Friday, January 6, 2012

Today's Feature: Why I Refuse to Say Goodbye to Harry Potter

(Image courtesy of Daily Mail)
Today is Day 5 of featuring either a writing piece or something I have participated in from the past couple of years (and originally posted on either the T.W.O. BLOG or OMGWire). Yesterday, I featured my On The Scene report from attending one of the Seattle audition tapings for The X Factor. I hope you enjoyed getting the inside scoop on that, as well as the pictures.

Today is the final day for this feature as part of Launch Week. Last summer, the final Harry Potter movie was released. And after I saw that final movie for the first time, I started writing down my thoughts on it all ending. I put it aside for quite a while. But when the DVD was released a couple of months ago, I thought it would be the perfect time to share it online. The below essay was originally posted on OMGWire.

Until Next Time...
Or, Why I Refuse to Say Goodbye to Harry Potter

By Jeff Dodge

I didn't want to write this. I really didn't. It's been about four months now since the final Harry Potter movie came out, and I may have been in denial. In denial that the end was here and it's passed by me in a flash. I didn't want to write this, because I didn't want to say goodbye.

I first met Harry Potter in 1999. I was 11, the same age Harry was when he received his letter to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I never received mine, but I got so much more than just a mere letter. On Christmas Eve of that year, I received the first three books as a Christmas gift from my step-grandma. I had never heard of this series before, but thanked her because she knew I loved to read. Little did she (or I) know how much that one choice would change my life forever, would turn out to be more than just a simple gift.

But it didn't start that way. I began reading Sorcerer's Stone, and can you believe it when I say I didn't get very far before I stopped reading and stored the books away? At that time, it didn't catch my attention for some reason. A few months later, though, I was going through my closet and rediscovered Harry Potter sitting there with my other books. I decided to give it another chance. And boy am I glad I did. I can't even imagine what my life would have been like if I didn't. Before I knew it, I had swallowed up all three pretty much in one gulp and hungered for more. The problem? The fourth book wouldn't be released until summertime. And so Harry Potter went on the backburner again, but only temporarily. On the morning of July 8, 2000, I received a call from my mom (I had stayed at my grandparents' beach house the previous night) that UPS or some other delivery truck had pulled up and delivered a package. She didn't think she had ordered anything, so she was a little confused. But when she opened it, there was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I had completely forgotten that I had entered a contest through one of the bookstores at the mall to win a free copy of the book. I told her to make sure to bring it with her when she came out to the beach house later that day. To the average person, two weeks might seem like a short time to read a 734 page book. And at the time, it was fast for me. (My speed time would quicken for the remaining books).

Goblet of Fire changed everything. Not just for me, but for the fandom and the franchise. After Goblet of Fire, I discovered Harry Potter fansites, who were all dissecting and analyzing the books for clues to what would happen next. I read through every single news item and rumor to see what the plot of book 5 would be. It was excruciating to have to wait three (THREE!!!) years for Order of the Phoenix.

Tragedy struck just over a year later, on September 11, 2001. Just over a year after we read that Voldemort returned to the wizarding world, just as strong as ever. Who hijacked those planes and flew them into those towers? Were they You-Know-Who's most trusted and loyal Death Eaters, sent to cause chaos and destruction in the Muggle world? No explanation, not even one involving Harry Potter, could create any sort of reasoning for what happened on that day.

We were not only having to wait three years for the next book, but also reeling from the horror of 9/11. Fortunately, we had something to look forward to in the meantime, something to keep our mind off of the tragedy. The first movie came out in the fall of 2001, and my great-aunt and I watched it together that November. Before this, my great-aunt had fast become a Harry Potter fan as well. We may be two generations apart, but it goes to show that Harry Potter is no mere "children's" series. I still remember leaving the theater after seeing that first movie and questioning the differences between the book and the movie. My aunt pointed out that not everything can make it into a movie. That's when I first learned about the ways of translating a book for the big screen. She and I have gone to every single HP movie in theaters, and switching over to IMAX when Harry Potter started playing there (beginning with Prisoner of Azkaban).

