By Marsha Sutton
With the release July 15 of the last Harry Potter movie in J.K. Rowling’s sensational seven-book series, the media are churning the story with self-generated intensity, showcasing despondent Potter fanatics weeping (some literally) over the grand finale.
But the end really happened four years ago, when Rowling released her seventh and last Potter novel, “The Deathly Hallows,” in July 2007. So we’ve been through this before; to make us forlorn all over again is too much misery to bear – like losing your best friend twice.
Yet the books were the thing, not the movies. The films are just icing on the cake, window dressing on an imaginative force whose power came from the printed word, not in the form of three admittedly adorable child stars.
People who only saw the movies missed out on what was really going on in Potter-world. Like, the light in our children’s eyes as they read voraciously through the night, unable to stop sometimes until dawn. And the way our kids taught us how to see the magic in the world … again, like it was before we grew up. The way reading can absorb your every waking moment, expand your mind, and transport you to places never before imagined.
And, most obviously, the over-riding consideration: how Rowling’s novels elevated children’s ability and interest in reading for pleasure.
The one great downside to this reading-for-pleasure business is that it became nearly impossible to replicate kids’ interest in other books after the Potter stories made everything else seem dull.
I may have watched Daniel Radcliffe grow up on screen, but I lived and breathed my own children’s transitions from tots to teens, with Harry Potter playing a large role in their lives along the way.
I’ll never forget my younger son’s first foray into organized sports, on a local recreational basketball league when he was six. We don’t play basketball in our family, but he was enamored with the game so we signed him up.
While standing in line that first day at practice to take his turn with the ball, he grew bored, grabbed a twig, and turned it into a wand, casting a spell on the kids to move along faster. In that moment, he became a wizard,
Harry having given him permission to imagine the world any way he wanted.
Sadly, he was mocked by the other boys, who at age six had already lost their capacity for fantasy. Instead of playing games of imagination, they had already bought into the way-too-adult notion that games are serious and for keeps in the real world and you must excel and be a star to make mommy and daddy proud. To be so good so young, these boys must have been shooting hoops since the day they could walk – aided, no doubt, by hyper-competitive father-figures with dreams of their sons as the next Michael Jordan.
But my son was having none of it. He played with his “wand” in that line (which, to be honest, really was moving awfully slow) until the moment he lowered the stick dejectedly and turned to me, tears in his eyes, and said, “Mommy, I think they’re making fun of me.”
After I picked up the pieces of my heart and hugged him tightly, we left that line, never to return. That was the day we dropped basketball and embraced instead every imaginative endeavor we could find, Rowling’s books at the top of the list.
Then there was my older son’s insistence, in the summer of 2000, that we run to the bookstore on the day of a big soccer tournament (yes, we did some organized sports after all), to purchase Rowling’s just-released fourth novel, “The Goblet of Fire.”
Between matches, we dashed off and returned to the field, breathless, the book clutched firmly to his chest. And the way the other bug-eyed 10-year-olds clustered around him, just wanting to touch it or hold it, you would have thought he had in his possession the latest and greatest new toy … which in a way he had.
Profound influence on adults
Besides their effect on children, the Potter books had a profound influence on adults. Bumping those books off the New York Times best-seller list because no other “adult-book” author could compete was a travesty that still to this day angers me.
Adults were reading the novels as voraciously as the children were. Remember the many stories of parents and kids fighting to gain custody for a few hours of their family’s one copy of each newly-released novel, sometimes adorned with different-colored bookmarks indicating where each reader had left off?
We are privileged to have witnessed the emergence of such spellbinding, everlasting literature, like being alive in the days of Lewis Carroll, Beatrix Potter or A.A. Milne. We can say we were here when Rowling first brought to life the enduring characters of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore and Voldemort. And we can describe the build-up of anticipation as we waited impatiently and excitedly alongside our children for the release of each book.
We read the books, loved them, and found a way, however briefly, to summon in their pages some of the lost magic of childhood.
Through the creative genius of J.K. Rowling, adults were able to rekindle their sense of wonder at the universe. She reminded many of us of the power of imagination and helped us recapture the idealistic belief that goodness and light can prevail, even in the face of the darkest of evils. Best of all, Harry Potter’s adventures allowed us to connect as a family and share with our kids an enchanting world full of the dreams, fears, joy, laughter, tragedies and triumphs of childhood.
The terror of dementors, the exhilarating satisfaction of beating your foe (whether it’s the bully on the playground or the next exam), the spine-tingling mystery of the unknown, and the protective shield of a mother’s undying love, all evoke images and emotions real and powerful for every child.
Harry’s stories became a port-key into the lives of our children, through whose eyes we were granted the supreme privilege of viewing a magical, fantastical world of timeless friendship, love and honor.
So, yes, we’re sad to see the final movie, but we mourned the end of Harry Potter a long time before now.
Marsha Sutton can be reached at: SuttComm@san.rr.com.