Friday, July 15, 2011


Want to see my impression of Harry Potter? Want to see it again?

The joke is that I look like Harry Potter. Given that I've got the full regalia for Halloween, this is not something I'm unhappy about. There are worse worldwide sensations to resemble.

I fell in love with the Harry Potter series in graduate school. This was 11 years ago, back when this was purely a novel phenomenon. (That was a pun. I'll give you a moment. You got it? Good.) At the time, there were no movies and only four books, and people were going nuts over them. Literally. As in, some people went a little crazy about how the Harry Potter books were teaching witchcraft. Naturally, this made me want to read them.

I remember quite clearly grabbing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I was waiting around for an incredibly dull academic conference. (Being a grad student they assumed it would be good for me to attend - they were wrong, but that's a story not worth telling.) While waiting, I saw the Harry Potter paperback displayed prominently in the campus bookstore. Since I was a student, I got an extra discount, so I picked up the book for a few bucks. I was curious about what was making people go nuts over this book, and I had some time to kill. I read the first chapter and it changed my life forever.

I was hooked, and during that first semester of graduate school, when I was supposed to be pursuing further academic matters, I was instead getting a Hogwarts education in Herbology, Charms, Potions, Divination, and the Unforgivable Curses. I did also manage to get that Masters Degree, but Harry Potter is largely what I remember from that first semester.

My wife was finishing her undergraduate degree at the time, and naturally she devoured the books as soon as I was done with them. We had been dating for less than a year at the time, and Harry Potter brought us closer together. We also have determined that the Sorting Hat would have placed us both in Ravenclaw.

Goblet of Fire astounded me. It was truly a game changer for the Harry Potter universe in many ways. Voldemort returned. Cedric Diggory died. And we readers knew that the series was about to take a darker turn, no longer just about a simple boy wizard. Of course, when I turned the last page in 2000, I had no idea that it would be almost three years until we got the next volume. The wait was unbearable, mitigated slightly by the release of the first two films.

Finally, in 2003, Book 5 was on its way. My wife and I attended the midnight release for the book. That decision was a no-brainer. We're both bibliophiles and love Harry Potter. It was a matter of principle. The fact that I was there for the final three midnight releases is a point of pride for me.

Of course, we were all worried about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. So far the series had been fantastic, and the worry was whether Rowling would bring her series to a proper close. Would she stick the landing? Many disagree, but to me, she nailed it. I loved that final book. One of my all-time best days was that Saturday after the book's release. I spent the entire day reading the book, fearful of any and all spoilers. I had a great time devouring that tome, as it's one of the best book reading experiences I've ever had.

This book series serves as an example to me. Rowling wrote what is possible the best seven book saga out there. And yes, I've read Narnia and Stephen King's Dark Tower series. Both are good, but as a whole, the Harry Potter series has them beat when it comes to overall series construction. (And unlike Dark Tower, the ending to Potter Book 7 is far more satisfying.)

I like her pacing. The first three books set up the universe and the characters. We see Harry as a young boy, struggling to understand this magical world. In each book he goes to school, has an adventure, and then goes back to life as usual. Then there's book four, the midpoint game-changer. At the end, we know that Harry's world is going to be very different. Harry is going to be very different. Books 5 and 6 are much more sinister in tone, and while adventures in their own right, they are setup for what will be the epic conclusion in book 7.

Book 7. Rowling did many things right in this volume. First, it was not business as usual. Harry does not return to Hogwarts, he's a fugitive throughout most of the book. Secondly, people die. A lot of them, and you don't know who will survive as you read it, and that makes each page exciting and excruciating. It's a bold choice, and you know after the first major character's death that everyone is at risk. The book deviates from the norm, is bold and exciting, and ends definitively.

Today many people are going to see the final movie installment, and this day will be when the Potter saga comes to a close. I, too, am going to see the film, because I've seen them all in theaters. However, for me, the series ended four years ago when I turned the final page.

All was well.

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