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Harry Potter and the End of (my daughter’s) Childhood

We’re off to see the second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows tonight and we’ll follow up with a party we’re calling Harry Potter and the End of Childhood. The end of my daughter’s childhood but also the end of an era for me.

I first heard of Harry Potter while visiting my brother and sister-in-law in 1997. She’d found the first book and suggested I take a look. I read the entire book that night at their house, staying up way too late. I read the next one at their house as well, again staying up too late to finish it in one sitting. Christians were starting to talk about the book and several asked me if it was suitable for their children because, well, magic, witches and spells.

Oh, my.

Several things bothered me about the books, the first one being the way Harry kept getting away with everything. Those in authority would warn him not to do something, he’d do it, Hogwarts would be saved and no one learned anything about accountability. My own child was about the same age as Harry in those years and I’d think what he really needed was a good spanking, or at least some form of discipline.

But the language was rich, the creativity profound, and the whole read fun. Rowling had a very thorough knowledge of alchemy and obscure Latin words, not to mention witch stuff.  It bothered me, but I could deal with it.

Besides, he was becoming a cultural phenomenon. How could I possibly comment intelligently if I didn’t read the Harry Potter books? Click to Tweet

During those early years, I volunteered to shelve books at the local library. I think it was 2000 before I actually slid a Harry Potter book onto the shelves–they always went straight to “requested hold” status before that. Who could blame folks? I reserved them from the library myself as soon as the latest edition arrived.

I also worked in my daughter’s bilingual classroom and one day a native Spanish-speaker boy asked for a Harry Potter book. The power of a story to inspire a kid who didn’t much like to read, impressed me. All the educators who crowed about the value of Harry Potter to get boys into books, were right.

Still, none of my own kids paid particular attention until our vacation to New Zealand. Our ten-year-old daughter read all the books she brought before we finished the fourteen-hour flight to the other side of the equator. In vain, I searched every bookstore we encountered trying to find  something else for her to read. But the children’s book section everywhere in New Zealand stocked only the same titles: Harry Potter.

I got a bit peevish. What happens when the children of New Zealand finish Harry Potter? There’s no other choice? Click to Tweet

Book sellers all shrugged.

I didn’t purchase any Harry Potter titles because one of my college sons brought all the books with him. His sister joined him and devoured the books too. We’ve got a photo of her, reading a Harry Potter book rather than staring out the window at sheep.

One rainy night in Dunedin, we all went to the movies and saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Even my husband, who had never heard of the books, enjoyed the story.

The books had become hugely fat by this time and they felt ponderous to me. One book in particularly could have had 100 pages cut out without ill effect. The kids I knew were scandalized at the thought–“what do you mean, J.K. Rowling needs to be edited?”

“What’s the point of that whole section in the hospital? Do we need it?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” they agreed. “It was too long.”

Back in school, my daughter and her friends read and re-read the books together. They got wands, drew pictures and haunted fanfiction sites. We started a tradition of seeing the movies the day they came out–I’d pick up my daughter and her friends after school and go directly to the movie theater. I still wasn’t keen on the magic themes, but I appreciated that Harry Potter gave me something in common with my child, particularly during the challenging junior high years.

As the series wound toward the end, I tormented children with my prediction that J.K. Rowling would kill Harry in the last book.

“How can you say that, Mrs. Ule?” aghast children would ask.

“Think about it. If you owned a castle in Scotland and had two young children, would you want to spend all your time writing books about Harry Potter?”

I’m happy to report most kids understood. “Yeah,” they’d say. “She should play with her children.”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows–the book–released at midnight the night before my daughter left on a summer trip. Several of her friends wore costumes, but we wore our jeans to the local Border’s which was having a Harry Potter party. We got there about eleven o’clock and wandered the stacks observing people in costume, playing games, listening for updates and generally anticipating the final story. Just before midnight, employees pushing carts brought out cartons of books.

My daughter had her number and I stood in line. She had read the first chapter by the time we got out of the store. She stayed up all night reading the book, handing it off to me at 6 am. “You’ll love it.”

She went to bed and I read the last chapter–because I knew that’s what J.K. Rowling had been writing towards for so many years (she wrote the last pages first). Well, after reading that, I figured I might as well read as much of the book as I could before my daughter flew away, taking it with her, and so I and turned to the first chapter.

I finished the book just as my husband drove the car into the Oakland airport.

And you know what? I was satisfied. Rowling pulled off a great ending.

The stories go on, even though the books were done. Our Brazilian foreign exchange student learned English so she could read the Harry Potter books. “I had to read them with a dictionary by my side at first,” Giovanna said, “But I could read them straight through by the time I got to the last books.”

Like all smart reading girls, I saw myself in Hermione. I cheered for Neville because he shared a family name. And I loved Alan Rickman as Snape–I wore a button that night at Border’s when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows released. It said, “Snape is good.

My daughter has finished her freshman year of college. This movie was supposed to come out last summer to complete her childhood just as she graduated from high school. But Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows–part 2 got delayed and so when it opens on Friday, July 15, she’ll be there just a few days shy of her 19th birthday–Harry’s age in the final book  (though her brother tells me Harry, born in 1980, is really 30 years old).

It’s been a rich childhood with Harry Potter, Hogwarts and J.K. Rowling. I’m going to miss them–but just as I remember my children in their childhood, I’m sure I’ll always remember Harry, Hermoione, Ron and the gang with an equal fondness.

Thanks.

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2 Comments

  1. I also always believed Snape is good! The only thing that has bothered me about the books is the element of divination. But Harry also had a problem with it, and I think Rowling showed that divination can be manipulated and shouldn’t be treated lightly. My daughter (also born in 1980 – like Harry) is waiting in line right now for the first showing. I haven’t even seen Part 1 yet, so I best get busy!

    Reply
  2. Lenoxus

     /  November 25, 2011

    For the record, Harry turns 17 in the final book and doesn’t have another birthday before the epilogue (in which he’s 37).

    I agree that the fifth book could maybe have used trimming, but can’t pick a single part I would cut…

    Reply

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