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Harry Potter and me: The aging effect of Witchcraft and Wizardry

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He may have broken every box-office record going, but what did Harry and his world mean to his fans; those who loved him from the start?...

Harry Potter over the years...

With the final instalment of the cinematic Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, finally breaking into cinemas, I find myself looking back on how J.K. Rowling’s story has influenced me over the last 14 years of its existence.

A fresh-faced Daniel Radcliffe begins his Harry Potter journey, and so do we...It may seem silly to those of you who have not grown up reading the Harry Potter books, or eagerly awaited the film’s release date every year since you were ten years old (as I have), but for me that the Harry Potter franchise has been a rather integral part to my early life. I’m not saying that I would have gone off the rails and become a menace to society if J.K. Rowling had never put pen to paper, but her characters and story were just another facet of my childhood that had a true influence on my interests, my imagination, and my developing emotions. The lure of magic and wonder was enough to get me interested, and enough to make me fantasise about casting spells and flying a broomstick to school, but it was the underlying themes that influenced me the most.

The Harry Potter fans of my generation have a unique experience of the story because we grew up with Harry Potter in a literal sense; as I was growing older, going through my awkward teenage years and adjusting slowly to the process of becoming an adult, so, too, was Harry. The first two film adaptations reflect perfectly the atmosphere of the first two books; they were happy and optimistic with a child-like fascination with magic and even danger. Chris Columbus directed them both, and accomplished his target. The third film however, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was directed by Alfonso Cuaron who took to the project with enthusiasm, making the tone and atmosphere much darker than its predecessors. While Cuaron left after only one film, the darker tone stayed (in a perhaps more muted fashion) throughout the rest of the series, following the trend of the books which also gravitate toward a more melancholy atmosphere as the threat of true danger grows until, by the seventh and final book, the tone is equal in emotion and depth to many adult books.

Maturity and coping with loss

A key feature of the Harry Potter saga is the theme of death. With Harry’s parents dead since he was a baby, the series instantly has As an orphan, Harry represented a very relatable character...that feeling of loss and absence and in the fourth instalment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, we witness first-hand the death of an innocent character. To add weight to the threat of the antagonist, Lord Voldemort, more prevalent characters begin dying in the fifth, sixth and seventh books, meaning that both Harry Potter and the audience are having to deal with significant loss, as these are characters that most readers will have begun to care for in earnest.

There is a real sense that J.K. Rowling wants to help her audience cope with the concept of death; child audiences are suddenly confronted with the stark reality that people die. And not just bad people, either. Good people. People who could be our friends or family. While this may seem a sombre lesson to contain within children’s stories, it is a lesson introduced late enough in the series that we have learned to care for the characters and the audience has reached an age at which they can understand the issues being discussed. Where these deaths highlight the tragedy of such events, it is Lord Voldemort’s obsession with becoming immortal that highlights the necessity of death, and our need to accept its natural place in the world; the character deaths in both the fifth and sixth books resonated with me, and because I mourned the loss of those characters I was able to implement those feelings to better cope with the losses I experienced in real life.

Valuable lessons for children

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, to my knowledge, was the first book I ever read from start to finish entirely on my own, having had the previous books read to me by either my mother or Stephen Fry, as I was a huge fan of the audio books that he narrated. I can therefore attribute some credit to J.K. Rowling for inspiring my love of literature in general, and indeed my ambition to write novels of my own.

A fond memory - Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireOn the surface, Harry Potter is a simple good vs. evil allegory, represented through a wide variety of characters with just as diverse motivations. But buried beneath the surface are deeper messages, not least of all the message of self-sacrifice, of helping others before yourself. There are many debates raging at the moment about J.K. Rowling’s faith and whether the events of the books and films are in any way influenced by Christian values. While some Christian values are blatantly apparent to me (especially in the final part, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), I do not think it matters whether the values are based in Christianity or not; what matters is that the values are good teachings for the children who will no doubt be hanging on Rowling’s every word - as I was.

The messages of the books are essentially choosing good over evil, and making your own sacrifices to help others. One quote from the character Albus Dumbledore was present in both book and film, and I think it encapsulates the ideas that Rowling wanted to communicate: “Soon we must all face the choice between what is right, and what is easy”, suggesting that evil is cowardly and lazy, unwilling to help others in light of selfishness. The line encourages children to be courageous and do what is it right, rather than take the easy option of bowing to evil.

While some of the ‘evil’ characters have a certain feeling of pantomime villains about them (which is most easily seen in Alan Rickman’s character, Severus Snape, in the films), eventually those farcical masks fall and, as with the Malfoy family of characters, we see a much deeper character development than may have been apparent at first, as they make the transition from stereotypical villains into real people having to deal with the consequences of their actions.

