On July 15, 2011, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 will be released in theaters, thus ending the boy wizard’s decade-long cinematic experience. It’s been even longer since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, for those outside the United States), the first novel in J.K. Rowling’s series, made its way into bookstores. For me, planning to see the movie feels like the end of a long journey, one that began in 2001, when I was seventeen years old.
When I was young, I loved to read. I devoured books. A trip to Barnes and Noble was a special treat, I frequented my elementary school’s library, and once I started a good book, I never wanted to stop. Most of the kids my age didn’t like reading, and only did so when they were forced to, but I spent many days and nights with my eyes glued to pages of various novels. I also had an extremely vivid imagination, and dreamed of being a writer, spending a lot of my spare time writing stories of my own.
Somehow, during the course of being a teenager, I had lost this lust for reading and imagination. High school was not an easy time for me, and my school didn’t often encourage or reward creativity, but mostly I was too wrapped up in my stupid teenager world to bother with reading. In 2001, I was a senior, ready to graduate (more like scrape by) and flee my hometown for just about anywhere else. The fourth Harry Potter book, Goblet of Fire, had been released the previous summer, and Pottermania was getting harder and harder to escape. After mentioning that I had a passing interest in reading the books at some point, a friend of mine said, “Well, I’ve got all four books in my locker. Want to borrow them?” That was all it took.
I tore through the books and then bought copies of my own, unsatisfied with only reading them once. I was immediately hooked, maybe even obsessed. The first two were enjoyable reads, but it was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that became my favorite—a darker, more emotional, and unpredictable story that J.K. Rowling had patiently set up with clues throughout the first two books. Goblet of Fire, by far the longest book in the series at that point, continued to impress me, with a heartbreaking conclusion that left me hungry for more. Unfortunately, I now had a few years to wait, along with the rest of the fanatic Potterheads.
The first four Harry Potter books awakened something in me that I had totally forgotten—how much I loved to read. It was like J.K. Rowling’s words were actually magic, inspiring my own creativity and imagination. Throughout the course of the next six years, I went to midnight releases of Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and finally, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. When the last book came out in 2007, I was a 24-year-old college graduate, light-years away from the angsty teenager I had been when I got my hands on those borrowed copies of years one through four, but I felt the same sense of wonder, suspense, and emotional attachment to fictional characters. When the last page of Deathly Hallows had been turned, it was bittersweet. I was happy with J.K. Rowling’s conclusion, but sad that I’d never again read a new story about the famous Harry Potter and his days at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. At least I could still look forward to the remaining movies.
I can’t claim that the Harry Potter film series has been perfect. Watching them again, it’s easy to see some missteps. Switching directors has made some movies feel very different than others, and since most of them were filmed before Deathly Hallows was released, the directors cut portions of the book that they didn’t know would be relevant later. Despite all of this, and any other criticism, I’ve still enjoyed seeing each movie on opening day since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released in late 2001. Most of the casting choices were fantastic, and the three leads brought the characters to life almost exactly as I had imagined them. In the summer of 2007, when the release of the Order of the Phoenix movie coincided with the final book launch, Pottermania was at an all-time high, which was probably especially obnoxious to my non-Potter-loving friends. With two more movies to go (which turned into three when Deathly Hallows was split into two parts), reaching the end of the last book didn’t entirely feel like the end of Harry Potter.
But now, four years later, it’s really ending. Okay, maybe J.K. Rowling will continue the story eventually, there’s always that possibility, but for the first time in a decade, I have nothing new to look forward to as far as Harry Potter is concerned (other than a hypothetical visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park that will occur at some point in the indeterminate future). I’ve come a long way since that day I grabbed a few books from my friend’s locker; I moved away, graduated college, got married, and have been making my living as a writer for nearly four years. I’ve boxed up my heavy Harry Potter hardcovers more than half a dozen times as I moved from New Jersey to various locations throughout Philadelphia and finally the Pennsylvania suburbs, adding new books along the way. I’ve reread all of them more times than I remember, being surprised and impressed on each read-through about all the clever bits of foreshadowing Rowling scattered throughout her stories. I’ve been mocked and teased by people who just don’t get it, sometimes because they’re trying so hard to seem intellectually superior that they just can’t let themselves enjoy a good book or seven. Harry Potter and his wizard friends have been with me for my entire adult life, and now it’s time to say good-bye. I’ll miss the midnight releases, the anticipation of the unknown, and the feverish discussions with other Harry Potter fans, though I have a feeling those will never completely go away. The books are done, the movies are over, but the magic, to be extraordinarily cheesy about it, will last forever.