness?). Spending the entirety of Halloween having children running past me on broom’s screaming “LOOK OUT! A MUGGLE!” gave me a better understanding of why locking people in the stocks was ruled a cruel and unusual punishment.

Harry Potter is the sticky issue of children’s fiction. I don’t mean because book-burning religious fanatics who decry Harry’s adventures as instruments of the devil object to the books. It’s more than while it’s great to see a child as young as seven plough through Ms. Rowling’s meaty texts I can’t help but think that Harry Potter-mania is little more than a fad. That when those children have devoured all the books in the series will the go on to read more or simply ride the pop culture current to whatever popular entertainment arises next. It would be calamitous to see reading suffering the same dusty fate as the “Trapper Keepers” and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of my misspent youth.

The best way to use Harry Potter is to bear in mind a line from Robert Frost’s poem “The Road less Traveled”:

Yet, knowing how way leads onto way

It’s all about directing young readers from the Potter “way” further into the literary world. Take that interest in the fantastic and plunge it into the world of Lord of the Rings, or direct kids love of Rowling’s word play and give them a passport to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Many libraries are already creating booklists with titles like “When Harry Potter has vanished, try these titles” and “More Magic for young readers”.

In real magic, the prestidigitation and legerdemain practiced by the likes of Ricky Jay and David Blaine, the key to the trick is misdirection. Keep your eye on my beautiful assistant, pay no attention to the rustling behind the curtain. Using the fine works of Ms. Rowling as a means to a greater end is the goal here.

The real legacy of the Harry Potter fad should not be discarded toys and once cherished now ebay fodder DVDs. It should be an army of readers who have developed a life long love affair with the written word in all its manifestations and genres. Now that is a legacy almost worth dressing up as Hagrid for...almost.