The perfection and fallibility of parental figures

Harry Potter - aka Daniel Radcliffe - half way through his journey...It is a widely recognised principle that the moment you become an adult is when you accept that your parents are not Gods, as you have always seen them, but merely human, and can make mistakes like anyone else. This is when you gain independence from them, cutting the metaphorical umbilical cord, because you recognise yourself as equal with them. This occurs with a huge impact in Rowling’s final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry and his two friends, Ron and Hermione, have set out alone to complete their task of defeating the evil forces at work, and it is here that J.K. Rowling reveals to us the fallibility of Albus Dumbledore, who has been something of a cornerstone for Harry throughout the series. Coincidentally, Dumbledore was my favourite character throughout the books because he represented safety, and from my innocent perspective (identical to Harry’s at this point) he could do no wrong. Once Harry begins to experience adult responsibility, however, he begins to realise that Dumbledore is not the perfect being that we were led to believe through child-like perception.

When Harry realises that Dumbledore is flawed, he is suddenly recognising himself as an adult who does not cater to the whims of others, but acts of his own accord. Throughout the series we are led as an audience to feel the same way about Dumbledore as Harry does; we idolise him. Meaning that when Harry doubts him, it comes as the same shock to the audience that our hero is no longer all-powerful in our minds, but a flawed individual like everyone else. I was seventeen years old when I finished the final book, and I found myself suddenly confronted with adulthood; in my mind, if Harry was an adult...then I must be one too.

A child’s worst fear: Adulthood

It was at this point, of reading the seventh and final book, that I realised the concept of becoming an adult was not as scary as it had once been. The books had been preparing me, steadily over a period of years, for adult life without me even noticing. I do not, and cannot, have the experience that many people have of watching the films having never read the books, so I cannot comment on whether the same effect takes hold if you only watch the films. The books, however, I can say with sincerity have truly helped me in the more difficult stages of growing up.

Harry Potter...the final chapter to a captivating and emotional franchise...Other than the obvious actor switch for the character of Dumbledore (from Richard Harris to Michael Gambon due to Harris’ death) all major cast members of the Harry Potter films have stayed the same for the duration of filming - which is pretty spectacular when you realise they’ve been filmed over a period of ten years. This continuity provides a certain comfort for those who were growing up as the films were released. Being of the ‘Harry Potter generation’, I am the same age as Emma Watson who plays Hermione, meaning that every time I went to see a new Harry Potter film, I could identify even further with the characters on screen because I was watching people my age, hence why I think the franchise has been so popular.

So now that the final film has arrived, not two months after my twenty-first birthday, I found myself crying at the end as I realised that the characters I have grown to love, the actors I have grown to admire, and myself along with a million other young people in my position have finally grown into adults and must face the world as the individuals that we have become.

Final thoughts

I realise that this has been a rather more personal, and seemingly pretentious, article compared to what a film review might be, but I hope that the personal aspect of this article will help you remember your fond Harry Potter memories, and if you haven’t encountered the story yet I hope this will encourage you to perhaps give it a go. I speak a lot about it being a ‘children’s franchise’, but really I think this particular story can be enjoyed by all. I am, after all, proudly looking forward to introducing my own children to Harry Potter in the hope that they can develop a love for books, seeking the same solace in the words as I did. Childhood is getting shorter and shorter these days, and while Harry Potter encourages kids to grow up with pride, it also helps adults (including me) remember what it’s like to be a child, and to never forget that important part of who we are.

See also:

Green-Eyed Jedi, or why I envy Harry Potter fans

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II review

Exclusive: Warwick Davis on Merlin, Potter, Depp and future Leprechaun

Stupefy! Harry Potter final trailer released

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 DVD Review

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part One Soundtrack Review

A Darker Generation: Toy Story 3 And Beyond


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Comments 

 
#1 An "adult's" perspective Crystal Henderson 2011-08-01 21:05
The first book came out in 1998 over here in the States. I was 21 years old when it was published. I heard a lot about it but assumed it was completely a children's novel. In 2001 I started reading it to my nephew and ended up finishing it the next day myself because it was so engrossing.

I completely agree that the tone and language of the books matured right along with it's main characters and it's audience. Even small things like the deluminator being called the "put-outer" in the first book really show that J.K. Rowling was very conscience of her audience throughout the entire process (and I really believe it takes a SKILLED writer to be able to tailor and evolve her style as her audience grew older). It's one of the things I was most impressed by.

But I think all of the themes you mention as well as the impact it had on you in respect to those themes were completely intentional by the author. The fact that she took such care with the tone and the language of her story and steadily took it from YA fiction to just plain fiction in a steady and smooth progression tells me that foremost in her mind (well, behind the story) was her audience. The kids who were growing up reading the books like you. And that's awesome.

As I said above, I read them as an adult and with an adult's perspective. But I noticed the same themes and remembered tihnking that when I do have children, I would want them to read these books. I don't think children should be sheltered from the concepts of death and loss but that those concepts and the lessons about them should be presented in a way that introduces them to loss and also teaches them how to cope with it in a healthy way. And she did that brilliantly.

These books will last for many generations (and rightly so) right alongside C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein. And that makes me very happy because I look forward to reading them with my children.
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