In the UK, on July 15, 2011, the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was released and as in years previous, there were midnight viewings and release parties and fans decked out in pointed hats and robes and round glasses. I saw the film the week following its release, on a Tuesday afternoon in a theatre that was suprisingly full. After, I scoured the internet for fan reviews and opinions, out of curisoity and because it would be the last time I would be able to do so. One common theme I found was that for many they felt as if their childhood had come to an end.
I appear to be one of the few who don't feel the same way.
I'm not saying that I am indifferent to the series, because I'm not. The Harry Potter novels have had a profound affect on my life, since the very first one. I remember seeing the Philosopher's Stone advertised by Rosie O'Donnell on her chat show (and that should definately show my age), although of course that was the American version. She raved about it, and the summary she gave captured my eleven-year-old attention. My mum bought me the Canadian paperback, but for some reason I had difficulty making it through that first chapter. I left it sitting on my bedside table for months.
Every year, my elementary school had a book day. I don't remember what we called it, but effectively the entire school was given leave, for one day, to dress in comfy clothes, bring pillows and blankets and snacks, and to curl up under desks and in classroom corners reading. I had a backpack full of books, ever the ambitious bibliophile, and by lunchtime I had browsed through many of them without making a single commitment to read more than a few chapters. It was then that I finally decided to give Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone another chance. I would make it through the first chapter. I would give it another chance.
I didn't put it down.
The second I finished it, I bought the hardback boxed set, which at the time was the first three books. I started Chamber of Secrets in the booth of a restaurant (that is now a sex shop), and by the time I had finished Prisoner of Azkaban, I was a fan who eagerly wanted to know what was to happen in Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, I had to wait, but as soon as it was available I pre-ordered Goblet of Fire and took it home the day it was released. I spent two weeks of the summer reading it, lying on my bed and sitting behind a registration table at a church daycamp. A friend of mine was only a few chapters behind me, and we talked and laughed and theorized, tomes propped on our bare knees. It was one of the best summer's I'd ever spent.
It would be two years until Order of the Phoenix was released, and in that time I entered high school and became embroiled in my own teenage adventures. But I hardly forgot the books that had already affected my life so profoundly. Because it was while reading that very first book at age eleven that I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: I wanted to be a writer.
It seemed that yearly, all through elementary school, we students were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. Some made their choices confidently, and drew pictures of themselves as firefighters and teachers and doctors. I never knew. Every time we were asked--every time their was an assignment to draw or write about ourselves in our future careers--I would panic and do the only thing I could think of: I asked my friends what they wanted to be. Consequently, for the first five years of my education I wanted to be a vet or a kindergarden teacher. I read voraciously and I wrote any time there was paper and pencil within grabbing distance, but I never thought of them as jobs. It never occured to me that you could. Then, sitting on the floor of my grade 6 classroom reading about a messy-haired boy who lived in a cupboard, it hit me, like the flicking of a lightswitch: this was someone's job. This was what someone did for a living, this is what they were when they grew up. They wrote.
And in that moment I knew that I would too.
During the Goblet of Fire-Order of the Phoenix gap years, I refused to let something that had such an affect on me be forgotten, and with my growing interest in the internet, I made like the 21st Century fan and turned to fandom. I read forums, I joined websites, I looked at fanart (which back in the late 1990s and early 2000s was our only source of visual Harry Potter media outside of the illustrations in the American editions), and I read fanfiction. I even wrote it, using this opportunity to not only make real the many what if's my brain had concocted, but to also improve my writing by playing with prose, and by trying to stay faithful to pre-established characterization. All of JK Rowling's characters have distinct personalities and speech patterns, and it was a challenge to try and stay true to them, which I know improved my understanding of character and improved my writing in general. At the time, fan speculation was also rampant, and it was a thrilling thing to be a part of.
