Farewell, Harry Potter

Last night, I finally got to see the last of the “Harry Potter” movies. The film has been open here for a week but most venues were only showing the version dubbed into French. A “Version Original” (original soundtrack plus subtitles in German and French) opened in Montreux but only in 3D.

I’ve been resisting 3D for two reasons: it seems to me to be a solution looking for a problem, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to see it; in real life, I don’t really have binocular vision so 2D movies are actually comforting. It turned out that the glasses corrected for the distortion of the image by the 3D technology but I could not see any difference from normal 2D movies.

I agreed with the decision to make the seventh book in two parts. I would have preferred to have them released simultaneously so that I could have watched them back to back. I watched the DVD version of Part One before going to the cinema and was annoyed to find that the powerful scene at the beginning, in which Voldemort tortures and kills a Hogwarts Professor of Muggle Studies, had been edited so that it was shorter and missed most of the emotional impact of Voldemort’s behaviour on the Death-Eaters.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” was wonderful: great acting, great storytelling, believable special effects, and the strength of will to stay faithful to what was a very long and challenging book.

I’ve been a Harry Potter fan since 1998 when based on word of mouth recommendations, I picked up the first two books, “The Philosopher’s Stone” and “The Chamber of Secrets”, together. After that, I was hooked. I was one of the many who pre-ordered the hardback versions of the books from “The Prisoner of Azkaban” onwards.

As Harry grew older, the books became longer and darker and we waited for more than a year between them. For the first seven years of this century, reading the Harry Potter books became a ritual for me. I would make sure that I had a day’s leave when each book arrived so that I could dive right in and then I would carry the book with me everywhere until it was consumed and I was left hungry for the next one.

Of course, I was not alone in this. As I travelled around Europe on business, Harry Potter was my companion at restaurants and hotel lounges and swimming pools. Everywhere I went people talked to me about Harry. They wanted to share their enthusiasm and rekindle their joy so they asked: Who is your favourite character? Which is your favourite book? What do you think will happen next?’

In 2001, the first movie came out and suddenly the whole world had the same faces for the characters in the Potter books and we all knew exactly what Hogwarts looked like. It was such a relief that the early movies didn’t make a mess of things. Instead, they gave all of us another common reference point.

As the books went on, they became darker. Hogwarts became something to be defended, not something that defended you. Not a bad metaphor for what it means to become an adult. The violence increased and triumphing against the odds in “The Goblet of Fire” was replaced with the growing reality of loss in “The Half-Blood Prince” and “The Order of the Pheonix”.

As it happened, this reflected a good deal of what was happening in my life at the time. These were not easy years. Yet each Potter book showed me that goodness is a choice you have to keep making every day, that bravery is about making those choices, even when you suffer loss, and that winning is about not betraying yourself or those you love.

I think these books and the movies that gave them a more concrete form, shaped a generation. I think we all owe Rowling a debt for the power of her imagination, the depth of her empathy and her timely reminder to all of us that honour and duty can be about love and truth and not power and compliance.

This morning, as I read an interview with Emma Watson, who has now reached the grand old age of twenty-one and is ready to move on with her life, it occurred to me that after a dozen years, the Harry Potter books are finally over as an annual part of my life.

I’m not quite the same person that I was when I started reading them. They have become a small part of who I am and have given voice to who I want to be: I have often felt Slytherin’s call, I lack the courage to be a Gryffindor, I aspire to be a passable Ravensclaw.

Of course, a moment’s reflection pointed out to me that all the Harry Potter books are still on my shelves and can be opened at any time. Maybe one a year wouldn’t be such a bad goal.

To paraphrase a saying, no man can step into the same book twice, but perhaps reading them will show me how I have changed and what I need to do about it.


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