Cry Baby

Last week, I briefly mentioned – in an Idol live blog, shockingly – that I was re-reading the Harry Potter series. My copies are quite worn, as I read through them every couple of years or so, and I pick up my favorite volumes even more frequently. I can’t help it; I adore them. I’m not generally a fan of fantasy – I haven’t seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies, and yes, I realize that they’re supposedly awesome, but I know of several things that I would rather devote nine solid hours of my life to – but the Harry Potter novels just get me. The characters are rich, the stories complex and dynamic, and the entire series is riveting, from first page to last.

I’m nearing the end of the final book – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – for the bazillionth time, and each time the same thing happens to me. I’ll try to keep this vague and non-spoilery for those of you who are waiting for the movie (seriously?), but here’s what happens: I get to Chapter 34 (when Harry goes into the Forbidden Forest), and I say, “I’m not going to cry. I’ve read this chapter 958 times. It’s my favorite of the entire series; I know it by heart. Of course I won’t cry.” And then Harry uses the stone, and suddenly I’m weeping. Again. No, really – I have cried every single time I read this chapter, and that estimate of 958 readings is not much of an exaggeration.

And here’s why that’s especially weird: I rarely cry at books. I can count on both hands the number of books that have ever caused me to lose it. The Road made me cry; I could hardly get through the ending because my vision was blurred by tears. The Kite Runner choked me up a bit. The History of Love, that did it. And other than that…well…I’ll get back to you. There are more, but I don’t remember them off the top of my head.

Now, movies or TV? Total opposite. Show me a vulnerable character experiencing deep emotional pain – or worse, a grieving child – and I’m done. Sobbing. Of my Top 20 Movies of ’09, I count at least six that made me cry. Top prize goes to Up; if you can get through that opening sequence without losing it,  please have a doctor check your heartbeat and/or tear ducts. I even got teary this weekend watching an episode of 16 and Pregnant. I know that sounds horrifically lame, but see, this ill-equipped teenager really wanted to keep her baby but couldn’t, and then she had to give him up for adoption, and she and the new parents had an emotional adoption ceremony, and I’m nearly crying again just writing this. I would probably sob at a Nicholas Sparks movie, even though his stories are as subtle as a buffalo herd. (Important note: I did not, in fact, cry at the end of The Notebook, but instead screamed, “SERIOUSLY!?!?” Too far, Nick. Too far.)

I suppose the most logical reason that I have such a different, emotionally tangible response is that when I read, the characters exist in my mind rather than onscreen, and those nuances that make me connect so powerfully to an onscreen character (via the actors who portray them) are so difficult to convey on a page. I kind of hate that explanation, because it suggests the limitations of my own imagination. But let’s be honest – if I was more creative, I’d be writing for television or film rather than about it.

So I guess I’ll have to plead guilty to being one of the millions of people who is more emotionally invested in the return of Glee than in the newest Great American Novel (insert title here). But I will claim one victory for my imagination. I started reading the Harry Potter series before the films came out; and as good as those actors are, they’ll never quite match their counterparts in my head. And that gives me comfort, though I think that speaks more to the wizardry (sorry) of J.K. Rowling than anything else.

But one thing is abundantly clear: When the last Deathly Hallows film comes out, and Harry (in the person of Daniel Radcliffe) heads into the Forbidden Forest, I’m going to need some Kleenex. Or maybe a bucket. Because I’ll definitely cry.

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