Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Boy Who Lives

Thirteen years ago, my sister presented me with a simple birthday gift -- a book. It was a book we'd read about, heard was pretty great, but I'd not given it a ton of thought beyond that because it was clear from the things I'd read that it was a book designed for children. It was some book about a little boy wizard. I was in my late 20's, and I wasn't really sure that a book about a little boy wizard was up my alley. I'd never been big into fantasy-type novels even as a young reader, so why should I be interested now? But my sister wanted to read the book, saw an opportunity to get the book into the house (as a gift), and assured me that the books transcended age, that adults were really into these books, too.

It may seem hyperbolic to say that this one gift changed my life, but in a way, it kind of did.

Within pages of starting Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I was hooked. I sometimes think I stand as a testament to the power of those books. I was a cynical Gen-Xer with no history with any sort of fantasy series. And yet, I instantly bought into the world that JK Rowling created and fell in love with these characters. As the series went on and I became a teacher, I saw the power these books had as even the most reluctant readers found themselves clinging to Rowling's books. A kid who threw a fit when I asked him to read a three-page short story was lugging around a 500+ page Harry Potter book without blinking an eye.

The books resonate. Yes, there is an engaging story at its core, a simple good versus evil epic. But there's more to the books that I think pulled in kids and adults across genre lines like never before. There is this sort of promise made within the books -- that courage and integrity win out, that loneliness is not permanent, that intelligence empowers, that escape is possible. There is also harsh reality at play in the books. People die, good people. Trust is betrayed. Pain is suffered. But there is a sort of comfort to experience those lessons in literature, to ease kids into the idea that the world is full of possibilities, and some of those possibilities hurt ... a lot.

I envy the kids who grew up with Harry. I know that I approached the books much differently than his young fans. I was an adult. I had already learned those lessons about promise and pain. I had suffered loss and grief and had found the friends who made life so much richer. Seeing Harry suffer the pain I had already suffered and experience the joys I had already experienced made the books resonate. I loved that kid. I was not at all ashamed to stand beside children waiting to get the latest book when it was released at midnight. I shelled out extra to see Deathly Hallows Part I in IMAX. And Monday afternoon, there I was, forking over a little extra to see the final Harry Potter movie in 3D.

I'm not going to lie. It was an emotional experience for me. It was truly the end of an era, a decade long journey with these characters I had grown to love (and loathe). I wept pretty openly through much of the movie. I knew what was coming, but it didn't stop certain moments from hurting. When it was over, I had to sit for a couple moments and collect myself. I was emotionally drained and so grateful for the 3D glasses that hid the red, puffy eyes (glasses I kept on for several minutes after leaving the theater).

As a society, I feel like we owe a huge debt of gratitude to JK Rowling. She made reading an event again. Would Twilight have the power it does without Harry Potter? Would we already be going out of our minds over the very thought of a Hunger Games movie without Harry? Honestly, I'm not sure we would. These books reached passionate and reluctant readers alike by creating this vivid, dark, but welcoming world where we could all find a literary soul mate with whom to connect. Each and every one of us has a kindred spirit in Harry's world whether it's nerdy intellect Hermione Granger, the scampish Weasely twins, or even the darkly complicated Severus Snape. The fact that these characters were given so many shades made them all the more vivid and relatable. And once we found that connection to a literary character in Harry's world, it became so much more appealing to go out and find it in Bella's or Katniss's or Percy Jackson's or Lisbeth Salander's. The series may have ended, but these characters and their brothers and sisters live on and will continue to lead us into new and inventive worlds.

Thank you, Harry, for the adventures and for keeping reading alive.

1 comment:

NICKI said...

I too read these books as an adult - one I read in a weekend while sitting in a comfy chair, that is, it is comfy for an hour or two. After 72 hours, I had back pain for three weeks...but it was worth it!