The End of an Era

hp7 It All Ends. An end of an era. The end of childhood. I’m pretty sure everyone in the industrialized world knows that the final Harry Potter movie came out on Friday (in the U.S.). This is it.

People of all ages have felt the loss, from children who weren’t alive when the first books came out, to retirees. I think, though, that my age group has felt the end more keenly. After all, we are the Harry Potter Generation.

I read the first book when I was in fourth or fifth grade — ten or eleven years old, and my fifth grade teacher read it aloud to us as a class. The Prisoner of Azkaban was a Christmas gift, and I read it in its entirety in a single day. When the fifth book was released, I went straight from my eighth grade graduation ceremony to the midnight release party at a bookstore a few towns over. The end of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out shortly after I graduated from high school. And now, I’m a recent college graduate, off to face the “real world,” and one of the longest, most consistent interests of mine has come to an end.

I’ve grown up alongside the actors and actresses from the movies. I am 22; Daniel Radcliffe is (almost) 22; Emma Watson, 21; and Rupert Grint, 22. It’s fairly indicative of how things changed that I had a glass of wine while watching a CNN program about the final movie. While Harry, Ron, and Hermione (and their real-life alter egos) were children, I was as young and clueless as they were when I first picked up the books. During Harry’s angsty teen years, I was pretty angsty too, I admit. When they felt insecure and had secret crushes on their friends — well, isn’t that the very definition of high school?

When I graduated from high school, it was bad enough that seven years of love and fascination and late-night page turning and Midnight Release parties was over, along with everything that I’d known for my entire life. But at least there were the movies, an annual or semi-annual reminder of the brilliance of J. K. Rowling’s characters and writing, something new to look forward to. And now, the last movie is out, and I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be a college graduate. I saw the film at midnight, and was struck by the diversity of the crowd. To my surprise, I saw few people my age, the group who were the intended age group when the series first began — it was mostly high school age kids, or middle-aged adults. I myself went with a retired librarian, not a group of my friends.

This is a testament to the universality of Ms. Rowling’s books, that what is ostensibly a children’s book can touch and inspire people of all ages, from around the world. But there is something special about growing up with the characters. Harry Potter was an important part of my life throughout my childhood, and I know many, many of my peers felt the same way. Harry was one of us, and as we tried to navigate through our teens and figuring out who we were, he was doing the same thing, more or less at the same time.

I’m sad that it’s all over, but whenever I joke with people — “I’m a college graduate, and the last movie is out — my childhood is over” — my friends often respond with a
determined refusal. “Harry Potter is never over,” one friend said vehemently. It’s true. There may be nothing new, but we’ll always have the books, and Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest will live on forever in the pages.

– Jane Granville

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21 Responses to “The End of an Era”

  1. Marianne McA says:

    I’m of an older generation, so for me it’s one of the ends of my children’s childhood. Because I’m a reader, I anticipated the regret at the end of the last book, but was surprised to feel so sad when this film ended.

    Somehow Harry Potter’s woven through the memories of their childhood – my oldest, as an eight year old, determined to read the newly released Goblet of Fire in a day, and triumphant when she did so. Or our semi-serious pact that if she got an owl on her 11th birthday, she was allowed to go. Or the day when, bored in the car, all three children proved they had listened to the CDs at bedtime just that little bit too often, by reciting the opening pages to one of the books verbatim. (You’d sometimes do the final check on the children at night, to hear Stephen Fry’s voice coming from every bedroom, reading each a different tome.) And leaving my mum alone in the house for the first time after heart surgery – and coming back to find she’d had an unexpectedly pleasant couple of hours listening to the BBC broadcast of Book 1. Lots of moments really – small, very bright, child running up to me with breathless excitment during a Harry Potter themed birthday party to ask if it was true that we had A Giant Squid in our (oft-visited, 18 inch deep) garden pond. (Because if we had a sign ‘Beware of the Giant Squ…’ tailing off, as though something unfortunate had happened to the sign writer, then surely…)

    And I shall stop maundering on. But yes, sad it’s over, but happy memories.

  2. dick says:

    I read only the first book in the series, mainly because my daughter asked that I do so. The book didn’t arouse enough interest to lead me to read the others, so I’ve never really understood what it was that appealed to so many people, except that it became a fashion, somewhat like the hula hoop.

  3. MarySkl says:

    Dick: The first two books are definitely children’s books (with the writing of The Chamber of Secrets being the worst IMO). However, JK Rowling grew with her characters and her writing improved. By the Prisoner of Azkaban, she was cruising. The writing in the books may not be up to some standards, but the world she created makes up for it. My oldest daughter got the first two books at a school book fair. She read them and then gave them to me and I was hooked. I brought home the Goblet of Fire at midnight and my children began arguing about who got to read it first. So I sat down and read the book to all three of them. I always made sure to buy at least 2 books after that. We went to the rest of the midnight releases together and once I was persuaded to dress up like Professor McGonagal while my youngest daughter was Hermione. While I am a middle-aged adult, Harry Potter was a part of my childrens’ childhood. At Halloween we have the Fat Lady on the door and a Hogwarts cemetery with dementors floating around. Last year I added Nagini.

