Over the weekend, I engaged with my brand spankin’ new housemates (hi, Boston!) in the cultural phenomenon currently sweeping that nation that has members of my generation weepy-eyed and reminiscing.
I saw the last Harry Potter movie.
It’s no secret that Rowling’s series has made an immense impression upon the culture of the times. I am of the generation who grew up with Harry Potter and, now that it’s “over”, are facing down a blank Potter-less existence punctuated by random bouts of nostalgia triggered by wands and quasi-Latin.
I think the question on everyone’s mind is “where do we go from here?”. What do we do with our Potter-less existence? How do we keep on living with no new book or movie to look forward to?
But this is not a new feeling for Potter fans. Flash back to the summer of 2007. I was in Conservatory at Shakespeare & Company (the first round). Despite the fact that the book was released mid-week for us (we only had one day off, Monday; thereby Thursday counted as “mid-week”), despite the fact that we had rehearsed and trained for twelve hours that day, despite the fact that the next day was another twelve-hour marathon of soul-searching, a small die-hard contingent of us still marched ourselves to the only bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts and waited on line at midnight for the release.
I remember thinking at the time “this is it”. Then I read the book. As I turned that final page, teary-eyed (yea, I’m a girl, so what?), I remember thinking the same thing. “This is it.”
So as I sat in the theatre, I couldn’t help but wonder if this really was it. And if it was, why did I care so much?
The sheer impact that this series has had on our culture is fascinating. In a world of e-publishing and instant gratification everything, we are facing down a generation of young adults whose lives were significantly affected by a series of books. How did this happen? Why did this happen? And, perhaps most importantly, is it possible that this may happen again?
My thoughts on Pottermania are several fold:
1) Harry Potter is a brilliant adaptation of Campbell’s Hero Cycle which succeeds in evoking classical tales and appropriating them into its own innovative mythos.
fantastic chart of the Hero Cycle
2) Harry Potter occurs in a world of urban fantasy which, in my opinion, is the most engaging genre of fantasy. Urban fantasy invites us to imagine that the fantastic is all around us, just beyond the borders of our perception. It invites the reader to look deeper at her surroundings and invent the links between magic and reality. This genre has always appealed to the unsatisfied creative soul, the series’ primary demographic. Moreover, the world at large has embraced the Potter possibilities (likely in an effort to capitalize upon the series’ popularity, but okay, we’ll overlook the rampant show of consumerism). If you go to King’s Cross Station in London, you can visit platform 9 ¾. Qudditch has become a popular-enough sport on college campuses that it warrants its
Visiting Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross London
own international organization. Believing hard enough in the illusion has fostered its own sense of reality and this is outrageously appealing to those who, like Harry, feel that they simply don’t belong in this world.
3) The series’ hook is one which latches into a fundamental aspect of its target demographic. Recall all the way back to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry, as a “normal person”, simply doesn’t fit in. His family doesn’t understand him, the other kids tease him, and his life (on the whole) pretty much sucks. Suddenly he is taken away from all of this into a world where he fits in, where he is normal, and where he’s a celebrity. Isn’t this every misfit child’s dream? The belief that there is “somewhere else” more betterer than here (be it Hogwarts, Oz, or Wonderland) propels the angsty pre-teen through a jungle of hormone-induced nightmares. Harry Potter is a lifeline for misunderstood geeks, a veritable treasure-trove of “get me through my day”. This feeling of companionship fosters Pottermania and encourages fanatical devotion to the escapist fantasy.
As to the potential for this occurring again, I am honestly not entire certain that it can. I mean, we all know that there are books which have similarly captured pre-teen imaginations in the past ten years (ahem Twilight cough sputter), but who can say anything about the longevity of such fans? Harry Potter is a series which I believe will be read generation to generation because of the important life lessons it teaches (if you have any doubt about that, just check out this week’s post secrets). Twilight, not so much.
Who can say when someone will tap into this sort of cosmic vein? Throughout history, there have always been artists who manage it… and some, for whatever reason, don’t. We don’t have fifty million Marlowe festivals across the Globe, but we do perform Shakespeare at every possible opportunity. Will someone eventually be the cosmic muse for Potter-scale fandom? Probably. I certainly hope so. I am dubious at best, however, that my kids will be able to grow up with future-Potter like I did with past-Potter.
But you know what? That’s okay. It’s one of the most beautiful things about true art. It’s lovely, it touches you, it shapes you, then it’s gone. The fleetingness of the moment is what makes it so heart-wrenchingly wonderful. We can’t re-create it, we can only live it.