In part, JK Rowling dedicated the final book in her Harry Potter series to me, a devoted fan who has stuck with Harry until the very end.
The 7th book was published in 2007, and Harry Potter's story was officially complete, but it has never felt so final as it does now, with the release of the last film in the franchise. Of course, we went to see the movie the minute it opened, but instead of providing a sense of wholeness with the conclusion, it instead left me with a giant gaping void, longing to be filled again.
You see, Harry Potter and his world have been a distinct part of mine for over a decade. I was first introduced to Harry (yes, we're on a first name basis by now) in 2000 by my smarter, younger brother, Richard. Naturally, I balked at the boy wizard's childish story; anything that my nerdy little brother was into was way below me. Since I was already a sophomore in high school, I was much too mature for a "kid's book." Thankfully, my mom continued to prompt me to pick up the Hero's Journey with anecdotes of a "funny house elf" and a flying car, as well as deeper lessons in friendship, courage, loyalty, and love. I finally conceded to quiet my scoffing long enough to "try just one."
To my surprise, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone truly was a cute, entertaining, easy-to-read book with deep underlying meaning. It wasn't long until I stepped a little deeper into the Potterworld with The Chamber of Secrets, which I found that I enjoyed even more than the first. From that moment on, I dove headfirst into this magical world of wands and chocolate frogs.
I anxiously awaited the release of each subsequent novel. Every time Harry boarded the Hogwarts Express, I was right alongside him on his journey into the wizarding world. And at the end of each book, when he was sent back to live with the Durselys for the summer, I, too, was stuck in the muggle world waiting for the next book to be published.
Over the last ten years, the limits of JK Rowling's imagination have become mine, as well. I genuinely felt like I was there when Harry, Ron, and Hermione lulled Fluffy to sleep in order to save the Sorcerer's Stone from the man who murdered his parents; when they ventured deep inside the Chamber of Secrets to encounter the first of many parts of Voldemort's soul stored within a horcrux; when they helped free the Prisoner of Azkaban who would become one of my favorite characters; when his name was spit from the Goblet of Fire and he competed in the Tri-Wizard Tournemant, only to be portkeyed to his arch nemesis; when they fought Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic with the Order of the Phoenix and he finally discovered his true destiny; when he was (seemingly) betrayed by the Half-Blood Prince after studying the history, and final downfall, of his rival; and when they tracked down the Deathly Hallows and finally destroyed all of the horcruxes, so they could save the entire wizarding world from the most evil wizard who ever lived.
I remember drinking butterbeer and learning the rules of Quidditch as if I was truly part of the story. I have legitimate memories of traveling to Hogsmeade and visiting Honeyduke's and Zonko's Joke Shop. I felt like I actually wrote feet of parchment worth of essays for Snape, only to have Hermione correct it all, and that I really wandered the castle in the darkness under the invisibility cloak's protection. I felt the pain when loved ones died along the way. I felt the betrayal when nobody believed that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had returned. I felt the loneliness of being the Chosen One and the fear of having to go on an impossible mission to defeat the scariest, meanest, evilest wizard ever. I felt the resolution of knowing what must be done in order to finally conquer, and I felt the courage it took to make that final journey, as well as the love that it took to get there.
I know I probably sound like a total freak to those who haven't been properly introduced to Harry Potter, and maybe even to some of you who have met him, but haven't gotten to know him like I do. But Harry, Ron, and Hermione, as well as Neville, Luna, Fred, George, Sirius, Lupin, Dobby, Hagrid, Ginny, and so many others have truly been my friends over the years. They were a safe place to go to when I needed an escape. They truly provided me with comfort, peace, familiarity and a sense of belonging, direction, and identity through their fictional lives.
Over the last ten years, Harry and Co. have taught me many things. They've taught me the value of friendship and loyalty and bravery and courage; of believing in yourself even when you're the only one who does; of trusting in the good of others; of working hard and not giving up; of choices being far more important than abilities or lineage, and choosing what is right may not always be what is easy; of the power of love, and the greatest of which is one who lays down his life for others.
If I ever wrote a personal letter to Jo, I imagine it would look very similar to this hypothetical one written by an author/songwriter I admire:
Dear Ms. Rowling,
I think it’s remarkable what you’ve done. I love your imagination. I love your characterization and your sense of humor. I love that you’re telling a story about choosing the right thing, even when it’s hard. I love that you’re telling a story that is full of wisdom, a story that reminds me how evil Evil is. Most of all, I love that your story reminds me that light is stronger than darkness, that the best way to love is to lay your life down, and that Death will not have the final say. By the way, I’m a follower of Christ, and I see him in your story. I don’t know if that’s intentional or not, but you should know that he’s in there. In fact, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say that reading your books has helped me to praise him even more for his courage, his sacrifice, and his strength to conquer the hosts of hell to save us.
That about sums it all up for me. I really don't know how to feel right now. With the release of the final film marking the true end to Harry's (and my) magical journey, I genuinely feel like I'm mourning the loss of my childhood; like I just graduated and the real (muggle) world is looming in my too-near future.
|The Mehaffey siblings taking part in the last moments of world-wide Harry Potter fandom. We waited in line for four hours, and Brad and I made custom shirts to commemorate the occasion.|
|Waiting for the conclusion to finally begin, ten years in the making.|
I will surely miss the anticipation of the next book or movie installment. I'll miss the excitement of midnight premieres. I'll miss the mystery of the unknown and the journey. I'll miss the reign this phenomenon has had on our culture. But, no matter what, I'll always be part of the Harry Potter generation, and I'll luckily never have to truly miss the wizarding world, because this is not the end, not really. Hogwarts will always be there to welcome me home.
Thank you, Jo Rowling, for so many things, I can't even express. Thanks to you, and the Boy Who Lived, all is well.