|Harry Potter and the Unbidden Opinions|
All right, I’ll confess. I get a kick out of Harry Potter. I haven’t read every book, but I’ve enjoyed those I have read, and the Harry Potter films I’ve seen, and I hope to catch up sometime. I reserved my copy of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” early and got about 200 pages into it over the weekend. Still going, and I hope no one spoils the ending for me.
I admire J.K. Rowling. Not really for her wealth, even though an enviable 8.3 million copies of her seventh Potter tome flew off America’s bookstore shelves in the first 24 hours it went on sale at midnight Friday.
I respect her as a writer, for her mastery of metaphor, her facility with the storytelling craft and above all her gift of connecting with all ages. Maybe it’s her depiction of Harry as a displaced orphan in unfriendly surroundings who finds an extended family at Hogwarts school of wizardry, that touches a chord with today’s youth whom, studies say, long for the solid families of yesteryear. Or maybe it’s her creation of a good-versus-evil world with heroes and good causes worth rooting for, that gives readers something to believe in. Or maybe it’s the fact that her medium is books and reading requires active involvement, opening and exercising the mind, participation in the creation of a colorful world and not least of all, something to talk about with peers. Remember the lost art of conversation? Maybe it’s the fact that her books are accountable for getting kids reading again in massive numbers, a legacy I can only dream of. With all the need, shortcomings and fear in the world, isn’t all that a good package for all ages?
Of course there are the detractors. Some people of certain creeds decry the Potter books’ witches and wizards as blasphemous or spiritually unhealthy. They have, of course, every right to their views. But, what about the stories’ themes of friendship, loyalty, education, sacrifice, self-betterment or trouncing odds? What about the fact that Harry and his friends don’t like the Dark Arts any more than the detractors do? What about the reality that not all witches are committed to black magic? Most of the neo-pagans I’ve encountered, in years of being open to people of different views and cultures, tend to be pretty positive folks who abide by a credo of living responsibly and hurting no one. I won’t deny that the few who dabble in darker magics are badly in need of a reality check on many levels.
On Saturday in Half Moon Bay, a flock of teen girls bought their books at one local bookstore and, shortly before 1 a.m., were found curled up in corners in the back of the store, oblivious to the crowds, absorbed in reading. Outside, spouses Penny Floor (dressed as character Sybil Trelawney) and Karl Young (dressed as Dumbledore) practiced tolerance: “He doesn’t read (Potter),” said Floor, “but he’s being a good sport.” Parents and preteen kids scooped up their books together and bonded over the pages. One family, having driven half a day to get here from a new home out of state, were busy reconnecting with old friends. Elsewhere, a kid was making a glittery mask as a gift for his sister. Kids and adults, strangers before Saturday, gathered together over a Potter/Trivial-Pursuit-style board game. If there are really any spells afoot here, seems to me like they’re good ones.
And what if Rowling saw fit to commit literary infanticide and kill off Harry? Sure, that would be disappointing. But all things change. Death is a part of life. These are lessons, albeit nasty ones, we all have to learn, understand and somehow get the knack of rolling with. Let’s just hope at least she makes his sacrifice worthwhile. To those fans that would be devastated (hopefully very few), I recommend a good hard look at the crack that our fascination with fantasy and media has dealt our ability to develop inner resources and inner balance.
And I say, thanks, and best wishes, J.K.