We finished the Harry Potter series last night. Seven books...with the corresponding movie after each one. (Or two movies in the case of the final book.) This is the third time I have read the entire series out loud to my children. I started the first round shortly after book six had just released and Rebekah and Julianne were old enough to recognize and understand the hype surrounding it. I had read the first three books at that point but hadn't continued on...so once we reached book four, it was all new to me as well. We had to wait for the seventh book which was released the summer I had Lilian. I remember one day in particular where we spent five hours in her little bedroom, reading. The girls were willing to tickle and coo and rock little Lilian so I wouldn't stop.
The second time around was a few years later when Brandon was a bit older. He learned pretty quick that he could convince me to continue reading way past his bedtime if he scratched my back and played with my hair...
And now Lilian. We visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios last November and Lilian had seen bits and pieces of the movies...so this spring I decided she was ready. Young as she is I was surprised when she caught onto things and made important connections even before they were explained in the book. All the same, I don't think she quite realized how raw and gritty they were going to get. For example, when Cedric Diggory died she was completely stunned and had big tears pouring down her face. And then grieved each death that came after with tears yes, but more and more upset. She was in a rage when Dumbledore died, stomping around the room. And really, didn't we all feel the same? It was with more resigned battle-weary acceptance that Lilian grieved the deaths of characters such as Tonks, Lupin, Fred and Dobby. But then the elation that came with the revelations within Snape's memories, the out of body conversation with Dumbledore and the final show down with Voldemort. And Lilian insisted I read the final chapter of book seven twice.
We were both sad to come to the end of the series. Interestingly enough, the Harry Potter books have become the stuff of family tradition and memories in our house. We like to read. We enjoy reading aloud as a family. I've read many books to my children over the years....from picture books to full series of chapter books. But Harry Potter is the only series I have read aloud three times. And despite their older ages, Julianne and Brandon would frequently come home from various activities and sit down with us if I was reading Harry Potter to Lilian...even to the point of asking if I would wait to begin that night's reading until they were home because they didn't want to miss a particular part. There's just something special about Harry Potter.
Some final thoughts...
1. J.K. Rowling is brilliant. I remember when the books first came out and there was a bit of controversy with people thinking a children's book about wizards and witchcraft would be inappropriate...or even downright evil. How wrong they were. And how wonderful to find that Rowling found a way to get a whole new generation of kids excited about reading again. I feel really sorry for the publishing company that turned her first manuscript down. They are probably kicking themselves....
2. If the movies are your only look into the world of Harry Potter you have no idea how much you are missing! Reading each book and watching the movie immediately afterwards brought this home to me even more. The movies had to leave out so many details and side stories. The whole Harry Potter experience is so much richer if you read the books.
3. But that is not to say that the movies are bad. Because they aren't. Yes, we all know that in almost every instance a movie based on a book will never be as good as its original source material. But in this case, they really did a fantastic job! The movies are great. Yes, they miss a lot...but mostly because they have to seeing as each book is just so long. And the casting...oh my goodness, I could go on and on about the genius of the casting director. From the regulars to the one book wonders...I mean, really could you get a better Professor Lockhart than Kenneth Branagh? Or Maggie Smith as McGonagall? Or Alan Rickman as Snape???
4. Speaking of Severus Snape....I think he is the true hero of book seven. He is complicated and layered. He's got a lot of hate in him, resentment and pride. But darn it all if he doesn't also have a lot of loyalty and that love that Dumbledore is always saying is so important. Yes, Harry vanquishes Voldemort in the end...but oh, Snape. I love that quote in the final chapter where Harry is talking to his son who has fears of being sorted into Slytherin house. "Albus Severus, you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew." I love J.K. Rowling for giving us that complete twist that we never saw coming. I love her for giving us Snape's memories. I love her for giving us Severus Snape.
5. And we also have to give a moment to Neville Longbottom. The movie doesn't show it as fully, but Neville...the insecure, bumbling little wizard we meet in book one who is growing up in Harry Potter's shadow and also trying to fill the very large footsteps of his parents...the boy who could've just as likely been "the chosen one" (the movie doesn't tell you about that point) ends up a hero in his own right. Leading Dumbledore's Army when Harry is gone, fighting every bit as hard as Harry, Hermione and Ron in his own way at school, standing up to the Dark Lord, the sword of Godric Gryfindor appearing to him as a brave and worthy Gryffindor, killing the horcrux snake right there in front of Voldemort...Neville is every bit the brave leader and hero as Harry.
