Today marks the end of an epoch, an aeon in literary history. Today the final Harry Potter film is released and the cultural and international phenomenon that has united so many and single-handedly created millions of new, enthusiastic readers, comes to an end.
It is a hard day. I am both thrilled and saddened beyond measure to finally see the climactic moments of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows performed on the big screen. Yet, beyond this there is no more Potter – at least, not in the way it has been before – and so it is also a moment of sadness.
Like many people, Harry Potter has meant more to me than can ever be accurately put into words. The books have been, in many ways, transformative experiences the likes of which I have had few other times in my life. For eleven years, Harry has been with me, as I have grown up and marks a major influence in my life and in my writing and literary growth.
The only way I can begin to approach describing the impact the Potter novels have had on me is to quote C. S. Lewis:
the first reading of some literary work is often, for the literary, an experience so momentous that only experiences of love, religion, or bereavement can furnish a standard of comparison. Their whole consciousness is changed. They have become what they were not before. … Scenes and characters from books provide them with a sort of iconography by which they interpret or sum up their own experience. (An Experiment in Criticism, p. 3).
I first heard rumblings about Harry in the middle of 2000, when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released. Before that, the books had garnered attention, but not yet hit the level of massive cultural superstardom. With the release of GoF, Harry hit the front pages and it was no longer possible for anyone even remotely paying attention to miss their presence. And, of course, being raised in a conservative Christian home, my first exposure to the books were negative – they were, after all, full of witchcraft and satanism, were they not?
Being homeschooled, I was raised to be very independently-minded. So I bravely checked out the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and brought it home. I received the requisite frowns from my parents, and dug into it that very night. Having been a fan of Tolkien, Lewis, Alexander, and Roald Dahl already, I was immediately hooked and found myself pounding through it in record time, devouring it in a day and a half. The other three followed in quick succession, until there were no more books, and I would have to wait like everyone else to get five, six and seven.
In those days, there wasn’t much support for a fifteen-year-old Christian who believed the Potter books were marvelous contributions to western literature, and solidly Christian to boot. Though both Chuck Colson and Focus on the Family issued positive reviews of Sorcerer’s Stone when it first was released, they were soon forced by their donors and sponsors to retract their recommendations. Almost all Christian commentary was negative.
In the decade since, there has been much Christian evaluation of Harry Potter published, and the striking thing about it is that all of these books are positively reviewing the books. In my survey of the critical Potter literature, only one book could be found to take the negative position out of hundreds of volumes. And that single negative book is full of logical holes, and does nothing more than to point out any bad language and violence and try to connect the magic in the books to real-world occultism. Yet for all that, I found the book to fail in taking into account context or story progression. To Richard Abanes, the author, it did not matter if the Potter books mercilessly mocked divination, it was bad to even have it present. Breaking school rules (like sneaking out at night) was always bad, even if Harry and his friends learn later not to do it.
Unsurprisingly, the book has not been updated to evaluate books 5-7. How could he, after all? The books have been revealed as so overwhelmingly Christian that it is sheer lunacy to deny the Christianity present within them. No thinking, rational person that has examined the books carefully can deny it – which is why the tide of Christian opinion has turned in Harry’s favor. There are only a few pockets of resistance left, mostly in irrelevent fundamentalist and Vision Forum circles.
Through it all, nothing has shaken my love for these books, and they have been some of the most influential books of my life. They certainly surpass Narnia for me (I think I read them once or twice), and may even approach surpassing Lord of the Rings in my mental landscape. I have certainly read Potter more frequently than LotR. I return to them more often than any other work. There is only one series which may have more meaning for me – the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.
I am not sure how to end this post, which in many ways parallels my uncertainty at facing a future with no more Potter in it. I am incredibly and eternally grateful to J. K. Rowling for all that she has given us. For the first time in many generations America has a “shared text,” a work of art which almost all of us have read or experienced in some way. While Harry might not hit many headlines anymore, he will be present in all the stories we will tell from now on that we shall see his shadow in everything.
I can say no more than quote what one responder wrote on Alan Rickman’s farewell letter to Harry Potter. They said, “THANK YOU Jk Rowling, for narrating my childhood!” That pretty much says it all. Thank you, indeed, and amen.