I first met Harry in a spooky large house in Normandy, France in the summer of 1999. I’d heard of him only a week or so before and saw the odd-looking covers and titles of the first couple of books. But my first real memories of Harry come from a passage about Dudley Vernon, overheard in snatches as I ran from room to room helping one of the kids.
That was the year I worked as a nanny, and we were on vacation in Europe just as the books were becoming Big Hits. I confess I actually ignored the books for another five months – I had no interest in them whatsoever. That December, though, a week before I planned to leave my position to go back to college, one of the triplets posed a silly challenge that got me to crack Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone…and I couldn’t put the books down after that.
I devoured Books 1-3 in about two days’ time, then used the then-still-new Amazon.com to order my own copies to be shipped to my parent’s home, where I’d be heading a few days later. I left the east coast as a brand-new Harry Potter fan and returned to college with the goal of getting my BA and, eventually, a PhD.
Now, almost exactly 12 years after I first met Harry, I’ll get to watch his story come to a close on the big screen. In odd ways, Harry Potter became the framing device for my academic career over the first decade of the 21st century, taking me from my sophomore year of college through the completion of my dissertation. It’s fitting to me, then, that he and I are both moving on now.
But of course, we’ll always have Hogwarts.
In the summer of 2000, I was one of the very few adults at the midnight book release for Goblet of Fire at the University of Missouri-Columbia bookstore. I was first in line, by the way, when I arrived at 9 o’clock to wait for 3 hours. I repeated the trend with each successive book, although I’d never again get to be at the front of such a short line – and only occasionally got to be at the front at all. But I was there for each book release party, and of course, for each movie.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Harry Potter movie at midnight, and I’m okay with that. At first, the movies were just a nice opportunity to see Quidditch take flight and to get a glimpse inside the school grounds. The first movie was fun, but it was a lesson in all the reasons why a film adaptation of a book really shouldn’t be so literal. I got in trouble with the second film when I snuck out to see it on my own without my husband, then confessed my terrible deed only after we’d seen it together the next day.
The the third movie came along, and the movies really got good. They went from fun little incarnations of imagination to movies with creativity and depth, film experiences that gave you new insights and deeper connections to the books and the characters. No, they’re not Best Picture materials, but they’ve captured our hearts and minds across generations. Harry Potter brought me together not just with my friends, but my siblings, the kids who I nannied, and older family members. Harry Potter became a way to find community and connect with so many others. As Dobby says in one of his final scenes of Deathly Hallows, Part 1, I’ve long felt that the Harry Potter stories offer “such a beautiful place to be with friends.”
They’ve also offered a way for my husband and I to connect. I’m an avid reader – I read piles of books and I read very fast, but he’s a slow reader and thus never took to it the way I did. Yet The Spouse has read all seven Harry Potter books – or rather, has had them read to him by the amazing Jim Dale, or he-who-must-be-named “God Bless Jim Dale” in our household. It’s the only book series we’ve both read, and there’s something special in that for me.
I keep seeing things in the media talking about how it’s the last of Harry Potter with this movie, how it all comes to an end. But the brilliant thing about Harry – like any literary character, I suppose – is that it hasn’t really ended at all.
We already know how it ends – we’ve known for years, since the final book came out. With the final movie, we get not an ending, but closure.
I may move on, the others fans may move on, and Harry, of course, has long since moved on – but I’ll always know where to find the well-loved tales when I want to see The Boy Who Lived live again.