Uncategorized | July 15, 2011
Growing Up Like Lightning
This post was written before the midnight showing of the last Harry Potter movie on July 14th, 2011.
Many of the undergraduates and twenty-somethings I know have been heralding the release of the final Harry Potter movie as the end of our childhood, and with certainty, it’s the end of an era. The Harry Potter experience of this age group, however, is a peculiar and beautiful one. It’s not that our childhood coincided with the books, but that it coincided so precisely. As Jo Rowling’s big-hearted protagonist grew, we did, too. The books kept pace with us, as did the movies. Many of us started reading the books around age 11, and the actors cast in the leading roles are our age.
My initiation into the latinate magic of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world occurred a month or so before my 11th birthday — almost exactly the same age at which Harry became the center of consciousness in his story. I was 9 when the first book, Sorcerer’s Stone, was released in the States, and bit by bit my school was infiltrated by copies of a book with letters like thunderbolts and a bespectacled boy on a broomstick. By 5th grade, the third book had been released to the tender mercies of American audiences, and the books had truly taken over. Friends were reading them. Enemies were reading them. Adults, including my teachers, were reading them.
With the release of the fourth book looming, I too began to read them. I was at a friend’s house, and she and her brothers were listening to the second book, Chamber of Secrets, on tape. I snagged the first book from her shelf, and though I was underwhelmed by the first few pages, I kept reading. An hour later, I was hooked. A day later, on a field trip with my fifth grade class, I paid no attention; who could possibly care about Bridal Cave when there were Harry Potter books to read?!
The second book, I borrowed from the public library. I read it in one evening.
Third, Prisoner of Azkaban: two evenings. By this point, my parents were hooked, too.
The morning the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, was released, my dad took me to Wal-Mart – the closest thing my hometown has to a bookstore – at 6AM. I bought the book. We had a family reunion that day. I was formidably rude. I read. Cousins wandered over now and then, curious. Aunties seemed concerned, at the very least bemused. There were distractions, there was picnic food. I took few breaks. I read.
A day later: finished. Exhausted. Waiting.
The years between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix were incredibly (though perhaps inevitably) formative for me. They were my middle school years, and as complex as they are for everyone. Loving Harry Potter did not make my life any simplier in a religiously conservative town, especially when the father of the friend who had loaned me the first book demanded that his daughter stop reading them. He had heard they were satanic. Our friendship became tense after that. I was told my soul was being prayed for. I was told I was going to hell. I learned firsthand about the ignorance of censorship, about unfounded anger, righteousness, defensiveness, the desire to control. I learned that grown-ups can be even stupider than kids sometimes, that they are just as willful, that they are just as willing to act outrageously without making an effort to be informed.
I discovered the almighty internet in those years, too, and an unprecedented fandom was rising. Potter-speculation, Potter-message boards, Potter-rehashing and remixing and making much of: millions of us, mostly teenagers or thereabouts, logging in day after day to talk about – of all things – literature. To get passionate about it, form opinions, draw conclusions, analyze, make predictions, pick things apart. We chose our loyalties. We wrote fan fiction, created fan art, and played RPGs. We got into fights and made friends all over the world.
People often talk about how fandom brings people together, but it also helped us become autonomous individuals. Internet-based fandom has that effect of simultaneously uniting its participants and forcing each of them to be more intellectually self-reliant, to gain respect through creativity and well-applied intelligence and put serious consideration into their identities. It’s easy to criticize the persona-building that occurs online, but in building those personas, we learn a lot about ourselves — and that’s a great thing for teenagers to do. Strangely, I felt less mixed-up in those years than I do now. Part of that is due to my current state of being in transition between not-grown-up and grown-up, but at least some of it is because I spent so much time writing in my teen years, learning my own mind through my participation in this tremendous and diverse fandom.
I don’t remember too much about the years in between the fifth book and sixth book, Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince respectively, but the seventh book, Deathly Hallows, came out just after my 18th birthday – and my high school graduation. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. For the first time, I got to go to a midnight release with a friend. We got dressed up and blazed into downtown Springfield, MO, which had been transformed into Diagon Alley for the occasion. The arthouse cinema there, The Moxie, was showing the movies and serving butterbeer. There were festive window displays. And best of all, the independent bookstore Well-Fed Head (beloved, but no longer in business) was hosting a Potter party with a trivia contest (which I won) and a costume contest (which my friend won) leading up to the midnight release of the book. It was perfect – small enough that people were socializing with one another and making friends. Everyone was in love. We might have been glowing. At midnight it was contained hysteria. Our numbers were called, we got our books, we were off into the streets on a desperate and glorious mission.
I read at my friend’s house until 8AM and drove home in a trance.
Though Jo Rowling’s “Pottermore” website will be launched in pieces in the coming months, as of today, there will likely never be another novel in the Harry Potter series, nor even a movie. This movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, is the last desperate and glorious mission of the Harry Potter generation. We will go, maybe at midnight, maybe a week from now, but we will go to the theaters. We will buy popcorn if we want it, maybe a drink or some candy. We will find seats. We will wait, tensed. There will be previews. And then, there will be a movie we have been waiting years to see – for some of us, more than a decade. We will watch it, practically levitating. Credits. Departure. It will be over – the whole thing will be over. But let us recall two things the venerable Albus Dumbledore has said:
I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me.
It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
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