As the final Harry Potter movie makes its debut (I have tickets to today’s matinee), I find myself musing about the phenomenon of the boy wizard. Others, I know, will write grand, poignant farewells. I plan to seek the best of those out and read them. Until you do the same, here’s this.
Harry’s world, as it unraveled, meant a great deal to me and millions of others. I read Harry Potter as a break from studying during my undergrad years, and throughout those especially busy years Harry was the glue for one of my friendships. I share the sentiments of that friend, who recently wrote her own comment about The End:
Harry Potter was one of the first things I read that had such a wide audience, or at least the first one where I could witness, via the Internet, how excited people were. There have been other books/movies/TV shows since then that have had comparable success, but none that I enjoyed so much.
It was so much fun to read Harry Potter because you were reading it with everyone as it unfolded. We all shared in the excitement of a rich, tightly woven story being told.
The world that J. K. Rowling created inspired others to create. In fact, they couldn’t resist it. Everyone wanted to participate. Fans wrote articles, essays, and fan fiction (fiction that uses characters and/or settings from an already established fictional world). Fans created visual art, videos, and music. In my second year of uni I stumbled upon (before StumbleUpon) Marta, a talented visual artist, and her art dungeon of HP fan art. Here’s an example that will make you want to go browse her gallery:
I used to frequent the mighty MuggleNet and the well-organized HP Lexicon. I became a fan of the goofy, nerdy music of Harry and the Potters. I recently watched the hilarious and excellent “A Very Potter Musical” (Draco and Voldemort being the best in the cast, I opine), and we have all probably seen the Potter Puppet Pals.
I also occasionally delved into the world of fan fiction (usually during exam time) and came upon gems like “The Catch”, a poetic summary of Ron’s perspective as of the fifth of seven books (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), and “Two Friends”, a few sweet imagined highlights from the Ron/Hermione romance. Perhaps my favorite was the novel-length “After the End”, by Arabella and Zsenya, which was written just after Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (the fourth book) came out and thus goes off in non-canon directions, but the plot is artfully constructed and the characters have been fleshed out incredibly well—some characters, in my opinion, are more interesting in this work than they get to be in the actual books (Ginny, Ron, Colin, and Fleur, to name a few). Apparently other people like it too; it got an unheard-of 4500+ glowing reviews.
But why, really, is Harry Potter important? In other words, what was it about this richly imagined world that captured our imaginations? The partial answer is that all richly imagined worlds capture attention and imagination—but there’s more to it.
There have been a host of books and movies lately in which the premise involves protagonists who discover some sort of previously unrecognized layer of reality—movies in which our perceived reality is not real reality (see “The Matrix”, “Inception”, “The Adjustment Bureau”—I could go on). That there is “something else out there” has been an vital theme in all the arts for centuries, but recently it seems to have gathered momentum. Could it be that the increasingly chaotic conditions of our world have inspired a more explicit and imaginative search for truth among all of us?
I venture to say that, yes, the search for truth and the interpretation of reality has become more complex as the world seems to become more complex. I also venture to suggest that all of these books and movies are poking at the idea of something greater because there is something greater; we humans do need to believe that physical reality is not all there is. What else is there? Everything else. There is everything that remains beyond our grasp and outside our current ken. There are all those abstract realities and concepts that we define with words like “love” and “faith”. I tend to refer to all of this—to the unknown, to mystery, to transcendence, and to our need to explore truth—as spiritual reality. If we think of spiritual reality as that portion of reality that we don’t comprehend, then it’s fair to say that humanity has been, for at least a century, reaching with more vigor and determination than ever before for knowledge about spiritual reality. Science—ironically, some might say—is the perfect example of this; look how far we have advanced in so short a time (relative to human history).
To get back on point: Harry Potter is important because he reminds us that we must search for truth, construct a moral framework for ourselves, use it to uphold justice, form strong bonds of friendship with diverse people, practice humility, seek knowledge, and persevere in the face of tribulation. And all that other good stuff. He is the questing hero and the unlikely hero, which means he is all of us. Beyond that, books like Harry Potter are important because they open up our inner eyes, if you will, to the possibilities of reality that yet remain unknown to us (symbolic or otherwise). They also inspire our imaginations and fuel creativity, and that leads to better problem-solving abilities and improved language skills. Yay for learning!
So this is the end. I know that Pottermore is coming, but it seems both too far off and too kitschy to matter at this point (though the stop-motion paper cutting in the teaser video was gorgeous)—and it’s just not books.
I predict that BBC will wait five or ten years, then make a miniseries—or even a full-length TV show (one book per season?)—with new actors and then-cheaper CG effects. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I still recommend that you mark my words. I would also be happy to see a Harry Potter version of Trivial Pursuit, because I happen to love board games, and I’m pretty sure I could clean everybody’s clock with that one. Does this already exist? I asked the Internet, and it said “yes, but: see here, there isn’t one game that covers all of the books yet”. Drat.
Farewell, Harry. And farewell to Hogwarts, Dumbledore, Ron, Hermione, the Department of Mysteries, thestrals, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, the Burrow, portkeys, Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, Hedwig, Snape, Hogwarts: A History, Expecto Patronum, the Marauders’ Map, the Mirror of Erised, Hagrid, and all the other “H” words (just a few of my favourite products of Rowling’s imagination).
Farewell, and thank you.