Saying Goodbye to Harry Potter, and to Childhood
Commentary, Eming Piansay
Jul 16, 2011
Writing about the latest Harry Potter film feels, strangely, like writing an obituary. The analogy came to me earlier this week when I took my place in the long processional of fans who lined up outside a movie theater in downtown San Francisco to catch a sneak preview of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two.” The event felt less like a film screening and more like a viewing of a body at a funeral. And in sense, that’s what it was.
Once settled in our seats, I heard the friend sitting next to me whisper under her breath, demanding the movie to start. I leaned into her ear and said, “You shouldn’t be too excited for it to start. Once this is over… it’s over.”
Her grumbles turned into a whimper.
The crowd itself was chipper, loud and lively. Strangers asked each other if they were big Harry Potter fans. Some happily confirmed, while others shrugged sheepishly. But after the lights finally dimmed and the clamor from the audience that had erupted in the theatre fell into utter silence, it almost felt like I was at Sunday mass. Which wouldn’t have been so far fetched, since many people seemed to think the lightning bolts drawn onto many people’s foreheads – a symbol of the diehard Potter fan - were there for Ash Wednesday.
It is very rare that movies are able to capture the love that their paper bound counterparts developed, but fortunately for the Potter franchise the movies refined over time like aged wine. Sure, there are details that get left out or unexplored that may leave the biggest of Potter-fiends irked. However, the story and characters are preserved as best as they can be and despite the earlier films, it is safe to say The Deathly Hallows has done the Harry Potter franchise justice.
While over the years the book and film series has garnered an audience diverse in age, race and religious affiliation, the tale carries a certain weight for the young person who has literally grown up with it. As someone who is from that aforementioned generation, the final film installment of Harry Potter is a kind of benchmark: I’ve been watching and waiting for these films for literally half of my life; and for it all to be over now? Well, it’s jarring to say the least.
The encompassing idea of what Harry Potter means for today’s generation of youth is what comic books were to people who are now probably in their 40’s, 50’s and beyond; people like my own father, who probably saw books as a portal into their adolescent imagination, a world of creative possibility. I imagine this may be what it felt like for people who were born around the time of the first NASA space shuttle launch, when they heard the program was shutting down; or when die-hard Star Wars fans in the late 70’s and early 80’s learned that Return of the Jedi was the final installment of the trilogy (not counting the additional episodes released in the late 90’s of course.) There’s an affinity that is developed, an appreciation for something that represents a chunk of your history and culture that leaves a strange void and a self-loathing question of sorts: What do I have to look forward to now?
As my friend and I were herded out of the theatre after the movie, we asked ourselves that very question, clinging to what was left of our “childhood” with notions of re-living the Harry Potter saga via unofficial Harry Potter book and movie clubs as a way to keep our imaginations afloat.
By the time I arrived at my apartment around 11pm, instead of doing my normal activities like watching a movie online or doing some late-night work, I pulled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from my bookshelf and flipped the front cover open to the inscribed page that my grandfather had written on, dated 1999.
I cradled the book close to me and slid down on my bedroom floor and made myself cozy.
Now, I have a lot of comfortable spaces to sit in my apartment. Why I decided to sit on the floor against my bedroom door is beyond me. I suspect it may have to do with my memories of first reading in 1999, staying up until midnight as my parents poked their head into my room demanding I get some sleep. I didn’t want my parents telling me to go to sleep while I was lost in the halls of Hogwarts. Although I no longer need to worry about parents barging into my room, the feeling of entering a fantasy world uninterrupted is something I still treasure, and I can only hope that feeling carries over en route to the jaded, harsh world of adulthood, which as J.K. Rowling illustrates, can be one ugly battle after another.