I did it again. I got into a stupid tiff on Facebook. Fucking Facebook. Sometimes I think they should really revoke my Facebook privileges.
No! Don’t do that. I take it back.
I live in complete isolation. I needs my Facebook.
Anyway. Here’s what happened: I posted a link to this article on my sister’s wall. (For the rest of this story to work, you should probably go ahead and read that. I know y’all don’t like to click on links. I have the numbers to prove it. But it’s the crux of the whole thing I’m trying to do here. Sorry.) Because she’s also a huge Harry Potter fan and was also a Literature (with a capital L) major in college, I thought she’d find it interesting. She didn’t. So then, our cousin commented “HA HA HA!!!!!!,” which ruffled my feathers a bit (I’m easily irked by extraneous exclamation points). The damn thing is about child abuse, and I could see no way in which that would be funny. And I said so. And I was probably snippier than I needed to be about it but, you know, ruffled feathers and whatnot. To which my cousin replied: “A conspiracy theory on a fictitious children’s book. FUNNY!”
What went through my mind was, Well, clearly, she just read the headline and didn’t read the article. No one could possibly find humor in this. It’s too awful. You see my logic, right? At this point, I’m not being an asshole. Yet. Just give it a second. My booknerd dander was up so I said: “The theory itself is really interesting, and totally plausible. Just because it’s a children’s book doesn’t mean it can’t be serious literature with heavy issues.” What a fucking Lit major thing to say. I could have said a lot more Lit major things, but I let it go. I had met my snippy bitch quota for the day, I guess. Achievement unlocked!
A day later I sent my cousin a message to apologize. She hadn’t given me any indication that her feelings had been hurt, but I didn’t want to take the chance. Family’s family and I know I can come off more harshly when I’m typing than I would in conversation. She wrote me back. And I cried. It was a play-by-play account of her own abuse as a kid, which of course I won’t put in print here. But trust me, you wouldn’t want to read it anyway. Here’s the part where I’m an asshole. Ready?
I had completely forgotten that all of that had happened to her.
I was there. I knew shit was bad. I should probably make it very clear at this point that this particular cousin was adopted into our family after escaping her own horrible one at age eleven. No one in my own family would treat a kid like that. We do the exact opposite, take them in with open arms and love them with everything we’ve got. It was rough, though. And I don’t want to talk about it.
Anyway. Moving on. So then I have a conversation about child abuse in literature with her and it completely slips my mind that she knows what she’s talking about in way more important ways than I do? What a fucking jerk I am. Standing on my self-righteous little soapbox talking about books and their cultural impact and blah blah bullshit. Completely irrelevant in the greater scheme of things, right? People (if you can call them people) hit little kids! In real life! That trumps anything I have to say.
Doesn’t mean I’m not going to say it. Maybe that makes me even more of an asshole. Might as well keep going. I’m on a fucking roll.
A small quote from my cousin’s message: “Harry Potter IS just a book. I know what the real thing felt like. To me that’s why taking the book somewhere it wasn’t meant to go is funny.” I get that. I really do. It’s all relative.
I’m going to stand up for escapism. I have to. And if you don’t take that article seriously or see how one could read the whole HP series as an extended metaphor, fine, whatever. But we all agree that Potter’s family treated him like shit, right? I don’t see any way around that. If Hogwarts was all in Harry’s head, that’s tremendously unhealthy. And that would mean that his real life was a lot more awful than we could imagine, for a long time, and I don’t want to think about him that way. I would prefer to think that’s not what Rowling was trying to do or say. I like my fantasy worlds to be real, if that makes any sense. (It probably doesn’t.) He’s a great character, one of my favorites, if only because he overcomes so much to find happiness and purpose. Putting aside psychological hyperbole, he’s clearly a damaged boy. A broken boy with a bleak past, an uncertain future, and a lot of demons. The potentially beautiful thing is that real little kids with fucked up lives can read these books and relate to Harry. Maybe find some strength in his perseverance. Maybe not feel so alone. That’s got to be worth something, doesn’t it?
I saw this all the time when I worked in the children’s department at the Giant Evil Bookstore. There were a few regular customers who gravitated toward damaged characters or stories with underdog heroes. Often they were the kids with the sad eyes. I had one little guy who used to come in all the time. He was very tiny and always came in alone, usually paid for his books mostly with change. Smart as hell, reading way above his age level. Loved Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and The Graveyard Book and The Mysterious Benedict Society. One day I found him his book, told him to enjoy it, gave him a great big smile and patted him on the head. And he flinched. Almost broke my heart, you guys. Those are the kids who get something more than entertainment out of books.
Fuck, I can’t remember that kid’s name. That’s going to drive me crazy now.
I understand retreating into books. My family’s amazing. There wasn’t even a hint of anything coming anywhere close to abuse in my house. But I was socially awkward and extremely lonely at school. I read every book I could get my hands on. They were my friends. They were my adventures. I understand that I don’t have a leg to stand on to compare myself to kids with real issues. That’s not my point, nor is it my intention. I’m just saying that the right book could save a kid’s sanity, right? Help them see that they can get through whatever happens to them. Make them learn to stand up for themselves. Escapism is important. Fantasy is important. Reading about a kid with family problems, or a lonely kid, a kid like them, whatever their deal may be, can mean so much.
Anyway, I’d like to apologize to the world for being an insensitive jerk. And I apologize for being quick to jump on my soapbox. I’m not good with people. Clearly. That’s why I stick with books. They don’t get their feelings hurt when I act like an ass.