Yesterday I thought a lot about love and story-telling. I’m not a big believer in the three-act structure, or that love is this but not that. I got stuck in a thunderstorm and lightning clapped as loud as I’d ever heard and the sky broke open and I was soaked before I walked back in the door. Love could be like that lightning bolt, but not really. More like a story. Like you don’t get to ask anyone else what it is, you must to decide for yourself. It can go as quick as it comes and leave all sorts of damage in its wake. I could return to the heavy handed metaphor and about rainstorms and leaving the house but I won’t, because I already know that’s bullshit. I don’t know anything about love. To me it’s just some crazy feeling like your lungs pulling away from each other and then, later, a calm loyalty between friends that nurtures and sustains.
Or, more likely, we’re using one word to describe a bunch of different things.
At the risk of sounding prematurely nostalgic (although, if there were ever an appropriate time to feel so, it would be now, wouldn’t it?), I can’t help but reflect on the role the Harry Potter series - in any medium - has played in my life.
I remember the time before the Harry Potter movies were even promoted. In 1999 I was in fourth grade, and I had read the first three books with fascination, having no idea what I was getting into… I had read them out of order; my parents had bought the second and third when I was in third grade, so I read those, and then my fourth grade teacher bought the first one for me at that year’s book fair.
At that time I did not have a clear grasp on the workings of the film industry, and I thought that there was just kind of automatically a movie version of most books. So with the first volume of Harry Potter’s saga fresh in my mind, I searched online for information about a movie for it. There had been no commercials, no publicity, so I had nothing to go on. However, I remember very clearly the discovery of an “In Progress” page on Warner Brothers’ website. Stormy purple and black clouds provided the background for the screen, and the letters of the WB symbol looked vaguely like the jagged Harry Potter title font that recalls lightning bolts (for whatever reason). Casting was up in the air. A release date was FAR from set. Still I was excited for the movie to come about.
More than being excited, though, I was very nervous about the prospect of the release of this movie. I was afraid that the actors would not look the way I had pictured them. I was afraid the text wouldn’t come across well. I was even afraid that perhaps I was the one who’d been wrong and that the way I saw the events of the books unfolding was nowhere near accurate. Lo and behold, over the years some of my fears proved themselves to be justified. The movies, the earlier ones at any rate, were pretty rough. Loose adaptations of scene construction and direction, arbitrary costume choices (AHEM, Prisoner of Azkaban), and poorly delivered dialogue doomed the movie series in my heart. I was convinced that I would never enjoy the movies, but I resolved myself to seeing each one at least in theaters, even if never again after that.
As time went on, I tore through the books as they were released. I read and reread them countless times, even when I found fault with bits and pieces. I was an entirely loyal fan. By the time the last book came out, four years ago now, which is unbelievable in itself, I was preparing myself to be utterly devastated. I could not imagine a world in which there would never be another massive tome chronicling the life of Harry Potter, the boy who lived. Heartsick, I halfway did not want to read the book at all, because if I never read it, it would never end. Let me just say, THAT did not last long. My family picked up three copies at midnight - one each for my brother, sister, and I - and I had even armed myself with a booklight for the car ride home. I couldn’t sleep that night, and I ended up finishing it in just under nine hours. I cried. I felt astounded and numb and full and strange. I felt like I had to redefine my life to account for this gap that would be present from that point on.
After the trauma of the books’ being finished, I decided to embrace the movie releases as best I could. I begrudgingly gave them my love, but when the Burrow burned down in the sixth one, I nearly gave them up for good. The stories were being ruined, I felt, and I very nearly did not see Deathly Hallows Part I last fall. Still I made myself go, and I am so glad that I did.
Tonight, though, was far more important, and I almost missed the gravity of it. After having been surrounded by hype from the media, my friends, and my sister, I felt pretty well anesthetized to the fact that this marks the final installment of the series. Yes, it was the end, but what did that mean? The movies can be rewatched on DVD or however else we have these days, and the books can be reread ad infinitum. It isn’t really over.
At the theater tonight with my sister, it really hit me, very suddenly and with great force. There will not be another Harry Potter story. Book, movie, audiotape, whatever. This is it (until we really do run out of original ideas a few years from now and can ONLY make remakes of popular series).
Quickly my mind was changed again. From “it’s not really the end” to “this is it” back to “but no, it really isn’t.” And finally it struck me just why. Sitting in that theater tonight, I was blown away by the unity with which the audience reacted. Before the movie even began, when the trailers for other upcoming shows were playing, at each trailer’s beginning there came a collective wave of tense laughter when it became clear that it was, in fact, NOT the movie yet. Sniffs and sobs could be heard nearly throughout the movie’s entirety, and in several of the dramatic scenes of combat toward the end, people in the theater literally cheered and applauded. This story may have been concocted by a mortal woman just like us, but it is no less real than our own lives and she no less magical than the world she has created.
Even though the movie’s tagline is “It All Ends 7.15.2011”, nothing could be further from the truth. J.K. Rowling has taught countless armies of children how to love, how to be strong, and how to grow. She has taught us that bullies can be beaten, that friendship is stronger than death, and that justice finds a way to triumph over evil.
In the current economic climate, triumph feels like an alien concept to millions of people. Oppressive government actions tell us that our words, our actions, and our desires mean very little to the establishment that was and is meant to be OF the people, FOR the people, BY the people. We are made to feel like cogs in a machine, and then we are condescended to, to the point that we feel stupid for thinking we are upset; we’re not REALLY upset, no. We just don’t have the proper “perspective.” When a person is reduced to such a feeling of helplessness, it is all one can do to so much as wake up and get out of bed in the morning. Opportunities are few and far between. Competition for jobs is higher than ever. The lyrical-minded poets among us have slim prospects. We are told to be practical. To take jobs where we can get them. To sacrifice our hopes and dreams for the sake of financial responsibility. For “stability,” whatever that means anymore. Times are scary, and we the fragmented people do not have one particular Voldemort to confront.
The most horrifying aspect about Voldemort is not that he is evil; it is that he was once human. His fears of death, of inferiority - these led to his transformation; these made him who he is. Fear begets evil, which spawns greater fear. The only way to combat evil is to stop being afraid and to be strong in the face of evil.
To hope is scary. To wish is intimidating. To believe in a better tomorrow is terrifying, but it is necessary. What Ms. Rowling has shown us through her beautifully imagined, intricate web of a magical world is that there is power in defiance. She has taught us that EVERY fight is worth fighting, and she has helped us to see, to truly see, that within each of us lies unimaginable capacity for good.
It is mindboggling to realize that a flit of a thought, jotted down on napkins, could grow into this phenomenon beloved around the world, but that is exactly what Rowling has created. These stories will stand the test of time because their themes and their messages exist outside of time. Perhaps (and hopefully) the world will one day not be as ravaged and splintered as it currently is, but if that day is ever to come, it will come not because we fear our leaders when they tell us to be afraid. It will come because we oppose those who claim sovereignty through fear. The first step is allowing ourselves to hope, to gather courage and confidence from love.
Nothing is over when the magic lasts forever.
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love. By returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, fewer families are torn apart. If that seems to you a worth goal, then we say good-bye for the present.” —Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (722)