Seven years ago today, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released to millions of waiting fans. I was one of them. A few years later, when the last Harry Potter film was released, I wrote a retrospective on what seemed to be the end of an era. That article was originally published on Tailslate. In honor of the anniversary of the release of the final book, I am reprinting it here. Even though it’s been a while, even though there have been new books that have taken prominent positions on my shelves – nothing can ever replace Harry.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was first released in the United States in 1997. In effect, my relationship with Harry has spanned almost half my life. Though in truth, he has been with me for much longer than the 15 years we’ve been formally acquainted.
As the last film is set to open in theaters next week and emotions are running high among fans who are watching the Harry Potter era draw to a close, I have mixed emotions. There is, in some sense, a bit of relief that there are no more movies to obsess over, no more waiting for plot twists and mysteries to be revealed. I’m curious about how the characters will fare as they age, but was somewhat thankful when JK Rowling said that she wasn’t jumping the shark. That’s it. It’s over.
Critics have tried to figure out what it is about the Harry Potter series that has captivated the world. It isn’t just kids or teenagers that have followed these stories. Everyone who picks up the books and starts the story is entranced. Literary types point to Rowling’s storytelling skills: the universal themes of good vs. evil, the intricate plot, the character development. Cynics say it’s all Scholastic’s fault – ANY book that gets as much publicity as Rowling’s is bound to succeed.
But those theories apply to any Dan Brown book, or Orson Scott Card tale. Rowling’s success is something much vaster. It’s completely different.
Around the time the fifth book came out, someone asked me why I was so “into” Harry Potter. Instead of the stock, “Because it’s awesome!” answer, I gave it some thought. What was it about Harry Potter that I loved? It wasn’t the hype. I was too old for peer pressure, and truth was, most of my peers were not even Harry Potter fans. It wasn’t the writing, either. Though I certainly love Rowling’s style, I’ve read too many excellent writers to call her the best.
My Harry Potter obsession was not so easily quantifiable. It was much more for me. I was the kid that grew up looking for hidden doorways to other worlds in kitchen cupboards. I would rip the inside binding off my hardcover books on the off-chance there was a secret map left between the cardboard and the paper. I searched for keys to other worlds and believed, truly believed, that if I concentrated hard enough, I could make things move. For me, magic was waiting behind every wardrobe and down every rabbit hole. It was everywhere.
But, as JM Barrie says, all children grow up. I soon learned that in the real world, doors do not open to other worlds, that keys tend to have rather mediocre histories, and magical powers do not come from wands, or sorcerers, or, tragically, anywhere.
Then, along came Harry. More than a book about a boy wizard, it was the story I had looked for everywhere. It gave me the world that I had searched for my whole childhood. It was the book I always wanted to read and spoke to all those dreams of magic, and might, and adventure. I saw myself in all the characters. More importantly, I saw myself in that world.
The Harry Potter legacy, I think, is more than just the great stories. It speaks to a primal spark that lies in every child, young or old. The belief in magic, and that, no matter what the world, love truly does conquer all. JK Rowling’s story took me back to that little girl on the corner who desperately wanted to find magic on her street.
I once jokingly said to my older brother that I loved Harry potter because, “I pretty much don’t have a life.” That isn’t entirely true. It’s that Harry Potter represented the life that I always knew existed somewhere. JK Rowling gave me that life in her books, in the films, and in the world that I could immerse myself into by revisiting the well-worn pages of the novels.
I’m not running around with a broomstick. I don’t peer into crystal balls. I don’t wave a wand at the light switch shouting, “Lumos!” But when I watch the films and read the books, or wrap up in a Gryffindor robe, for a moment I am back in that innocent place. I am that girl again. And then, for that small time, the magic is real.
Make no mistake, Harry Potter is big business. A theme park, eight films with huge merchandise tie-ins, and Rowling’s recently launched website Pottermore, in addition to hundreds of fan sites, college courses, and conventions. The franchise even launched a new sport. In some ways, that aspect of the story will draw to a close on July 15th when the final film is released. The industry end of Harry Potter will fall into the historical archives alongside Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and other pop culture classics.
But that is certainly not the end of Harry Potter. When the credits roll, the actors and directors will move on to other projects. The sets will be gone. The orchestra will have folded their instruments and packed it in. But Harry will still be waiting. And like an old lullaby, will sing to new generations of children and adults who, out of the corners of their eyes, still watch as owls gather. Still tap on bricks and pick up stray keys in the hopes that other worlds will open for them. Still look for trolls, and gnomes, and house elves.
Why do I love Harry Potter? Because even after all these years, I still believe in magic. And what the Harry Potter phenomenon has taught me, is that deep down, so does everyone else.