The following is an excerpt from a post for the Harry Potter Medicinal Re-Read that I wrote about the first two chapters in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If you want to read more, there's a click-through at the bottom. It gets real weird, though, just to warn you.
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It was the summer of 2000, Scottsdale, Arizona. I was fifteen years old – skinny and gawky as hell, with braces and uncontrollably frizzy hair — and the only thing I could think about was the day I could finally read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I believe my obsession for the release of Goblet of Fire marks the very first time I ever participated in fan culture, or in any type of pop culture event, for that matter. My parents, who are both ancient and don’t understand fantasy or science fiction in the slightest, were completely nonplussed by my behavior and insisted that I behave like a normal human person.
I remember sitting in the waiting room of my orthodontist’s office reading a review of the book that I cannot find for the life of me (but which stated that Voldemort was too evil to be a good villain, so I immediately discounted it), and just absolutely dying from want. My father had picked up a copy of the book for me from Costco the day it came out, but my mother wouldn’t let me touch it until I’d finished my summer homework. It was TORTURE having it sit there next to me being so beautiful and full of mystery.
I vividly remember the moment I first opened it after being allowed to start. The experience of reading this book for the first time is seared into my memory. The clothes I was wearing, what chair I was sitting in, what the pillow I had in my lap looked like, the way the light in the room made everything look. I also remember the heat. Middle of July, it must have been at least 110 degrees in the daytime. But mostly I remember the feeling of falling in love, of never wanting that great slab of a book to be over. How it made my heart pound like no book I’d ever read before. How the final battle put me so on edge I had to get up from my chair and run around screaming like a complete lunatic. How I cried when it was over.
And that’s the stage I would like to set for you so that you will understand what happened next.
CHAPTER ONE: THE RIDDLE HOUSE
In the dregs of my senior year of high school, when pretty much everyone just wanted to be done with it already, my English teacher gave us an assignment which sounded cool at the time, but which I interpret now from the lens of ten years and having been a teacher myself as more like desperation to, please God, get these kids away from me. She came to class one day and told us we were all going to write The Great American Novel.
Of course, I set mine in England, so I’m not really too sure of the extent to which I actually grasped the assignment.
A couple of years after this, I read an interview that JK Rowling had given (which I of course also cannot find) where she pretty much stated that all writers start out their writing careers by plagiarizing their favorite books. I immediately felt this to be a true statement, not only because it makes logical sense (we all have to start somewhere), but because I had basically plagiarized much of Ms. Rowling’s work for my Great American Novel, and was only now coming to realize the ethical ramifications of what I had done. I was very glad to hear her talk about writing in this way, because it made me feel better about betraying her so horribly. The difference between 18 year old Ashley and 28 year old Ashley may not seem that apparent on the surface, but sweet baby Jesus is it obvious to me*. It’s a difference of maturity and means, not to mention skills and experience. As a teenager, I was woefully short of experiences, but man alive, did I have emotions.
*This is especially relevant right now as it’s my 10 year high school reunion this month, and I am very much not going.
I can’t remember for sure, but I vaguely recall feeling upset that I was being forced to write a novel for a high school English class, so I may have intentionally done what I’m about to show you. I honestly do not remember. I think it’s more likely that I had no idea what I was doing. Or maybe I did and I didn’t think it would matter because who the hell was going to read it anyway? We’ll never know. What I do know is that I dug up the first chapter (and my notes) of my Great American Novel in order to check the extent to which I plagiarized J.K. Rowling, most of which came from chapter one of Goblet of Fire, which is one of my favorite opening chapters in literature.
And I am going to show it to you.