    Harry Potter recreated magic in reading for many children. The Lord of the Rings was the childhood fantasy of my generation. Harry Potter belongs to my children with me living the life of witches, giants, pixies and house elves through them. I worked with at-risk kids in schools for a number of years. Many children went from hating to read to falling in love with Harry, Hermione and Ron and then going on to read the LOTR’s, The Chronicles of Narnia and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. There is more than just wizard’s magic in Harry Potter. The books helped a generation mired in standardized tests to discover reading for pleasure. If Harry Potter is the hula hoop of this generation, then I am proudly shaking my hips .

  4. DabneyAAR says:

    I too see it as an integral part of my chldrens’ lives. My eldest–now 20–was six when we began to read the first book aloud to him and his four year old little brother. My three months old were too little but we, in a few years, read the first books to them as well.

    Yesterday, I went with my youngest tow–now 15–to see the final movie. I cried when it began. I thought about my eldest son, now away from home as a camp counselor reading to kids there. I remember when he, now 6’4″ and a junior in college on the other side of the country, sat in my lap, his brother on my other leg, both of them chubby cheeked and breathless.

    Harry Potter brought kids back to the joy of books; of words and the worlds created by language paired with imagination. I am grateful to have raised my four–all readers now–in a world made more literary thanks to Ms. Rowling and her books. They aren’t perfect but they changed the world for the better.

    When I was in the theater last night, I looked at all the others there. People of all ages, races, and political beliefs together, sharing something. In a time where many can’t find a way to even talk with those who see the world differently, it feels like a gift to have Rowling’s world which is loved by so many disparate people.

  5. DabneyAAR says:

    that should say youngest two!

  6. Nathalie T says:

    I also grew up with the books but the era ended for me in 2007 since I don’t like the movies and have no plans th watch the last one. Four years ago my dad drove me to the bookstore and I bought the book 12 o’clock. Then I read in 24 hours.

  7. AAR Sandy says:

    I haven’t read the books, but love the movies. (I’ll see the new one next weekend.) I think that Harry Potter got people excited about books and reading and that’s something that can’t be over valued.

  8. Lynn M says:

    I love that my kids have gotten to be a part of this pop culture moment in history. They can tell their kids – who will surely love the books and movies many (many many many!!) years from now – that they remember going to the midnight book releases and standing in line for the movies. It’s a fun experience for them, and I honestly can’t imagine something like this ever happening again. At least not to this world-wide extent.

    One thing that strikes me as odd – my son is currently 11. He and I were watching a Biography show about Daniel Radcliff, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. When Daniel was 11 and starting his HP journey, he seemed so much younger than my son does now. I can’t quite understand it – at that age, he seemed like a little boy while my son seems so much more worldly and mature. I wonder why that is.

  9. Jane AAR says:

    Thank you all for sharing your stories! It’s incredible to see how a series of books has influenced the lives of so many people. This Sunday on PostSecret (the community art project in which people send in secrets on anonymous postcards), there were a few HP secrets. This one is my favorite:

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-tY9BwqGHYz8/TiI0CCi3BxI/AAAAAAAAPac/-93AQwuX8MA/s1600/thanksharry.jpg

  10. I have a memory of coming home one afternoon to discover my four year old in the front hall announcing that he was going to Hogwarts. Could I please call a taxi to take him to the railway station? He had a bag packed and a panicked-looking father behind him who didn’t want to pop his bubble! So I told him if he could do a round of our back yard on my kitchen broom without his feet touching the ground, I’d call that taxi.

    We read the first two books aloud to both of them, watched as they enjoyed them later on their own, cursed at the movies for leaving too much out, and lined up regretfully to buy the last book. I saw the first movie by myself the night before my father’s funeral and was oddly comforted. It was a family outing the other night to see the last one. Harry Potter has been a huge part of our lives for the last 12 years. Harry Potter bed linen, posters, stuffed owls … discussing with my sons exactly WHY Voldemort splitting his soul was such a terrible thing.
    Fashion had nothing to do with it as far as we were concerned. We just loved the books, all of us, even my husband who mainly reads non-fiction. We put up with the movies, God knows why, because after the first two they drove us crazy leaving so much out. Possibly because we enjoyed the characters so much. Watching them grow up was a huge part of the charm. This last pair has actually stuck to the books reasonably closely and left us feeling satisfied. Like any books, some will love them and some will not. But it’s not fashion.

  11. dick says:

    Different strokes for diffferent folks, I guess. Having read only the first, I can’t, in good conscience, make further comments, except to say that I don’t think the Harry Potter books are comparable to “Lord of the Rings” or “Chronicles of Narnia.”

