Sometime last month we dusted off the root causes of Pottermania; today we take our archaeological dig further and discover why it meant as much as it did…and what future generations will miss on their own Potter voyage. HARD-HITTING EDITORIAL,
2. What’s My Age Again?
Because we never mention this sort of thing here ever, I should state clearly that Steve and I are 25 years old. Most of our friends are between the ages of 23 and 26. So when the first (stateside) Harry Potter book was released, we were all between the ages of 10 and 13 — or to put it more clearly, pretty much the same age as Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Although we’d begin to speed past them in age when they’d take their extended summer breaks, the characters were often struggling with the same TEENAGE ANGST we were facing outside the book. Harry and Ron can’t find dates to the Yule Ball? Hermione freaks out over O.W.L.s? Sounds familiar! (They also battled dragons and snake-whispering mass-murderers but, you know, analogous experiences.)
We grew up with these characters. And like us — ostensibly normal, healthily maturing people — both the books and movies began to take on rougher, more complicated edges as they progressed. Hermione went from bratty bookworm to basically the intellectual linchpin of the entire quest to defeat Voldemort; the Harry who in Book One was solving riddles was by #6 being asked to assist in his father figure’s suicide (sort of). That is called AMPING IT UP.
The writing got better, too. By 2007 when the final book came out, Rowling seemed in total command of a story that far exceeded its children’s section beginnings. Likewise the movies which, starting with Alfonos Cuaron’s adaptation of Prisoner of Azkaban, started taking more creative risks. The final four movies in particular have been admirably willing to both deviate from and outright excise book moments as necessary, and even add some new ones. For a movie series that began borderline straitjacketed to the books, that’s pretty amazing.
With a few disconnects along the way, the Harry Potter Experience (TM) paralleled almost beat-for-beat the current 20-something’s experience of growing up. Those various “I Wish I Went to Hogwarts” Facebook groups launched in September ’04? Less wishful thinking (well..) than statements of fact, speaking to how much these stories affected and continue to affect us. This shit’s left an indelible
dark mark on us that will be very hard to shake.
3. Harry Potter and the Magical Something or Whatever of the Future
One day far into the future (after we’ve achieved our personal and professional goals and not one minute before), we will probably have children*. And eventually those children, growing up in a world with holographic reading devices implanted into their corneas, will get around to reading Harry Potter**. But you have to wonder: what will the experience of devouring these books and movies feel like to kids who have the whole series laid out in front of them, just ready to go? How will the absence of the anticipation and patience that played such an integral role in our thirteen year journey affect their engagement with the series?
I’ll start by saying “it won’t, pull your head out of your butt,” but then backtrack into poetic reflection.
Think about how much Harry Potter was a summer event. The rest of the year meant school reading and hating your parents, but late July — which seemed to be the release date of choice for the final four books — meant POTTER. Absent school or other commitments like fall soccer, you could just devote yourself to the latest entry to the point that you were barreling through it in one weekend. Or less! Summer hardly has a stranglehold on unhealthy binge consumption (Netflix Instant knows no season), but its wide-openness definitely helps intensify the experience. I just feel sorry for the kids who will dive into the series in October!
Consider, too, the future kid who starts reading the books (and watching the movies) at age 11. When he’s finished with Sorcerer’s Stone, is he going to wait a year to pick up the Chamber of Secrets? No — Harry Potter is the Pringles of the book world, and he’s going to pick up the next book right after polishing off the one before. Mrs. Weasley will be calling Bellatrix a bitch before his next haircut. There’s nothing wrong with this — and Lord knows most kindergartners today already have “bitch” at their beck and call — but I’ve got to believe that experienced this way, the series loses some of its non-textual power. Becomes something less than MAGICAL. Again, I just feel so bad for these future kids!
Even when its buttresses were being attacked by giant trolls, Hogwarts was always a safe, happy place to which we could escape — a second (made-up) home that remained a source of comfort through thirteen years of growing up. So when at the London premiere of Deathly Hallows, Part 2 JK Rowling tells fans that “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home”…it actually means something. It’s cheesy, and maybe a little off (again, college quidditch leagues), but it’s also somehow deeply reassuring. Harry Potter was more than just a well-crafted fantasy series, but an emotionally true cultural touchstone we should consider ourselves lucky to have come of age alongside.
…And with that, no more about Harry Potter on this site EVER AGAIN. It’s been TOO REAL.
* Who, by Harry Potter logic, will of course marry each other.
** That’s just a fact, right? We accept that these books are even now part of the all-time literary canon?