'Deathly Hallows' Has Writer's Children Mourning 'Harry Potter'
By Leslie Berlin Posted Nov 19th 2010 07:07AM
Not long ago I found my 12-year-old daughter sitting on the floor of our living room, crying quietly. Fanned out on either side of her were the seven 'Harry Potter' books, several of them in pieces, rubber-banded together. A poster from the first 'Harry Potter' film lay unrolled at her feet.
"It's almost over," she said, looking up. "The first part of 'Deathly Hallows' comes out in November, and then there's only one after that, and they've already finished making that one, too, and then it's all over.
"I know it's stupid to cry," she said. She wiped her eyes and offered a watery smile. "But 'Harry Potter' is the most awesome thing in the world. I don't want it to end."
From the time she was a little girl with a lightning scar magic-markered on her forehead and a chopstick wand clutched in her tiny hand, my daughter has made Harry Potter's world an integral part of her own. She and her brother, three years her senior, would run through the house with sheets over their heads, tripping on their own feet and declaring themselves invisible, like Harry in his magic cloak. They practiced "spells" in vaguely Latin-sounding incantations. Months of playtime disappeared into a tiny bedroom closet that they converted into a "Harry Potter orphanage," populated by dozens of little plastic figurines from other toy sets. The children took a photo of the orphanage, sent it with a note to JK Rowling, and framed the form-letter response.
On their 11th birthdays, each of them lingered a bit near the front door, wondering if maybe an owl might fly in, a letter of admission to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry tied to its leg.
As the children grew, 'Harry Potter' offered a safe way to broach big issues -- a magical mirror reflecting not a person's appearance but the contents of his or her secret desires led to a long discussion of the children's own deepest hopes. Conversations about characters who died or were maimed in battle turned into exchanges about the ideals and people that my children were willing to defend with their lives. A lighthearted chat about what the two of them would do if they could transform the world with magic became a serious discussion about what they can do with the resources and talents they already have.
The years passed with their own sort of magic, and somehow the little children who lay on the floor coloring while I read the first four 'Harry Potter' books aloud have both grown taller than me. They shave. They text. They babysit.
See the trailer for 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1,' AKA the beginning of the end:
Rock music is my son's new passion; he spends hours practicing his bass guitar and listening to his iPod with an intensity that leads me to believe he is visualizing every note as it is sounded. At his request, we recently packed up the Harry Potter orphanage -- he rebuilt it in the attic -- to make way for his Paul McCartney poster and musical equipment.
My daughter, on the other hand, has been leaning on Harry to ease her transition to adolescence. Among girls her age, she tells me, 'Harry Potter' offers a bit of a litmus test. There are 'Potter' people, and there are people who like Stephenie Meyer's 'Twilight' series -- and very little overlap exists between the two groups. 'Twilight' fans imagine their teenage selves being fought over by men, she says; 'Potter' fans want to fight for good alongside the men. My daughter knows which type of young woman she wants to be.
But she is not ready to become that young woman just yet. Many times since she began middle school last year, she has wished she could return to a world without surging hormones and ever-shifting friendship dynamics, a world comprised solely, as she puts it, of "softball and 'Harry Potter.' " For her, Rowling's fantasy universe, even in all its complexity, is inextricably linked to childhood and its relatively simple choices and challenges.
This returns us to the tears in the living room. I learned that just before my daughter surrounded herself with her books and poster and began crying, her brother -- who has assiduously avoided calling my husband and me anything at all for the past few years -- told her that he was going to begin calling us Dad and Mom. So long, Daddy and Mommy. My daughter's tears, in other words, were likely as much about losing this connection to Mommy and Daddy as they were mourning the impending end to the 'Harry Potter' films. She confused the two losses because both represented the same thing to her -- another bit of her childhood slipping away.
Later that evening, I saw my son lean in close to his sister. "Don't worry," he said to her in a quiet voice. "'Harry Potter' is like the Beatles' music. It will go on forever."
Leslie Berlin specializes in writing about business history and the history of technology. She is the author of The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley, a winner of the 2006 American Association for History and Computing Book Award. Read her blog on Red Room.
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