6. I love Albus Dumbledore. I love his dry humor. His lines were some of the funniest in the books and I looked forward to them. He was brilliant and wise and kind. But he was also incredibly strong and magically gifted. He was the only one You-Know-Who feared and it is no wonder. His flashes of anger were few and far between, which made them that much more powerful when they came. But second to his humor, I loved his humanity. He is so powerful and famous in the wizarding world...almost like a god on a pedestal. So I love in the 7th book how J.K. Rowling shows us his past and brings him down a few notches. We see that Dumbledore really is human...flaws and faults and all. To watch him cry as he explains what happened to his sister. To see his shame as he explains his obsession with the deathly hallows and his friendship with Gellert Grindelwald. And as he explains the mistakes he has made in his handling of certain aspects of his relationship with Harry and asks for his forgiveness. I think the true leaders in this world are ones who are flawed, which makes them that much more wise and empathetic....especially if they can do so with humor.
7. In this reading of the series more so than the others, I started seeing themes. Not that I didn't realize they were there before, I just spent more time thinking about them....maybe because I had read the books before and wasn't as caught up in the newness of the actual plot. The fight between good vs. evil, of course. But I also saw many conversations alluding to faith vs. logic. And I'm assuming I'm not the only one who saw Hitler and Nazi Germany in there...with talk of being worthy and having pure blood as opposed to being half-blood, mud blood or squib. Having to prove your magical blood lines. Wizards trying to protect and sometimes hide their Muggle neighbors. In the movie they even had students at Hogwarts who by book seven were under Death Eater rule, goose stepping like the SA or Hitler Youth as they made their way to classes.
8. And though I'm certainly not the first....I have to say that the movie got the ending of the final book wrong. Completely wrong. I can make allowances for changes and details going missing in the other movies....as I've said before, I think it would be an incredibly daunting task to turn these detail and plot dense books into 2 hour movies. However, in this case I think Hollywood decided that they needed the ending to be a bit more dramatic. And that decision I believe, shows their lack of true understanding. Maybe they were catering to the audience who were relying solely on the movies for their Harry Potter fix. But for the millions of us who had read the book...we felt a bit cheated.
*Because Neville needs to kill the Nagini the snake right in front of Volemort and the hordes of people watching....not to save Ron and Hermione from being attacked by the snake in a silly chase, but out of resistance...and to see Voldemort's horror at the loss.
*Because we needed to see all the house elves hacking at the Death Eater's legs with kitchen knives, Professor Trelawny dropping crystal balls on people's heads, Peeves the Poltergeist causing havoc, Professor Sprout using mandrakes, venomous tentacula and other poisonous plants as weapons during that final battle inside Hogwarts.
*Because Voldemort needs to see his most loyal supporter Bellatrix Lestrange be killed off by mousy little Molly Weasly in her anger right in front of him.
*But mostly because Voldemort needs to be finished in front of the whole crowd of people who had risked their lives trying to resist him and support Harry. They needed to be a part of it. They needed to hear and understand, just as Voldemort did...as Harry demeans him by calling him his real name of Tom Riddle and explains to him all the reasons why he is not going to win this time. That Snape wasn't ever his, that Dumbledore was not dead on his orders, that Harry had hunted down and killed all his horcruxes, that he Harry was actually the true master of the Elder Wand. And see that Harry ends up finishing him off not with a killing curse but once again with his tried and true expelliarmus disarming spell.
I have read a lot of books in my time...all different genres. It's hard for me to narrow down when I'm trying to come up with a list of say top ten favorites or books that have stuck with me, had an influence on me. The Harry Potter series always makes the list.
I told Rebekah in an email last week that I was a little sad, seeing the series and the time reading with Lilian come to a close. She told me not to worry...that she was very interested in seeing the tradition continue and was already planning to have me read the books to her children someday. Something to look forward to.
In the meantime...we started the Percy Jackson series last night.