Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The end of an era

Ten years ago I read a feature in the Sunday Times colour supplement about the first Harry Potter film. I’d heard about the books, and the audio books, as I had younger cousins and my mum’s friends had much younger children, but I hadn’t paid much attention. But on reading this feature my interest was piqued and I thought I’d check out the stories. Luckily my dad had thought the same and purchased the first book (Philosopher’s Stone) at an airport that week so I nabbed it and settled in for the evening with a cuppa, and probably a packet of Maryland cookies.
And I didn’t put that book down until I had finished.
That first book with its fantasy storyline and childish front cover pulled me in and I haven’t looked back since. I fell in love with the characters, the simple themes of love, courage, friendship and loyalty and the world that JK Rowling created. I finished it in under 24 hours, having read until the sun came up, and the minute the shops opened I was out there buying books two (Chamber of Secrets), three (Prisoner of Azkaban) and four (Goblet of Fire). I didn’t come up for air for a week as I devoured them with a passion I hadn’t experienced, since… well, I’m not sure I’d loved anything that much at that time. And in a way I’m not sure I ever will.
I think that western society can be divided in to three groups: those that love Harry Potter, those that don’t and those that haven’t read it.
I respect the opinions of the second group. But quite frankly, they must have missed the point, or not read them properly. How can they not love them? And the last group? Well I feel sorry for them. I feel sad that they missed out on, what I think, is one of the best fairytales in history.
I wasn’t there from the beginning, I’ll admit that. I read the books after seeing the pictures of the first film in that colour supplement feature, so to me the characters have always been the people that portrayed them in the films. So that means I couldn’t imagine anyone better for the parts. Harry, Hermione, Ron and Snape have always been Dan, Emma, Rupert and Alan, and vice versa.
So anyway, I virtually inhaled those books, I created a new family tradition whereby the while family went to see the films on opening night, I queued up at midnight for the newly published books, I purchased every charity and special edition book that was released, I read through the night, I missed my stops on the train and spent lunch hours hunched over the book in the rain with an umbrella outside my office willing time to slow down so I could get one last chapter in. I even bonded with my future husband over the love of the stories (Personally I think that was the clincher!). The last book was launched the weekend before I started a new job at Lehman Brothers. I was so upset that I wouldn’t be able to skip out at lunch with my precious volume and immerse myself in the gloomy setting of the Deathly Hallows on my lunch break – it was Harry Potter or my career…. Eeek? I needn’t have worried. The Senior Vice President of my team had flown in from NYC to welcome me, and had read it from cover to cover on the flight over. She understood my obsession, as did at least three other members of the team (at various levels) who were also so crazy about it that they were reading it at their desks when I arrived (maybe this is where things went wrong for the Firm?). I instantly felt at home here. I made new friends and found fellow HP kindred spirits and despite being at the four corners of the globe, we are still infinitely bonded by our love for the Harry Potter story.
For the last ten years I’ve spent my life in a constant state of anticipation, awaiting the next book or the next film, and this weekend that all came to an end.
And it was eeee-moooo-tional.
That music has always given me chills. Chills and goosebumps. Chills, goosebumps and tears in my eyes. But when we went to see The Hangover: Part II and the final trailer came on, I just lost my composure and I cried. Nay, I sobbed. I haven’t sobbed like that since Titanic came out and Kim and I clung to each other and sobbed and wailed as Leo, sorry, Jack, sank to the bottom of the Atlantic (“don’t let go” – sob). It was a comedy and I walked away feeling glum.
It’s not just the sad things that happen in the film, it’s the happy things that happen. And the bittersweet ending. And the way we’ve seen the storyline and characters develop so beautifully. Not to mention how much I’ve fallen in love with those kids… that are now men and women. I love Dan, Emma and Rupert as much as I love Harry, Ron and Hermione.
It’s the way that the story is timeless. It’s contemporary, but also old fashioned. It’s set in the modern world, but there’s no mention of anything more modern than electricity, dentistry or motorcars. It’s a story that doesn’t have to include sex, drugs, violence and sensationalism to draw the readers in – and keep them there. Every story has a moral without preaching. Every character learns a lesson about themselves and the society in which they live, and the reader learns those same lessons along with them.
I learned that a hero doesn’t have to be a hunk or a muscle man. I learned that hard work is how you succeed, not through short cuts. I learned that strength of character is more important than looks. I learned that EVERYone is beautiful in their own way, and our individuality is what makes us invaluable to society (Lady Gaga also taught me that one). I learned that everyone can bring their own unique offering to the table, and that united, those offerings give us strength in diversity. I learned that love exists in numerous forms, and every single one is necessary. I learned that human compassion, loyalty, bravery, courage, standing up for what you believe in is what life is actually all about.
In a time of Pussy Cat Dolls, X Factor, Barbie, Nintendo Wii, football thugs and WAGs, Harry Potter gives me hope for my future children, in that they will grow up with stories and characters that teach these lessons. Because I can’t wait to live and breathe the stories all over again as I read them to enraptured little faces and see them experience these books for the first time.
That is how they will live on for me, by passing on the love to the next generation. Until then the only thing for it is a trip to Florida to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter… and maybe Googling pictures of Neville looking all newly grown up and, erm HOT all of a sudden, to make me feel better about it all being over. Hello Gryffindor’s Champion!
So, like I said– it’s the end of an era. And, just like in the story itself, though it’s sad to say goodbye, the fact that the door to the past closes means that another door to the future opens:
And so, to finish, I would just like to say, some thank yous.
Thank you JKR for gifting your stories to the world. I can’t imagine my life without them.                      
Thank you to Bloomsbury for understanding why JKR’s gift was one that had to be shared.
Thank you to Warner Brothers for making JKR’s vision become an almost-reality. I didn’t always agree with the translation from page to screen, but ultimately I recognise why the sacrifices were made.
Thank you Dan, Emma and Rupert for portraying the perfect Harry, Hermione and Ron. You did it with class and humility and I love you for making those characters live and breathe.
And now excuse me whilst I have another little cry…

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