"Their Hero Harry, Larger Than Life: It's Like Magic"
by Frank Ahrens ("Washington Post," November 16, 2001)
Yes, it's about a bespectacled boy sorcerer and an evil conjurer and a whole parallel mystical world right under your nose. But mostly it's about being 11 years old. And about wanting to feel special but not stick out like a freak. And teetering right on the border of still, maybe -- well, just a little bit -- believing in magic.
It's about the sweetness of two little girls, shoved so low into big movie seats that they almost disappear, staring open-mouthed at the film version of a book they've nearly memorized.
Last Sunday night at the Uptown Theater in Northwest Washington, the two luckiest girls in the sixth-grade class at Hill School in Middleburg, Va. -- Adrienne Teeley and Evie Garreau -- arrived at The Best Thing in the World:
A full-to-capacity sneak preview of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
The movie -- based on the first of four (so far) J.K. Rowling novels and opening today -- is expected to be the holiday blockbuster. Fans of the book, however, have awaited the movie with equal parts anticipation and trepidation.
Eleven-year-olds like Evie and Adrienne are the Potterian core demo, and they know it. Each read all four Potter books; Evie read the first one four times. They claimed that they knew and loved Harry Potter, but weren't excessively into him like some people they knew. They advertised themselves as sober-minded, well-informed critics.
So we took them to the movie. And, for expense-account purposes, note that we bought them a large bag of popcorn (no butter), a shared medium Sprite and a box of Milk Duds, of which their adult supervision bagged one (1). Adrienne and Evie sat near the huge curved screen, just off the left aisle.
The theater went dark. The girls scrunched down. Going in, they had the same question that a Jane Austen fan would have going into the movie version of "Sense and Sensibility": Will this look like I imagined it would?
The verdict: Pretty much yes, said the girls. A couple of characters looked older than they imagined, but the scenes and special effects were right on.
Harry's first big action scene -- a game of Quidditch, a sort of zoomy airborne rugby/football on broomsticks -- was so vertigo-inducing, Evie braced against her seat. When a huge troll dripped snot on Harry's friend, Evie and Adrienne opined: "Eeeuuuw!" (Lest we get dripped on by The Washington Post's ombudsman, we should report that Evie is the daughter of a colleague.)
After the 2 1/2-hour movie finished -- nobody squirmed with boredom -- the girls proclaimed it a success. Then they deconstructed it. They ran down a list of Things Left Out: the singing of a school song, more about the dragon-training in Romania, and on and on. Adrienne thought Dumbledore, the long-bearded headmaster of Hogwarts, Harry's school, "looked a bit like Santa."
Then the discussion got deep.
Throughout the first quarter of the movie, anyone who met Harry shrank back in awe and exclaimed: "You're Harry Potter!" Everyone had heard of him. And worse -- grown-ups kept telling Harry: "Great things are expected of you!"
Harry was a bona fide superstar, though he had yet to do anything extraordinary. In response, he was humble if perplexed.
The girls, who are both 11 -- same age as Harry -- were asked: How would you feel if someone said those things to you?
"Wow. I would be like, 'There's some mistake -- I'm not a wizard, much less a famous wizard. You've got the wrong person -- you must have gotten the wrong address,' " Evie said. "I would feel so pressured to be really great. I just wouldn't like it."
Adrienne agreed, proving that one is never too young for self-doubt: "I would feel proud but then I'd feel, after a while, like, 'Oh, what if I can't do that? What if I'm not all I'm cracked up to be?' "
There was a final question for the girls. Both are good students, with keen analytical eyes and worldly natures. They are, however, still 11. Both gobbled up Harry's fantasy world like fat men at a chicken-fried-steak buffet. They seemed almost to express a need for Harry Potter. So we asked each of them separately: Do you believe in magic?
Both paused. It seemed the only question that stumped each girl.
Adrienne first: "Not really. Not like there's some kinda magic that's, like, 'Bippity boppity boo!' But if your dog got hit by a car and lived, I guess that's kind of a miracle." She thought for a little longer. "I guess I thought [the books and movie] were really cool but knew it was never going to happen no matter how hard you hoped."
Which is a little sad to hear. But she adds that she believes in literary magic:
"It's so queer. You wouldn't expect to believe in things like magic, but you do, because [Rowling] describes things so well."
Evie is more circumspect.
"I don't know." Pause. "I'm not really sure." Pause. "I kind of want to believe in it, but I don't know."
She elaborates: "When I was first reading the book, I got this feeling there was magic, and it was weird. I got this feeling -- it was kind of like some part of me wanting to believe in magic."
We asked why she would want to believe in magic.
"Because it's awesome," she said, brightening. "Being able to turn people you don't like into frogs."
Even a grown-up would like to believe in that kind of magic.