Reprinted from The Birmingham News (17 July 2011). Read the online article here.
With Friday’s release of “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” the world turns the final page on a 14-year saga. Since the first book’s publication in 1997, an initially simple story has evolved into a multimedia marketing dragon, spawning everything from the standard lunchboxes and bed sheets to complex online games and academic reference tomes. Though the book series concluded in 2007, it is with this last movie that the Harry Potter Generation — my generation — bids a true farewell to The Boy Who Lived.
As the Harry Potter hysteria was just beginning, I read the first book over several afternoons in my local library and marveled at the fact that Harry and I were both 11 years old. In years to come, whether cramming for chemistry or preparing for the SAT, I always carved out time for the latest installment of Harry’s adventures. When Book Seven launched, I was studying abroad in Oxford, England, and I finished those poignant passages in the gardens and walkways that had stood in for Hogwarts onscreen.
The debut of each book or film became a notch on the cultural calendar of my adolescence. Admittedly, many of these memories involved waiting in a line at midnight. But it was something special for my parents to extend my bedtime and let me gather with other fans, fueled by pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate and passed off as “wizarding wands.” Postbook parties, there was the inevitable literary race through the night — for with daybreak came the risk of spoilers, vicious classmates intent on blurting out the endings. (“Snape kills Dumbledore!”) The works themselves sparked debates for months to come: What do you think of Dobby? Why does Ron keep getting injured? Will Harry die in the last book?
Unlike today’s proudly pale “Twilight” series, Harry Potter bridged gender divides; one would be hard-pressed to find teenage boys who would admit to siding with “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” the way they had cheered for Gryffindor over Slytherin. The Potter books also crossed the rigid social barriers of school lunchroom tables; my brother and I observed that the singular phenomena of Harry Potter united both popular kids and the ones they teased. Perhaps, we speculated, on the inside, every student feels like the scrawny kid with round glasses.
As the series unfolded, subsequent novels became more layered and grimmer in tone. Harry’s early experiences focused on whimsies like Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans; by contrast, the final book opens with a quotation from Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers (“Oh, the torment bred in the race/ the grinding scream of death …”). After the emotional shredding of Harry (and readers) via “The Half-Blood Prince,” one of my friends quipped, “If the next book gets any darker, they could film that movie by just leaving the lens cap on the camera.”
Between the publication of “The Goblet of Fire” and “The Order of the Phoenix,” my high school watched the real-world horror of 9/11. Fellow ninth-graders with whom I once speculated about the proper pronunciation of “Hermione” and the true nature of Snape’s allegiances have since seen active military duty in lands far more distant and dangerous than Malfoy Manor — displaying their bravery and sacrifice without the aid of healing potions or Time-Turners.
Some of my past Potter buddies now have their own kids who will soon be boarding the Hogwarts Express, though without the fun and fanfare of anticipating each new release. It is a testament to the creative power of author J.K. Rowling that Muggle children of the 30-second Viral Video Age prove consistently willing to read books that have the approximate heft of doorstops.
The tagline for “The Deathly Hallows: Part 2”? An ominous “It All Ends.” But for the Harry Potter Generation, our memories remain. All is well.