Monday, July 23, 2007

Like Magic

Together with what was apparently a decent percentage of the population, I finished the Harry Potter series yesterday, staying up until almost 3:00 in the morning to complete the seventh book in the series of seven (owing in equal parts to an inability to put it down and assurances to my wife that she could have it first thing Monday morning).

I don't have much to write about the book itself, since you've either read it, and already know, plan to read it, and don't want to know, or won't read it, and don't care to know.

(side note: I don't think I've given away anything at all here, but if you are super paranoid, stop reading now just in case).

Instead, I wanted to post the summation with which a reviewer for Time concluded her review of the book. A few people who have never read any of the books in the series have recently asked me if the books are really that good . . . I think the following is a start in answering that question:
It's impossible to finish Deathly Hallows without mixed emotions: satisfaction, but also sadness. Not really because the series is finally over — if anything, turning the last page of Deathly Hallows made me look forward to rereading the first book. Maybe Sorcerer's Stone [-- the first book in the series of seven --] will never be surprising again, the way it was the first time, but now that I know how the series ends, that knowledge propagates its way back through the series, casting everything that came before it in a different light and giving it a fresh new meaning.

The sadness is more an instant nostalgia for the unironic, whole-hearted unanimity with which readers embraced the story of Harry. We did something very rare for Harry Potter: we lost our cool. There is nothing particularly hip about loving Harry. He's not sexy or dangerous the way, say, Tony Soprano was. He's not an anti-hero, he's just a hero, but we fell for him anyway. It's a small sacrifice to the one that Harry makes, of course, but it's what we, as self-conscious, status-conscious modern readers, have to give, and we gave it. We did and do love Harry. We couldn't help ourselves.

"We lost our cool." That is a spot on statement. For most people, at least growing up if not also as adults, the "fantasy" or even "sci-fi" genre was something to make fun of (side note: remember "Magic: the Gathering?"), and only cross over to delicately, when everyone else did it (Star Wars was cool, but people who played Dungeons and Dragond were weird). Yet somehow the Harry Potter stories transcended the typical scorn -- or at least mild amusment -- that most people cast upon witches, wizards and the like. It's a credit to the author, and maybe to our culture as well, that she was able to produce something that was so enveloping, so riveting, and just so much fun, that we put aside "cool" for a few years, especially towards the end, and just enthusiastically enjoyed the story she had created.

I'm headed back to mystery novels and history books on the civil war; but crossing over for a little while was, well . . . cool.

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