Madison, my intern (my what?) has a professor, she told me, who is working on a research project about the generation that grew up with Harry Potter, and what the books and the movies have meant for their conception of authority. Which is on the one hand the kind of thing academics love to do, but on the other hand, I mean, of course he should do that. How about, how Harry Potter has influenced our tolerance for annoying environmental activism? Our conception of strentgh under pressure? Our ideas of friendship, love, family? Our ability to understand the British school system?
I was sitting there in the theater on Thursday at 1 am or whatever, making snarky comments to Jim about how the special effects looked like The Matrix Redonkulus or Helena Bonham Carter dialing up to 11 (or like, 15) in every scene, until he finally hissed at me, “You’re trying too hard. Stop, I want to watch the movie.” He was right. I was trying too hard. What could I possibly say about this movie, good or bad? I have no opinions, no criticism; I just have feelings.
Is it possible to talk about Harry Potter without trying too hard? (This post being no exception). Especially as a phenomenon, as a cultural product, as a moment. Harry Potter 7-B made more money in its opening weekend than, for instance, X-Men and Super 8 have, combined, the entire time they’ve been out. It broke literally every single record for a movie’s opening weekend, ever. And I’m sure all those theaters on opening night were full of people in their 20’s, staying up too late for their new, entry-level office jobs, dressing up “ironically” or with the full force of conviction, nerding out like they only do at these movies, or like they always do at everything. Our auditorium alone had not one but two groups of people playing Scrabble. Like, with the boards and the tiles and everything.
The next morning, as I washed off the Dark Mark on my arm before work (I was Bellatrix, natch), I had a moment, really, of thinking, “Is this really it? Is he really gone? Is it really safe now?” He being Voldemort. I actually thought that, and I don’t think it was entirely because I was trying to. The first shot of the eighth movie is of fog floating past the logo (in 3-D, should you choose that route), and then swirling around into Hogwarts, and then a scabbed, sort of beautifully wispy creature appears on the side of the screen, and you realize its a Dementor, and they are surrounding Hogwarts, floating in the air, and there we were, sitting in the theater, “Oh no! You can’t do that it! That is where I live!”
Harry grew up slower than I did, but I was 15 when he was 15, in 2003 when Order of the Phoenix came out. I can remember when Sirius died, I was on the couch at my best friend’s grandmother’s house, and her grandfather had recently died and so she hadn’t started it yet, and I couldn’t tell her, and I didn’t want to be seen crying. I remember it was pouring rain when Dumbledore died, and I went and stood outside in the thunderstorm in the cul-de-sac and said goodbye, and felt good and angsty.
The longest gap was between book 4 and book 5, and I was of an appropriate age (and need for identity) to fall as hard as I could into fanfiction, which we thought of as trying to make the wait shorter. Which is a post for another day (if ever), but, oh man, I loved it. In fact, while writing this post I remembered this one story I really loved that seemed relevant, and spent an embarassingly long time trying to track it down on the internet, and I actually found it, but the author has taken down all her fanfiction because she published a book (don’t they all) and the only way to get it would be to download a 2400 page pdf, and I didn’t. There is a symbol in there, somewhere. Everyone has gotten older.
Its not just me, though – Harry Potter is a gateway drug into nerdiness. Even Justin Timberlake has a Harry Potter lightning bolt tattoo (in Friends With Benefits, at least). To not have read/seen Harry Potter by now requires some effort, and requires a practiced, even-toned, “I never read it. No reason, I just didn’t get into it.”
You don’t see a lot of outright hating, though, despite the Real Critics who feel they need to tackle it (see above, re: trying too hard). It is fun to try to follow the criticisms: Rowling’s plots are great, but her writing is mediocre. No, her plots are sloppy and repititive, but her dialogue sparkles. Harry is a boring character. The imagination is there, but the values aren’t. She is terrible at writing romantic love (oh wait, that last one we all agree on).
Which is why I sort of love even that terrible epilogue, the one that sparked groans in the theater when “19 Years Later” flashed on the screen. I feel an affection for it, for Rowling’s need to give us closure, to see her characters off into the sunset, so no one else could. She talked in some interview about wanting things to be ok for Harry, to show that he had a family and people who loved him, and a future.
It’s sort of incredible how fucked-up Harry should be – he grew up in a tiny cupboard, everyone who he ever loved or trusted died in front of him, truly impressive numbers of people died for him. And yet the Harry Potter books don’t reek of trauma the way, say, The Hunger Games does. Which is not to say one is better than the other, only that they are different, and Harry Potter values cleverly named plants and an incredibly lifelike portrayal of how a year passes, and the company of your best friends over the immediacy of death and the rawness of cruelty. The movies make it much more visceral, and there is so much death right in front of you; I cried for about 20 minutes straight, from Snape dying all the way through Harry dying (well, dying).
There is a grace to the last movie, and to the books overall, despite their freneticness, their occasional overstuffedness. There are lots of things you can say could have been done better, as soon as you start thinking about it, but you don’t get to pick your family. Even if we make fun, we want it to be Ok, too, to know that the Potters and the Grangers and the Longbottoms have a future, even if we aren’t there to see it.
This is the world we grew up in. It has closed now, sealed world, which is sad, and it feels like something within me has closed to. And yet, I remember after I finished the last book, 8 hours after I had picked it up at Barnes & Noble in the middle of the night, that I went outside and lay in the grass next to my house. I was home from college for the summer, and feeling very attached to the house where my parents lived, and very conscious of time passing, of life stages, of getting older, in a world-weary way that only a college freshman can be. I lay there and looked at the sun and felt very tired, and also felt an incredible sense of relief, as if a great weight had been lifted off of me. It was over, Voldemort was gone, Harry was happy. I no longer had to worry, and I no longer had to live there. The sun was shining, and all was well.