It’s been more than a decade since I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. And frankly, despite having seen the movie at least a couple of times since then, I somehow always forget how the book ends. I can tell you so much about the start, the various characters, and such, yet somehow the end is always a blur. And so it was still somewhat like reading a new book when I recently read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone again, this time in Chinese. [The Chinese translation is based on the British version of the book, thus the British title.]
Harry Potter. The unanimously-known, famous boy wizard that took not only the wizarding world by the storm, but also the literary and cinematic worlds, and forever changed our generation. Beloit’s College Mindset List 2012 said it perfectly, “Harry Potter could be a classmate, playing on their Quidditch team;” that is, the class of 2012 essentially grew up with him.
And that we did. Harry in the books was a couple of years older than us and he grew up a little bit slower on screen, but essentially we saw ourselves in him. Sure, most of us didn’t have his magical skills nor his dangerous yet fantastical adventures, but he reflected our dealings with teachers, teen angst, young love, and so many other strongholds of adolescence.
Now, having passed that stage in my life yet nevertheless dealing with the struggles of collegiate life, revisiting Harry Potter was like reliving old memories through a home video. And somehow, doing so in a different language helped that.
I began reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Chinese as a way to refresh my Chinese reading skills, which had been steadily deteriorating since I left for college and probably before then as well. Many other reading materials have been tried, yet most didn’t capture my attention enough. With Harry Potter, though, I was reading Chinese willingly. There is a Chinese idiomatic expression, 走火入魔 , meaning to be thoroughly enraptured and captivated. It’s rather appropriate in this case since 魔 is also part of the word for magic. And that’s how I was; I read it like I’ve never read Chinese before. It was the same addiction that the books provided in English, the one that possessed millions of readers around the world of all ages and backgrounds, the one that made J.K. Rowling one of the richest women in the world. In fact, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone became the first full-length novel in Chinese that I’ve ever read. I’m sure if my parents realized that they could get me to read Chinese so easily with Harry Potter, they would’ve bought the entire collection right when it came out.
The hardest part about it was perhaps the translations of the names of people and places. I remember the first time when “Muggles” came up. Phonetically it is translated with words that literally mean “numb melon,” and so for a few seconds I sat there dumbfounded before coming to my senses. They were all phonetically translated, so at times it became difficult to recognize a character out of context. But at least they didn’t try to translate any names literally via meaning! Could you imagine? Longbottom as a long behind? Or Hogwarts as pig growths? How about Ravenclaw as a school of birds’ talons?
Reading it in Chinese, out loud, meant I had to read much slower and much more carefully, which really helped in getting to know the characters again. And for the first time since the movies came out, I was able to see Harry without seeing Daniel Radcliffe. At the same time, I suddenly realized just how many of the actors chosen for the roles (or perhaps as a result of their makeup), do match Rowling’s description of them in Book 1 quite well.
My cousin is now buying me the entire series in China so I can use it to keep my Chinese reading skills up. I should note here that buying just this one book here in the States costs more than the entire collection in China! (Well, that’s because it’s currently on sale, but even when it’s not, I could still buy half the books with what I spent on this one from Amazon.)
Now all there is to do, besides perhaps also reading the series in French, is go to Universal’s new Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Yet having been so many times to Universal, it seems unjustified to pay just to go to HP World, especially at a time when I’m in need of making several large purchases. Perhaps when I finish the entire series in Chinese I’ll treat myself to it. Of course, should an opportunity to go occur before that, I won’t be saying no.