When Order of the Phoenix was finally released, I bought it that morning and spent a little under a week locked in my room reading, and burst into tears when Sirius Black slipped through the veil. Of course, my sister had to come into my room at just that moment and laughed at me, but Rowling had made me care about a character so much that for the first time I was moved to tears at his death. And she had made me connect with another--with Harry--to the point that his loss felt like my own. It's truely remarkable, and something every writer hopes to accomplish, myself included. My own reactions (and this was later blostered by my feelings while reading Vladamir Nabokov's Lolita) made me strive to elicit a visceral reaction from my readers, to have them be affected by the story I have told. Hopefully, one day I'll succeed.
Half-Blood Prince came out just after I graduated high school. I was in the UK, doing a bus tour from London, up through Scotland, down through Wales, and after a stop at Stonehenge back to London again. It was in that final day, not long before our flight from Heathrow was supposed to leave, that I got my hands on the sixth book and spent the entire trip with my head buried in it. Three or four days later, I was sitting on my bed again, crying over Dumbledore's death. Then, like so many, I jumped on the internet to discuss whether or not Snape was actually evil incarnate. In 2007, I was in another airport--Charles de Gaulle in Paris--and I can remember everything from when I opened the front over of my freshly purcashed copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, bought in the airport shop. I was sitting at our terminal, cross-legged in one of the black chairs near the windows, the book resting partly in my hands and partly on my right leg (it being hardback and the size of a large brick). The first chapter was a meeting with the Muggle Prime Minister, and I was on the edge of my seat from the first word, my entire body tense with excitement and fear because this was the end. There would be no other books after.
I made it a little past Dobby's death by the time our plane touched down in Detroit, and resolutely decided to leave the rest for the next day, to sleep off the jetlag and prolong the experience. And prolong I did, exercising almost painful restraint the entire morning before I sat at my desk, put some music on, and read. And cried. And finished.
I was 19--almost 20--and rather aptly, my childhood had ended.
I remember a sense of loss, and I do remember after my twentieth birthday feeling incredibly strange, because although I had legally been an adult in Canada for a year, the numeric transition out of my teens felt much different. It felt like growing up. And I wouldn't be surprised if finishing the Harry Potter series had something to do with that feeling. The novels that had carried me through my pre-adolescent and adolescent years, that had, effectively, shaped me just as my classes and teachers had, were done. The wizarding world had changed, and so had my own, both of them becoming more adult not just due to my--and Harry's--eyes maturing, but also due to time. The aforementioned family friendly restaurant I read about twelve-year-old wizards in becoming a Stag Shop as I hit my late teens attests to that. And just as Harry wouldn't be returning to Hogwarts with anything more than fondness and a sense of nostalgia for the place he had grown up, so too would I re-read the books with a feeling of reminiscience. I grew up with Harry and Ron and Hermione, and just as they had to leave, had to get jobs and flats and, as we know nineteen years later, get married and have children, so did I move to another country, get my Masters degree, and get two wonderful jobs doing what I love. I can only visit Hogwarts now, I can never live there again.
And it's time to write my own adventures.
And it's time to write my own adventures.
As many, I discovered through my review reading, said, one of the reasons why the release of the final film feels like an ending is that even after the release of the Deathly Hallows novel, there were still films to look forward to and talk about, and now, there will be nothing. Slowly, the fandom will die. Personally, as much as I am a fan of the books, the films have always left me a tad underwhelmed. Oh, I do love them, but especially following Prisoner of Azkaban's release, I had to come to terms with the fact that they would not be faithful adaptations of the books I so adored. Instead, they were more films-based-on-the-books, and that has made them far easier to enjoy and has possibly made me feel more detached from them. They don't have the same hold on me as their novel counterparts. And if anything the intervening four years since the end of the book series and the end of the film franchise has taught me, it's that there will always be fans. There will always be old fans returning to the series and new ones discovering it, always art and fiction and discussion. There will always be people wondering "what if". Fandom won't die.
And (here's my cynicism showing) in ten or fifteen years someone will reboot the film franchise, and it will start all over again.
Harry Potter has given a great deal to me, and I know that I won't ever forget it. I'm still involved in fandom, having drifted away and drifted right back, not because of the films--not because of new material--but because the books will always have a hold on me.
"Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home," JK Rowling said at the London premier of Deathly Hallows: Part 2.
And we graduates will never forget that.
(Image borrowed from here.)