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.”