This is fairly off topic for my blog, but the end of the Harry Potter series seemed like a big enough cultural event that it seemed worth mentioning; particularly given how much my family has enjoyed it. When my wife read the first books, I wasn’t terribly interested. I thought the first book was just so-so after Amy gave it to me and recall dragging my heels reading the second one. After that, however, Amy & I had a routine. She would get the newest book when it first came out, largely go AWOL for a couple of days, then hand it off to me.
My interest in the movies followed a similar pattern; I wasn’t terribly excited about the first one, then they got better and better for me. For awhile there, they were competing with The Lord of the Rings franchise, and, as I am a huge LotR geek, Harry Potter was necessarily going to play second fiddle. This last movie, Deathly Hallows Part 2, came out on July 15 — which, as it happens, was Amy & my anniversary. There was, therefore, no question what we were doing for our anniversary this year.
As literature, I’m no judge; but to me, it’s a fine story. Not much more, and certainly no less. I’ve seen folks on both ends – those who turn up their noses and take a too-cool-for-school view, either because they find the writing deficient in some fashion, don’t want to read kids’ books, or have an aversion to swords and sorcery. And, there are those who are simply fanatics. (My favorite sideshow was a religious subculture that sought to ban the Harry Potter series as demonic because the kids used magic.) As a cultural phenomenon, the series is undeniable. It has left its mark in the Western psyche and will likely be a reference point for quite some time.
Now that my kids are getting a little older (7 and 5 years old respectively), the Harry Potter books have taken their place at the story couch before bed time. Harper zones in and out, but Cole’s attention is rapt. We’re on Book 4. I’m a bit concerned we’re moving fast enough that the later books might be too dark for him before he’s ready. But, then, it occurs to me that the Brothers Grimm were aptly named. Many fairy tales have horrific elements to them that kids seem to deal with very well. And the lessons in the books are generally sound. Good fights evil. Evil seems to have its way for a time. But, Good, through perseverance and the love of friends and family, prevails; even if it requires sacrifice.
Now, my favorite story line is that of Neville Longbottom. (Caution: mild spoilers here for those who haven’t read the books or seen the movies). Through much of the early series, he’s little more than a bumbling, scared punching bag. But, as he matures, his spine stiffens, until, at the end – in my mind – he’s probably the bravest of them all. Harry has always been the Chosen One, of whom great things are expected. He roams the world, largely hidden from evil forces, moving forward on a task to kill The Dark Lord. Meanwhile, Neville, stays in the belly of the beast — at Hogwarts after the bad guys have taken over — and leads a student resistance; taking all manner of abuse, but holding strong. Then, even when everyone thought Harry dead and all was lost, Neville was standing up, defiant. What can I say? I’m a sucker for nerd-makes-good story lines.
We use stories to convey all manner of virtues to our society. For example, way back in the day, the Odyssey was a way of showing young Greeks that strength and courage was not the whole story — cleverness was often worth as much as a strong sword. As stories go, the Harry Potter series a lot to offer in that respect. (Though, I was fairly pleased one evening as Cole expressed a great deal of concern over the fact that Harry was breaking one rule or another — Cole was trying to reconcile the notion of a Good Guy who, nevertheless, Broke the Rules.) It’s a little sad to see it end.