Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Guest Post: Encountering Magic for the First Time

Please welcome to the blog today Brooke Johnson, another wonderful writer who also has a love affair with Harry! :-)

Brooke has a great blog where she posts frequently about writing and gaming, like Dungeons and Dragons. It was her gaming posts that initially attracted my attention because I loved how she was using gaming as a method for writing.  (She also helped me understand my son better, who lives to game :-).   Brooke posts regularly on Twitter, and in her spare time she creates wonderful cover art out of kindergarten supplies! :-)

Welcome Brooke!

When I was a little girl, my usual reading material was the latest Goosebumps novel. I rarely read anything else. I had read Matilda, Bridge to Terabithia, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8, but truthfully, I had only read those because the school required it. In third grade, my GT class forced me to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and what a terrible book that was. I only got so far as Lucy’s meeting with Mr. Tumnus before I stopped reading. A fawn… really? Even my writing was horror-centric. I wanted to grow up to write like R.L. Stine. I wrote chapter books about zombie children hiding out in old mansion basements, creepy-crawlies in bedroom walls, and all manner of ghost and monster stories.

But then, the Christmas before I turned eleven, my aunt gave me two books—Redwall by Brian Jacques and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

I don’t know how many of you remember the book blurb for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, so here it is:

Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He’s never worn a cloak of invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him… if Harry can survive the encounter.

My ten-year-old self was opposed to magic. I read the blurb and thought how boring of a book that would be. Magic isn’t real. I set it aside and opened up Redwall. Talking mice. That’s worse than magic. So I stared at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I stared at it good and hard. I fought against it. I downright refused to read it… until I had nothing else to read.

So I took that stupid book about flying broomsticks and invisibility cloaks, and I started reading. As I said before, I was opposed to magic. I was a somewhat logical child. I didn’t believe in fairy tales and that sort of nonsense. Only babies believed in those things, not grownups (which I was so convinced I was).

So when the book opened up with

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

I had an immediate connection to these people. Logical people. Smart people who didn’t believe in magic and fantastical nonsense. People after my own heart.

But then the next page turned my perspective on its head.

It was on the corner of the street that [Mr. Dursley] noticed the first sign of something peculiar—a cat reading a map.

The extraordinary things didn’t stop there. The mystery continued to build. Who were the people in cloaks? Why were owls swooping through the streets? Why did Mr. Dursley fear the Potters and the boy Harry? And who the heck was You-Know-Who? (Keep in mind that this first chapter took me about a week to read. My reading speed wasn’t all that great at this point in my life.) The questions haunted me. I had to know what all the fuss was about.

Very suddenly, the Dursleys were not just normal, they were boring.

And then I met Albus Dumbledore, so very not-boring with his silver hair, purple cloak, and high-heeled buckled boots. I listened to his every word as if my life depended on it, standing next to Professor McGonagall with the same awe and admiration of this man, and concern for young Harry’s situation.

This first chapter, and the chapters to follow, awakened in me an interest for magic, for extraordinary things. J.K. Rowling opened a world of possibilities for me. I could believe in magic. I could live in a world where ordinary children did phenomenal things, where I could play against Slytherin in a Quidditch match, cast spells, hatch dragons, fight trolls, battle dark wizards, and make extraordinary friends. Rowling created that world, so real that for a time, I believed in it. I lived in it. And when it was over, when I turned the last page, that world wasn’t gone. It still existed in my mind.

At the young age of eleven, I knew that I wanted to create a world like Rowling created for me. I didn’t know how. I knew very little about writing. I had written one book by that time, a ten page, hand-written chapter book about a zombie boy. I wrote one page short stories about the pictures I would draw. I knew nothing of world-building, character development, or plot. But the years passed, and I discovered Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and next Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and at that point, I knew wholeheartedly that I needed to create something just as magical as the Harry Potter books had been for me.

All the while, I continued reading. I continued dreaming about magical worlds. I began my journey as a writer. I was convinced that if J.K. Rowling (whoever she was) could write a book, then I could too.

I was na├»ve, of course, as most beginning writers are, but I was serious about it. My dad paid for a writing course with the Institute of Children’s Literature that helped me loads. I took as many writing courses as my high school offered. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Most of it was crap. Good for a thirteen year old, better than anything my peers could have written at sixteen and seventeen. My goal was to create something as amazing as the Harry Potter books. Anything less was less than satisfactory. I don’t think I’ll ever be completely satisfied, not with that as my goal.

While Rowling made some mistakes with Harry, she is still a brilliant author, and the Harry Potter books will live on for generations to come. I still want to become that, to write a story so engaging that people build wikis and write fan-fiction in response to my work. I want to give a child the same magic and the same escape that J.K. Rowling gave to me. It changed my life. It inspired me to write, to become who I am today.

I’m not aiming to be the next J.K. Rowling. I’m not aiming to write the next Harry Potter. I’m aiming for resonance, to write a story that could change someone’s life, inspire someone to be great, whether I affect one person or one-million. J.K. Rowling instilled in me the power of words, the power of imagination. Harry taught me to fight for what I believe in.

I believe in the magic of stories, thanks to both Jo and Harry, and I’m willing to fight for that.

Thanks Brooke for such a warm-hearted post!  For so many fans, remembering their first encounter with Harry is one they never forget. I've written about mine in my bio page.

So, what's your story? How did you discover Harry for the first time? Share your memories below.

Bio: Brooke writes fantasy and steampunk, but never both. She lives with her husband in Northwest Arkansas, where she lazily attends (read: ignore) her housewife duties and spends time with her adorable dog K.K. They lead a quiet life, experimenting in urban farming and making improvements on their house. They play Dungeons & Dragons on a weekly basis and wonder when time became such a fleeting thing.

Please visit Brooke at Brooke Johnson's Blog and @brookenomicon.

Potter books picture credit


  1. Hi Brooke,
    Thank you for this post. Thank you for putting into words how I myself feel when it comes to Harry and Jo :)

  2. Thanks Farida. I feel very similarly as well. :-)

  3. Thank you for the comment Farida :)

  4. I, too, feel a connection with Jo in a similar way. Although it was not her who first inspired me to write, she did, very much, save my life with her magic. ~Rae Carson

  5. Lovely post, Brooke! I first encountered Harry Potter in 8th grade (so maybe 14?) at the Borders bookstore. It's been a passionate relationship since. Also - give Redwall another chance! I LOVED that series. :)

  6. Rae and Sarah -- thanks so much for posting!

  7. Thanks for the comments :) It's so amazing how a book series could spawn such a HUGE fanbase.

  8. I'd heard of HP but didn't really think they were 'my thing' so when my (then) fourth grade son wanted to read them, I thought I should read them first. At that time, all seven books were out - and good thing! - because I read one after the other, after the other! And so did he. And then we read them all aloud with my daughter who was a little young to read them on her own. Sheesh. Not my thing. What was I thinking!!??!

  9. I loved your post, Brooke. Goosebumps reigned! And yes, Harry Potter is so very near and dear to my heart!

  10. Barbara and Darby -- I'm so sorry I didn't reply to your comments last week. I left for LeakyCon on the 14th and was running around crazy in preparation. But thank you both for commenting. Harry is so dear to so many hearts! :-)