Any true fan is long done with the latest and final Harry Potter installation; however, for those who are not yet there, don’t worry, I will not give anything away. I write less about plot and more about the experience of not only reading the perilous adventures of Harry and his friends but also the potential perils of reading in general.
My days of uninterrupted reading are long over and my first pause early on in the 759 pages left me stressed and uneasy. The dangers began immediately and my mind could not escape the uncomfortable reality of the threats facing these characters I have come to love over the past ten years. And then, I confess, my unquiet mind segued to the reality of the threats, emotional and physical, facing all of us.
Despite the wizardry and fantasy, some of the underlying messages of J.K. Rowling’s novels, particularly as they become progressively filled with the “fear and despair” that the soul sucking “death eaters” prey upon, alarmingly parallel the realities of the world in which we are raising our children. It doesn’t need to be Voldemort who “shall not be named,” it can be terrorists, the floundering economy, job insecurity, global warming, Republicans, Darfur, Iraq. Are our times truly darker than others, or is this an unusually perilous time to be alive and raising children? Are we simply the current version of people finding the best we can in our surroundings and at home while temporarily distracting ourselves from the hard fact that the world is in great danger? I cannot help but hope these fantasy novels are not merely meant to entertain, but are also an incredibly creative venue for reminding us non-wizards (a.k.a. “muggles”) to do what we can to courageously understand ourselves, our friends and our enemies so that when the time comes for us to face our demons, both external and from within, we are ready.
Since the first of the Potter books, I’ve been impressed by Rowling’s ability to take a deceptively juvenile story and incorporate within it adult complexities such as the good and evil in human nature, the unwitting ability of government to sabotage wisdom, fairness, and peace, the subtle and not-so-subtle prejudices that plague every aspect of society, the ups and downs of friendships, the complicated politics of education, friendly and unfriendly rivalries, the challenges of growing up, honor and injustice, the very real possibilities that bad things happen to good people, and the fact that sometimes things can and do go tragically wrong. She is a master at both storytelling and social observation. Unenthusiastic and voracious readers alike cannot put her books down. Take a reader like me and I want nothing in my way while I gobble the words down like popcorn at a double feature.
I am dangerous with a book. If it is uplifting, I am uplifted. A downer finds me down. A cliff hanger, and I am a bundle of stress. I inhale books and often read so many I cannot keep them straight. After an indulgence I am almost relieved to take a break for a while, but it is not long before I’m back. Librarians know me by name; I almost never purchase books. However I have Harry Potter books 1 through 7 neatly arranged in a row on my book shelf. I reserved the books at Barnes & Noble before they were released. I’ve seen all the films and can’t help but compare them to the books: usually brilliantly rendered, though they occasionally stray too far from my imagination for my taste. There’s something about Harry that pulls me in like no other book – both for the better and for the worst. I think, I imagine, I read with my heart, but my immersion in to the plot and the characters leaves me edgy and uncomfortable.
After three days of avoidance, resentment and half seriously wishing for a respite from having a husband, child and friends, I read the final lines with mixed feelings. I loved the book, but I agonized through the journey. I mourn the loss of those few days almost every year for the past decade that brought me this unique form of what used to be pure pleasure but, now that I have limited time to myself and see everything through a mother’s eye, has discomfort added to the mix. Ten years older and a lifetime away from who I was when I first met Harry, I now see him from a more maternal point of view. I’d be proud to have him or any of his friends as children of my own, but I pray with all my might that my son and his friends never face even a fraction of the danger, loss, loneliness, grief, and sorrow they endure as they grow from children to a young adults.
Though I know other people who start a Harry Potter book again immediately upon its completion, I don’t think I will ever read the series again. If my pattern remains the same, I will only see each movie once as well. I am not sure why I feel so final, but I do. Thinking forward, I don’t ever plan to read the books to my son, even when he’s older. I hear other parents reading them aloud to children or listening to the books on tape during long car rides, but my instinct is to want to shelter him from such fear and cruelty and sorrow and pain. As the last book ends, so does my immersion in the wizardry world. Despite a slight emptiness and a fleeting sense of betrayal toward my love of everything Harry, I return to the simple pleasures of my day-to-day life, feel relief from all the intensity, and vow, for the sake of my sanity and family, that my next read will be light, mindless, and most importantly, easy to put down.