  12. Jane AAR says:

    Well, Dick, I disagee — they’re the modern LOTR or Chronicles. And, if I dare say it, a whole heck of a lot more readable. I tried reading LOTR in middle school and (forgive me if this is sacrilege) found the writing to be dry and convoluted. The stories are wonderful, and I love the movies, but I have no desire whatsoever to pick up one of the books.

    They all share a really, really strong world-building by the author. That’s one of the best things about Harry Potter- the universe Rowling created is so detailed, multidimensional, and complex, it’s a character in itself. You can easily get lost in Harry’s world.

  13. MarySkl says:

    I disagree with Dick as well. I have read all of the mentioned fantasy series multiple times. We played our own version Harry Potter and LOTR’s trivia in the car on long trips. That game led my husband to finally pick up the Harry Potter books because he got tired of not knowing what we were talking about. The next Halloween he dressed up as Dumbledore. The imagination that it took to come up with polyjuice potion, thestrals, and a host of other things unique to the world of Harry Potter is really mind-boggling when you think about it. The books grew as the child characters grew and that was reflected in the writing. Judging the entire series on the most juvenile of the books does them an injustice. It brings to mind my experience with Anne Rice’s vampire books. I had just read Stephen King’s “It” when I picked up “Interview With a Vampire.” While I thought Interview was OK, reading it did not inspire me to read more of the Vampire Chronicles or Anne Rice. For YEARS my husband suggested I read more of them and I would smile and say, “some day.” Then he put “The Mummy” in front of me (not a vampire book, but reflective of Anne Rice’s better writing). After reading The Mummy, I picked up the “Vampire Lestat” and ended up reading the rest of the vampire books that week. Then I chewed through her witch books. If my husband had not badgered me and I continued to let my experience with Interview color my perception of Anne Rice as an author, I would have missed out on some wonderful books.

    Jane: While the Hobbit was definitely a children’s book, LOTR’s was very adult and for a child (or middle school student), I think it goes down better when read aloud – in fact I think it begs to be read out loud. There is a poetry and cadence to the books that you don’t get when reading silently. I read the entire series aloud to each of my three children when they were 6 or 7, but they were in high school before they read them for themselves. You know what you like but I think judging Tolkein through middle school eyes is not a true verdict. If you ever decide to try them again, let us know if you see the books through a different lens.

  14. Kathryn says:

    I also grew up with the Harry Potter books and characters – 4th grade when the first one came out and 19 when the last one did.

    It worked great because I was always close in age to the characters and like other people have mentioned the books grew with me, becoming better written and more mature.

    It definitely was not a fashion. I still remember the awe I felt after reading the first book and how depressed I was when it was over. The anticipation every year waiting for the next book to come out. Way better than Christmas.

    By now I’ve reread every book multiple times and they feel like old friends. I’ll never be one of the people who dresses up and reads or writes fan fiction, but I still laugh, cry and feel warm inside every time I read one of them. I don’t know what it is about her books that enrapture so many different people, but there is something there. Maybe it’s magic afterall.

  15. Corinna says:

    I’ve gotta side with Dick here. When it comes to Harry Potter, I feel like the child in the story ‘The Emporor’s New Clothes’ because I’m completely missing what has everyone else all aflutter. The books never drew me in enough to finish one, and the movies were what I would describe as mildly entertaining.

    Harry Potter is…okay. Not amazing, just okay. If I had to line up all my favorite books/movies in order, HP would be far behind hundreds of others.

    Sorry, but as was said, different strokes for different folks. HP never grabbed my interest, much less my heart.

  16. desiderata says:

    I’ve never read the books but like others have said, they are part of the bittersweet memories of my 2 oldest childrens’ childhood. My oldest graduated high school in May and is off to university in a few weeks and my son is going to be a junior in high school. They were very young when they read the first books and we would go to the Harry Potter festival one of our parks had every summer. Taking them to the B&N midnight release parties was a huge treat, since it was always so long past their bedtimes. We were in Rome when the last movie was released and they were trying to find a cinema –forget the Pantheon or Colosseum, the last Harry Potter movie is out today!

  17. Linda Griffith says:

    Loved your article. I just came back from the movie with my 2 boys (ages 16 and going on 21). The 21 year old started reading the books in grade school and was the same ages as the characters and literally grew up with them. We have always gone to all the movies together along with his best friend who loved the books as well. He begged me to read the books and I remember thinking that I did not want to read childrens books but decided to try it. Of course I was hooked. I was SO emotional about this last movie. To me, it was an end to his childhood (he will turn 21 in 2 weeks)

  18. Julie P. says:

    I am in my 50s and don’t have children, but I dearly love these books and the world JKR created. I cried during the last book and during the last movie. There is plenty to love about these stories, regardless of your age.

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