I hate Cheyenne, Wyoming. With a passion. I hate every last corner of that city I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet – which is to say I hate Cheyenne’s Greyhound bus station at two o’clock in the morning. Believe you me it’s a dirty, dreary place complete with unsavory characters and unspeakable bathrooms. Cheyenne and I became acquainted during my college years. In those days, the Greyhound from Omaha to Provo was my ticket to school, and the trip always seemed to include a middle-of-the-night layover in Cheyenne.
I think you need to understand my hatred of Cheyenne to fully appreciate what I’m going to say next. There was actually one occasion when I didn’t mind the place so much – because I barely even knew I was there. That was the trip during which I fell in love with the wizarding world of Harry Potter. It happened in the fall of 2002. I’d read The Sorcerer’s Stone a few months earlier and sort of shrugged it off. I wanted The Lord of the Rings, and The Lord of the Rings it was not, but for some reason I still climbed aboard that Greyhound with a copy of The Chamber of Secrets in tow, and then a funny thing happened. I couldn’t put it down.
Not long after that trip, I devoured a copy of The Prisoner of Azkaban. Later I was staying up to the wee hours of the morning with my hair on fire to finish The Goblet of Fire. I was in full-fledged Potter-mania when The Order of the Phoenix came out. You better believe I was at the bookstore at zero dark thirty to pick up my pre-ordered copy before I went off to savor every last page. I was there again at midnight for The Half-Blood Prince. I was married by then, so I read it with Sara, who once famously said of the experience that she mourned far more for a beloved character there than she ever did for Michael Jackson (whose passing several years later was marked by nauseatingly ubiquitous media coverage). With The Deathly Hallows, Sara and I sequestered ourselves in our apartment and read as quickly as we could in a furious attempt to outpace the spoilers. We read so much so fast that I described the feeling afterwards as a Harry Potter hangover, but it was so fun and so worth it.
Then it was over. I’ve never quite had a reading experience like that one. There was – dare I say it? – magic in the anticipation and the journey. Great fiction makes you forget the drudgery of everyday life. That is, I suppose, what all fiction writers are aiming for. Harry Potter did that for me like nothing ever had, and there’s a certain sadness knowing no matter how many times I reread those books I can never quite go home again. Not like that.
But I’ve found a sort of solace of late. Now I’m reading Harry Potter to my kids. We’ve finished the first three books, and we’re currently partway through Goblet of Fire. I’m watching the light in my children’s eyes as their imaginations run wild. I’m hearing them chatter about favorite scenes and characters. They’re speculating about what happens next. They don’t want me to stop reading, I don’t want it to end, and I do believe Cheyenne has never been farther behind me.