Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Childhood's End

Unlike my previous post, this one does contain some very serious spoilers on "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Does Harry Potter live? Or does Harry Potter die? If you already know, it's safe to read on; if you don't, and you seriously care about this outcome, look away quickly!

Just to be on the safe side, I've rendered the following post in invisible ink. To read it, you must say "Aparecio!" and press Ctrl-A on your keyboard.

One of the persistent questions leading up to the final installment of the Harry Potter was whether the titular hero would live or die? Keen-eyed and sharp-thinking readers might already have guessed that, yes, there was a special relationship between Harry and Voldemort, raising the possibility that Harry was himself a Horcrux. How, then, do you get the hero out of this dilemma? To destroy Voldemort, you must destroy all the Horcruxes, Harry included.

So must Harry Potter die? Apparently not -- storywise, anyhow --as folks who've read "The Deathly Hallows" already know. Rowling pulled out a final trick that saved Harry but which wasn't (in the context of the magical world) too far-fetched either.

But creatively speaking, I think, yes, it was important to spell a definite end to Harry Potter's adventures. With the seventh book, his story is complete. Let there be no more side-shows or extensions! Let the hero go out in dignity!

Many years ago, Miguel de Cervantes did just that with his creation, Don Quixote de la Mancha. Cervantes purposely ended the second book with Don Quixote at his deathbed, if only to forestall other copycats who were writing ersatz versions of the character. It was these bogus Don Quixotes that plagued Cervantes soon after the first book. Fan fiction, after all, is nothing new. By killing Don Quixote, Cervantes was declared his adventures over.

I can imagine that J.K. Rowling must have felt the same way, too. If nothing else, extending the story to other sequels may be financially rewarding, but artistically, the characters suffer. While we might conceivably see some other related stories in the Potterverse, this is, thankfully, the end of his adventures.

But instead of killing Harry Potter outright, an act which would certainly have enraged some fans, Rowling allows him to survive and yet brings him to another finality: maturity.

"The Deathly Hallows" ends with an extended epilogue, taking nineteen years after the final confrontation with Voldemort. Here, we see a grown-up Harry and Ginny, taking their kids to King's Cross for the annual departure to Hogwarts. And there, they meet Ron and Hermione, and yes, Draco Malfoy, too, sending off their own children.

Adulthood is another end, not the final end of death, but certainly the end of childhood. For all his adventures in the past, Harry Potter and friends must now confront the duties and responsibilities of family, of parenthood, of making a living. Gone are the days of solving puzzles, skulking under Invisibility Cloaks, casting spells, and fighting demons. All that belongs to another era, indeed, a glorious era, but one whose age is past.

The toys must now be put into the box forever. Harry Potter must now grow up.

With all the ugliness that we know of the adult world, we wonder if it might not have been kinder if Harry Potter had gone out in a blaze of glory. But of course, how would that fare with some fans? Still, Rowling acquiesces by placing her heroes in a happy sort of middle age. Yes, their children bicker as they themselves did back in their time at Hogwarts, but Harry Potter and company seem content in their lives and in their friendships. And we can leave it at that.

In the larger view, though, this childhood's end is also a reflection of the situations of Harry Potter's fans. Just think: "The Deathly Hallows" comes some ten years after "The Sorcerer's Stone." Ten years!

If you had been enamored with Harry Potter as a young boy or girl of twelve, by the time you came to the end of his adventures, you would be a young man or woman of twenty-two. Still young, but probably no longer as carefree. And certainly taking those first tentative, scary steps out into the real world.

So for readers, too, closing the final chapter of "The Deathly Hallows" represents an end of sorts to childhood. No more broomsticks, no more wands, no more mythical creatures; time to face the adult world, a reality that they face may not be as rosy. But that's the way it is: life must take its course.

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