Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Hero, Harry Potter

I feel like it's the end of an era. Tonight I watched the final movie of the Harry Potter series, The Deathly Hallows-2. My love affair with Harry Potter began in Memphis in 2000. On my birthday I received a book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire from my dad. I called him and said something like, "what's this book? It looks great." And he said something like, "well, it's the best seller of the millennium and I know you like to read." So I started reading it and was hooked. Low and behold, I went to work one morning soon after starting the book and my boss had a picture of Harry and a Snitch taped to his office door. He explained that his son (who was 10 or 11 at the time) had created it. "He likes Harry Potter?" I exclaimed. Soon I was having a cryptic conversation with the young man. He quite plainly directed me to put down book 4 and go get the first three books so that the story would make much more sense (duh).
So off I went that afternoon to the public library to check out the books. There was a THREE month waiting list for them. All of them. I couldn't believe it. Piqued by this wait, I drove straight to the nearest book store and bought all three books. I purchased one and two in paperback, but had to buy book 3 in hardback because the store was out of the newly released paperback version. I have the rest of the books in hardback. All were pre-ordered and purchased on release day after waiting in long lines. I have never missed a movie. I own the first three movies, although I haven't yet purchased the rest. I'm waiting for the 8 disc set due out at Christmas time probably. JK is nothing if not good at amassing Galleons, eh? You probably get a rubber wand or some banging fizzbees if you are one of the first two million people to pre-order your digitally remastered un-cut scenes silver edition.  I digress...
I have had many literary heroes and heroines in my life. I was passionate about Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series for years. I still have the book set given to me by my parents. It is crumbling with age and many of the front covers are torn or missing.  I felt like Anne Shirley (aka Anne of Green Gables) was my best friend through all eight books chronicling her life story. Those books are so worn, the spines are completely broken. My sister and I have all 56 original Nancy Drew mysteries by Carolyn Keene. Nancy, Bess, and George were the original triumphant trio before Harry, Hermione, and Ron.  Louisa May Alcott's Jo in Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys was beloved. And more recently, I had a brief, but intense love affair with Percy Jackson--you know, the Lightening Thief? (Incidentally, Rick Riordan saddled his wagon to Disney instead of Warner Brothers. I suppose the jury is still out, but I'm thinking JK is going to come out ahead in the long run.)
The reason I love books so much is because I love words. Never underestimate the power of a good story. We have had fables, fairy tales, sonnets, songs, psalms, proverbs, plays, eulogies, mysteries, legends, speeches, and slogans told and retold, written, and rewritten, throughout the course of history from firesides to battlefields, and every place in between. Words transport us to another time, another place, change our perspective, help us find ourselves, call us to action, bring us to despair, and most importantly express our love.
Harry Potter may not be literature in the strictest sense of the word--it hasn't been around long enough. It didn't win a Pulitzer Prize. You probably wouldn't want to write about it in your Advanced Placement English Essay as an example of the hero on the journey. I have it on good authority by someone who grades those exams that you definitely should stick to "The Iliad." However, JK Rowling has achieved something like immortality with Harry Potter. We love her books because they are about the essence of life seen in it's purest form--the eyes of a child. We learn as Harry learns. We mature as Harry matures. And by the time we leave that angst ridden middle/high youth, we have learned the secret of being a true wizard--the answer is there is no right answer, only love.
Is there a greater journey than discovering the value of love and loyalty and honor and truth? Is there a more bittersweet truth than learning that sometimes things are not what they seem? Truth is not as easy as "good magic" and "dark magic." And loyalty for some (namely the Malfoys in the Harry Potter series) does not extend beyond the boundaries of the nuclear family unit. Is that really wrong? Do you blame them for not having the same strength of character as Harry? We can't all be heroes; that's why we read. That's why we sit around campfires and listen to tall tales. Not all of us are brave enough to pull a sword out of a dirty old hat and slice the head off of a snake like Neville, but we want to believe that somebody is.
I think words are the magical glue that keeps humanity human. For every expression of hate there is a counter expression of love. For every call to bear arms against our neighbors there is a call to peace. For every word used to exercise power over the weak, there is another that liberates the oppressed. For the times when there are no words, we all have our own golden snitch with "I open at the close" written on it. Our memories of those who have gone before us are held in our mind by thoughts; their images drawn on our hearts by their words or deeds.
Perhaps I overreach. After all, the Harry Potter series is just a story. It is a huge blockbuster, money minting, never been anything like it success story; some even say it's now a franchise. While all of that is true, to me Harry Potter is as disarming as "Expelliarmus."  It is a lovely tale about a scrawny little boy with cowlicks (not unlike my son's) and glasses, living unloved in a closet under the stairs who one day grows up and saves the world from the most evil guy there ever was. This little boy braves unbelievable tasks for the love of his parents that he never met, with the help of his friends, the guidance of loving adults, and the belief in the goodness of others whether house elf, half-giant, goblin, muggle, squib, witch or wizard. Thank you Harry Potter for eleven years of beautiful magic.