Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An Ode to a Phenomenon

This column has been a long time coming. I first got the idea for it two years ago when the tenth anniversary of the US release of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was being celebrated. But I decided to hold off until the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Because I waited that long, this column is much longer than usual, so it’s going to be presented in two parts over the next two weeks…kind of like the final film.

My becoming a fan of Harry Potter wasn’t planned. In fact, I intended to do just the opposite. When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, I started hearing things about this book called “Harry Potter.” Not really interested in anything that was considered popular, I brushed it off and went about my life. But I couldn’t avoid this soon to be pop culture phenomenon as easily as I’d naively planned.

My love of the books and the movies (and my generation’s enthusiasm for that matter) was a weird quirk of timing. Our children won’t get what all the fuss was about– but given that their Potter experience will be completely different, I won’t expect them to.

No one after us will understand what made this whole thing happen. Yes, they may appreciate this beautiful story of friendship, loyalty, and good conquering evil, but beyond that, they won’t get it. They’ll never understand the thrill of driving to a bookstore to stand in line with at least 100 other people to wait for them to reopen at 12:01 so that you can pick up the next book. They won’t understand taking that book home and starting it before you go to bed because you can’t resist it, and then staying up all night to read it.

They won’t understand staying in your room, only coming out for basic necessities, or sitting in the band camp bathroom all night to read it because it was lights out in your room, but you weren’t ready to be done reading yet. Yes, I know someone who did this – no it wasn’t me. People will forever question what it was about these books that made an entire generation put down their gameboys and remote controls and read.

But that’s all for this week…check out next week when I explain the ‘quirk of timing’ comment and complete my ‘ode to a phenomenon.’


I was a little late to the game when it came to Harry Potter, though not as late as some. Actually, it was a fluke I even read them at all. I was on vacation and hadn’t brought enough books with me to read so I went to a bookstore. I saw them lying on the bestsellers table and decided to get the first two to see what all the fuss was about. That was in July 2001 and since then, there’s been no turning back.

I call my and our love a ‘quirk of timing,’ especially for people my own age, because it is. These books came out in such a way that Harry always seemed to be our age (a feat I realize isn’t physically possible, since Harry only aged a year in each novel and they came out more than a year apart). But that doesn’t mean it didn’t feel that way. This fact was only reinforced by the fact that Daniel Radcliffe, who portrays Harry in all the films, is only 6 months younger than I am.

But it was more than an age thing – it was a life experience coincidence too. The release of the seventh novel came on the heels of my own high school graduation. I read it as I was preparing to move on campus and start my first year here at E&H. And now, as part one of the final film is released, I’ve just registered for my final semester here. When part two is released, I will have just graduated from E&H and be on to the next stage of my life. Just like Harry was when I closed book 7 for the first time.

I, we, quite literally grew up with Harry Potter. As Harry’s adolescence concluded and he moved on to his adult life in print, I was taking my first steps into adulthood. Now, as he concludes his adventures on film, I will be entering the real world. This is an emotional film release for me because it means Harry Potter will, after 10 years in my life, truly be something of history. The book on Harry Potter and the phenomenon it created will be shut for good. And the book of my childhood and adolescence will be shutting along with it.