Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Harry Potter Memories

In case you haven't yet read "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," relax. There are no spoilers here. I respect the readers' right and pleasure to unravel the story for themselves, so I'll give away nothing of the story itself.

I will say this, though: "Deathly Hallows" brings the series to a satisfying close, with many of the outstanding plot elements from the previous six books neatly wrapped up. It's one last, delightful romp through the Potterverse; it's also a retrospective, if you will, of the characters that anyone who's read the series have come to know if not love; and finally, a chance to say goodbye to them with some dignity.

How long ago was it when I picked up my first Harry Potter book? It was sometime between 1999 and 2000, I think, just when it was starting to gain notice among the critics but before the fever broke. I got "The Sorcerer's Stone" and "Chamber of Secrets" from a bookshop in Hong Kong because they were not yet available in any of the local shops. I remember reading through the first book on a flight to Jakarta and the second in the hotel. "Prisoner of Azkaban" followed not long after, of course.

Was I hooked? To a certain extent, but not to the point of becoming a real Pottermaniac. Overall, Harry Potter wasn't bad, but for someone who's into juvenile fiction, there have been several other outstanding predecessors. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, for example, and the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander. For sheer British cheek, no one can beat Roald Dahl. But it was clear from the beginning that J.K. Rowling was weaving a much larger tale, and like any good story, you want to know How It Ends.

Some friends foreswore Harry Potter altogether, citing its negative influences of witchcraft and wizardry. That, I'll never quite understand, though. Fairy tales have always involved witches of some sort (some good and some evil) However, the underlying structure which holds a fairy tale together is not the elements of the fantastic but the elements of virtue. The otherworldly background, I think, only serves to highlight the universality of virtues like love, courage, hope, and sacrifice.

By the time "Goblet of Fire" came out, though, I did find myself a little weary. No longer just a thin volume like its predecessors, "Goblet of Fire" seemed more of the same, offering only the return of You-Know-Who as a major event. I could say the same of "Order of the Phoenix" and "Half-Blood Prince." It did seem that J.K. Rowling was already resorting to gimmickry of a lethal lottery -- "who's going to die this time around?"

When "Deathly Hallows" finally came around, though, I finally had a change of heart. Rumors of Harry Potter's demise, fueled by Rowling herself, were a major factor, but really, I was less interested in that in the revelations to long-standing questions and the fates of the other characters as well. As I said, it's one last goodbye to characters that have occupied a bit of my imagination over the past seven years.

So I turned the pages, not too slowly because I wanted to see how it all played out; but not too quickly, either, because I knew this would be the very last time I would be reading a Harry Potter book. Each moment had to be savored carefully.

So there they are: Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Hagrid, the Weasley clan, Dumbledore, Hogwarts, and yes, even Severus Snape himself. They play in that stage of my mind one last time. Finally, the story comes to a close, the curtains fall, the lights dim. And then it's time to say goodbye.

So goodbye, Harry Potter (and J.K. Rowling). And thanks for the memories.