When Heather Met Harry

When I tell people I have a degree in Latin and Greek, they give me what I call “the look” (a face of surprise and confusion) and offer some witty quip like “Have fun working at Starbucks.”

I have been passionate about the classics for as long as I can remember. I grew up reading famous works of literature while other kids were playing TV and video games. I also wanted to write from a young age and my idea was simple. Learn from those who have written great works of classical literature and go from there. I dived into two civilizations whose literature has survived for more than 2000 years - the Greeks and Romans. I am not the only one - JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and JK Rowling all have classical educations.

The first time I read Rowling’s books I was struck by her knowledge of mythology and the classics. Here was a modern author with a classical flair. Who’d have thought years later I would be meeting the literary superstar herself in Toronto - the only Canadian stop on her North American booktour following July’s publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Am I a fan? I’ll let you decide. I own and have read Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) in Latin. I have not, however, read it in Greek...yet.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

I have always enjoyed Rowling’s skillfully crafted mythology. Each time I read one of her books I find something new that indicates JK’s background in Greek and Latin. From her carefully chosen names – Sibyl (a professor at Hogwarts) is the Latin word for prophetess – to her use of centaurs and other mythical creatures, her works elaborate on many established storytelling traditions.

As Judy Hamza, AbeBooks’ HR director, and I entered the Elgin and Winter Gardens Theatre, we saw painted trees climbing the walls and leaves hanging from the ceiling amid dimly lit lanterns. It was as if a forest had sprung up through the concrete floors of downtown Toronto to create its own magical sphere. On the stage were two chairs: one in the centre for Rowling and another placed to the left to signify writers who couldn’t be present. An announcement revealed the chair represented two Chinese authors held in a prison because they wrote a short story about living under the Chinese regime.

As the theatre filled up, hundreds of fans waited with baited breath for their chance to see the author who had inspired their imaginations. The lights dimmed and the audience cheered. Rowling gracefully walked on stage in brown leather high-heeled boots and a silk matching brown dress. She didn’t appear anything like how I had imagined writers to be - reclusive and shy. Shielding her eyes from the bright lights shining down, she peered into the blackness attempting to see the faces of those around her. She sat down and announced she would be reading the chapter “Ron comes back.”

Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis by JK Rowling

Her voice shifted with the chapter’s emotion and excitement. Raising her voice to a shrill shriek as Hermione attacks Ron and somehow even distinguishing her voice between Ron and Harry’s, she captivated the audience. Goosebumps prickled my arms and the nape of my neck. I found myself leaning forward almost as if I could dive into the book she held.

At the last word there was a suspended moment like the silence between musical notes before the audience cheered. When selected fans posed questions about her books, she answered without reservation. One man asked how we could get boys to read more. She answered that the solution lies in writing good books first. Someone else asked what was her favourite magical object, it was the pensieve - the basin that can collect thoughts. No-one asked about Dumbledore and his outing.

Another person asked how she devised the rules of Quidditch. She had written them after breaking up with an ex-boyfriend and she suspected that’s where the bludgers came from. She also mentioned that when the first movie was in production one of the crew said the rules made no sense because there were too many balls. Laughing, she had replied that perhaps only a woman could have created Quiddich because women are great at multi-tasking.

When a fan asked her how she handled ‘celebrity’ she gave what I think was her most honest answer – that she loves the fans and loves what she is doing, but never wanted to be a celebrity.

As hundreds of people lined up in front of her to receive a signed book, I noticed that she always looked up at each person as they passed. When I went up to get my signed copy I told her that I had finished my classics degree earlier in the year and had read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Latin. She stopped mid-signing, gasped, looked at me and said: “You’re kidding!” One of her people nudged her to continue signing and she asked “How did the jokes translate?”

Heather works in online marketing at the Abebooks.com headquarters in Victoria, BC