July 17, 2011

Harry Potter: A Reflection

That's it, it's over. My childhood has officially ended.

I spent it surrounded by gleeful young adults donning round spectacles, makeshift wands & magic-markered lightning-bolt shaped scars on their foreheads. Most of them were complete strangers. But Luna was there and Mad-Eye Moody, too.

At 12:40 AM, the lights dimmed for the last time. As the Warner Bros. appeared on the screen around 12:41 AM, my eyes blurred with tears (This would happen periodically throughout the night.). Just as when I opened the first page some 14 years ago, I was instantly sucked into the incredibly complex fictional world of wizards, witchcraft & wizardry. And for the next 130 minutes, I tried to absorb every detail of every minute of the 130-minute finale. I wanted to make it last.

And I was not disappointed. I thought the movie perfectly captured the action-packed finale of the series we've grown to know and love. The thing I love most about the movies is seeing the director's imagination come to life. And to see how far the actors and technology have come since the first film - WOW! What a difference 10 years make!

I distinctly remember the first time I laid eyes on the Harry Potter book. It was the summer of 1998 and I spent a few days visiting my Aunt Amy in Massachusetts. I was an avid reader at the time so we stopped in a local book store on one of our excursions. I probably spent 30 minutes perusing the shelves before my aunt picked out a thick hardback with a colorful cover, adorned with the illustration of a boy with disheveled hair, round glasses & a lightning-bolt shaped scar:

"Oooh, Megan! Have you heard about this Harry Potter book? It's about a normal boy who goes to a wizard school! I've heard great things about it. What do you think?"

"Hmm, that's cool, but what about this book about horses..."

Ok, so I didn't jump on the bandwagon right away. I actually don't how I first started reading the series. But I do know that once I started, I was hooked. I read for hours upon hours as reality dissolved into the imaginary world that J.K. Rowling created so flawlessly. The Harry Potter series was my first true literary love.

Fortunately, I was surrounded by other Potter fans. My mom & I took turns reading the books as they came out. My best friend and I wrote each other letters of acceptance into Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for our 11th birthdays. In 6th grade, I wore round glasses to school & got signed out early with friends to see the first movie (thanks, Mom!). I attended a Harry Potter-themed birthday in 8th grade, complete with a Quidditch cake and customized wands (thanks, Becca!). My same group of high school friends preempted midnight premieres with movie marathons. The summer before my senior year of high school, I stayed up all night reading the last book because I could not put it down physically or emotionally.

I essentially grew up with the main characters. In my humble opinion, Rowling did an incredible job creating such realistic and complex characters. When Harry broke his arm, I broke my arm. When they were on the rocks with friends, I was on the rocks with friends. When they were struggling with hormones, I was struggling with hormones. When they were riding dragons, I was driving cars. Ok, again, not exactly the same but you get the picture. Through her masterful use of words, I felt like I knew Rowling’s characters as well as I knew my own friends.

And they were real. They made their share of mistakes but everyone does. I believe what made them different and endearing was that they continued to make conscious choices for GOOD. And not just for their own benefit or even the benefit of their friends, but for a greater good. They stood up to peer pressure and never backed down. They weren’t afraid to make the unpopular decision or stand up to bullies. They realized at an early age even though they were still kids, they had the immense responsibility to save the wizarding world. And although I can't personally relate to their quest to save the world, I think their mission reflects a more noble value: choosing to make the right choice. And that is the most powerful message Rowling has granted our generation.

And although my generation makes up the majority of the readership, the Harry Potter series resonates with all types of people across the age spectrum. In my lifetime I don’t know if another book series will affect so many people. But I hope it perseveres and continues to spark a love of reading in young people as they become pulled into the lovely fantasy world of Harry Potter and his friends again and again like it did for me.

So thank you, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint & so many other talented actors & crew that have taken these characters from words on a page to real-life role models.

Thank you to my friends and family who have imparted on me a happy childhood filled with fun memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for creating a phenomenon, a common thread for so many, and a great story about loyalty, love and doing the right thing.


EDIT: I have been informed that my grandma Ownie bought my first two Harry Potter books. So, thank you, Ownie, for opening up my little 9-year-old world to the magical world of Harry & his friends!