Friday, November 19, 2010

A Love Letter To Adolescence: HP & the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1

I spent a huge part of late childhood and all of adolescence comforted by the world of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. I know there were adult fans back in the ’90s and early ’00s, and I know the series is introduced to uncountable children with every passing year.

But for my generation— for the kids who grew up with the specter of terrorism and the total powerlessness we felt as a President embroiled the world in a series of wars and the internet changed every facet of our lives— Harry Potter has always been a constant, a spiritual salve for the lost, the frightened, the kids who went through a decade unlike any other. And even now, though we’ve entered an uncomfortable adulthood, it often feels like just another costume.

On nights like last— when the penultimate midnight showing of a Harry Potter film erupts theaters across the country and across the world with squeals of delight from people my age, saddled with the reputation of apathy and social awkwardness and fair accusations of political ennui— something falls into place. We are, for one of a dozen times that is drawing to an irrevocable close, again a community. We clap at the same places. We trill knowing laughs at all the right parts. We let our personal opinions be known, loud and clear, and share the crazy joys of returning to a place we all feel like was partially invented by us.

I made the joke in passing to a friend this morning that I grew up in a place called the Internet of Crazy, and for me and a lot of others my age, that place was filled with Harry Potter. We discussed its obscurest points, debated its most mysterious corners, had an encyclopedic knowledge of the books that scared our parents.

But time marches on. Later and later, we come to understand that Harry Potter, though it was unique, though it remains a remarkable phenomenon, though it felt like it was a wonder that would never cease, must necessarily become a relic of our past. I tutor fourteen-year-olds who have only seen the movies, and tell me they don’t really “get it.” Some of us who were 10 and 11 when the first book came out have children of our own now.

I maintain that there was nothing comparable to the Harry Potter series, and what it was for us. That’s partially due to the inconceivable stresses and undupliacatable tensions of when these books were coming out, and partially due to the unquestionable talent, grace, skill, and gentleness that J.K. Rowling had. Creating a world so complete and so richly tapestried with metaphors of our own that we wanted to live there before we knew that we did required a tenderness and an understanding missing from most books, and even some parents. She taught acceptance, mercy, bravery, logic, and most importantly, she taught us— as the greatest teachers do— how to cope with the twin mysteries of love and death.

Rowling deserves all the praise she has ever received, and more, and better. But beyond her and her legacy, its moving chronicle of loss and longing, are us, the children for which it was written. I will always have a soft place in my heart for the people born between roughly 1986 and 1993 for this. Born in 1989, I was 10 the first time I picked up Harry Potter, and twelve when the Twin Towers fell down. Can adults of the age understand this? Can posterity?

Everyone has a history. For me, and for the other millions of us who dressed our no-longer-childlike bodies in the faded robes and silly slogan shirts that claimed our identity as “fans” (how unfair, the smallness of that word for such richness of experience!), flying our freak flags high enough to be seen from space, proud and unashamed, we were calling to that shared history, hoping to see a glimmer of it reflected back at us onscreen. Maybe we did. But more important than the movie was the experience of the movie, our story, the one we will have for the rest of our lives to look back on. We will try to make sense of how we felt and what we did, and to a large degree might be unable to satisfy our older selves with recollection. That’s why it’s necessary to celebrate now, in all ways and every way, and while we can, what this culture was and is for us.

And when it ends next summer, it will be a small death. We will grow up. Those of us who’ve kept the warm glow of the series close by for more than half our lives will shed it, like a cloak that got too small. We know this. At the theater last night, there were cries of, “Only one more movie until my childhood is over!”

We are aware of the loss. Thankfully, Rowling taught us, before we had to learn, how to live with losses. The profound quality of the losses she described is not absent from this one. That’s why nights like last are so important: so beautiful, so precious, so ephemeral. They are the few and far between moments of our lives when we are sharply aware of all that we have and all that we were. The passion and excitement is an elegy to itself. Celebrate while you can.


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