Adult Things, Pop Culture

“I’m Just Gonna Go Listen to Some Harry Potter.”

I’ve been listening to the Harry Potter books on tape before falling asleep since I was nine years old. First there were cassette tapes, humming from the pink boom box next to my bed. Then there were CDs for the newer books, also played through the pink boom box. The CDs were sleek and cool (because this was 2003), but for a long time I still preferred the hum of the cassette tapes.

Now I listen to Jim Dale’s record-breaking 134 character voices on Audible, and if I forget to put the sleep-timer on, sometimes I’ll wake up at 4am in the middle of a Quidditch match. Recently I came to around 2:30am in the graveyard after the third task of the Triwizard Tournament, which is admittedly a less fun place to wake up in. But even then I stayed up for a few minutes to wish Cedric the best in the afterlife before shutting off the book and going back to sleep.

Harry Potter in general is one of the more magical experiences a human person can encounter in their lifetime, but the tapes seem to have a mythical power all their own.

If you’re new to this blog, it may surprise you to hear that I’ve had a life-long propensity for anxiety, given how utterly chill I seem. But it’s true – I was an impressively anxious child. I threw up off of chairlifts. I avoided movie theaters for months after seeing one moderately creepy trailer for the Nicole Kidman remake of The Stepford Wives that deeply unsettled me for some reason. (I’ve since seen the full movie, and that particular anxiety still mystifies me. Was my nine-year-old self inherently weary of the dangers of suburban boredom and lingering 1950’s sexism?)

All this to say – nine-year-old-me had some sleepless nights. I had an inordinate number of worries, both rational and irrational, and hadn’t yet figured out how to reign them in and convert them to energy for manic list-making and/or aggressive exercise. Instead, I listened to Harry Potter.

The thing is – Harry, Ron and Hermione are going through some shit. All the time. It only recently struck me how absolutely fucking bananas it is that the oldest version of Harry I know is seventeen. When the seventh book came out, I was twelve, and seventeen seemed like a perfectly reasonable age to be saddled with the task of vanquishing the most evil dude in history. By the end of the last book, all the adults in the wizarding world just kind of throw up their hands and go, “yup, we’re gonna leave this whole thing to the seventeen-year-old scrawny dude.”

I mean it works out, but goddamn. That is some borderline unbelievable shit. (Except it’s totally believable the whole time. And if my twelve-year-old standards are to be held, seventeen is kind of the perfect age to be saving the world, because you look a lot older than twelve but you’re still plucky and stuff.)

So Harry, Ron, and Hermione are going through some shit, and by the end of the last tape it escalates to some really big shit. They get stressed about school. They fight over things you can never really remember when you’re discussing it with your roommate after work one day. They sneak into the library pretty often, which in retrospect is actually a super lame troublemaking activity, but in the moment seems pretty cool and fun. They almost die. They almost die a lot. But, they don’t.

Harry Potter is a masterful combination of escapism and comfort that still mystifies me. I’m clearly not spouting anything original here – several million of my closest friends would agree that Harry Potter is good. But there’s something magical about having a story that can always make you feel just a little bit better.

I’m twenty-three now. I still have intense anxiety about weird, irrational shit from time to time. (A recent example: after elbow surgery number two, I briefly became convinced that my left arm was going to be amputated. For a period of about five days, you could’ve overheard me telling way too many people, “I’ve just been thinking a lot about the movie Soul Surfer.”) I’ve had a lot of time to learn how to deal with that unsettled feeling without avoiding people or situations (or all establishments that smell like popcorn) altogether.

On the nights when my brain won’t stop whirring, I crawl into bed and hit play on my iPhone to hear what my wizarding pals are up to. The cassettes and CDs are still sitting in my parents’ house in Nashua, gathering dust on my old bookshelf – no longer compatible with any of my listening equipment, but too important to throw out. I’m slowly using my Dad’s free monthly Audible credits to download all seven books on my phone. Maybe someday those Audible credits will be pushed out by a Jim Dale hologram or something, with a full orchestra behind him to play the intro and outro music for each book. That would be equal parts weird and cool. I’ll re-download those holograms too.

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