And over the years from one movie to the next, I cheered and jeered along with every other fan on the filmmakers' decisions. Cheered for John Williams' iconic music. Jeered the exclusion of who the Marauders were (effectively destroying one of the major plot points in the entire movie). Praised the darker tones of the latter films. Winced at Daniel Radcliffe's terrible crying ability in PoA and the freeze-frame of his face as the final shot of the movie. Criticized Michael Gambon's portrayal of Dumbledore in GoF and OotP. And applauded the filmmakers' attention to detail with the sets, costumes and locations.

But back to the books now. When Order of the Phoenix finally came out in 2003, I zipped through it in three days. My grandpa was extremely impressed with my speed time there (my parents were on vacation at the time). I became angry along with Harry when nobody (not even Dumbledore or his best friends, Ron and Hermione) would tell him anything over the summer about what the wizarding world was doing after the return of Voldemort. Starting with GoF and continuing with this book, the frenzy was on to pre-order the books as soon as they went on sale for pre-order online, and to have them delivered the same day as the release date.

Two years later came Half-Blood Prince, which is my favorite HP book to this day (and I beat my record by finishing it in two days). Sure, it takes on the darkness that the previous one did, but J.K. Rowling (or Jo, as we call her) perfectly balanced it out with the comedy, which I loved. During the climax when Dumbledore and Harry have returned to Hogsmeade/Hogwarts after seeking out the locket horcrux, my heart began to beat fast seeing how weak Dumbledore had gotten. And up on the astronomy tower, my heart beat faster and faster as Malfoy, Snape and the Death Eaters had Dumbledore surrounded. When Snape carried out the deed, my whole body felt numb. How could that have happened?

Then came the dreadful day that was July 21, 2007, the day the final book came out. I dreaded that day like the plague, just like I dreaded the day four years later when gearing up for the final movie. The first chapter of Deathly Hallows was all about Voldemort, which didn't seem to be a good sign for Harry's prospects. All within my first two days of reading, two fatalities occurred that got to me. I was stunned to find out that Hedwig died. Sure, she never talked and was never a major character in the series. But Hedwig symbolized Harry's childhood, and ours as well. And we knew were were growing up when this fateful event occurred. Out of all the major deaths in the series, none have matched the shock and emotion I felt when Bellatrix's knife stabbed Dobby, causing his death. Dumbledore was a bigger and more present character than Dobby, but for some reason, Dobby's death stung. That was hard to recover from. On the third night, just before midnight, I finished the final chapter, the final page, the final paragraph and then the final sentence: "All was well." Sure, Harry turned out all right in the end, but how could anything be well right now, when the series that I grew up with just came to an end? I wasn't thinking about the future movies or anything else; I was focused on the books.

As I said, I first met Harry Potter in 1999 during my first year of middle school, and the same age that wizards and witches begin at Hogwarts. The final book came out a year after I finished high school. And the final movie was released only a month after I graduated from college. I think the timing of it all is very symbolic, don't you think?

There are only a few major things in my life that I can point to and specifically say how much it's influenced me to become the person I am today. One is a combination of attending 10th Street Middle School (where everyone has to play an instrument) and watching American Idol. Through those two outlets, I not only learned how to play music, but I gained an immense appreciation and love for music of all kinds. The other is being introduced to Harry Potter. And I wouldn't have it any other way. I don't remember everything I learned in school (sorry teachers), but I do know Harry Potter pretty much inside and out (thank you Jo!).

If it weren't for Harry Potter, maybe I wouldn't have appreciated J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis even more than I already did. If it weren't for Harry Potter, maybe I wouldn't have been introduced to Twilight, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Tunnels, or The Hunger Games. But I did. Who knows, maybe I wouldn't be writing my own stories now if it weren't for Harry and Jo. And for that, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Who would have thought that a book would cause millions of people around the world to go to their local midnight, no less, and read, no matter if it was the middle of the night or the middle of the afternoon? That's what the power of a book can do.

I didn't want to write this, because I didn't want to say goodbye. The tagline for the final movie claimed, "It All Ends." But I realize now that I don't have to say goodbye; that I, in fact, refuse to say goodbye, that it doesn't have to end here. Why? Because "It is out choices, Harry..." as Dumbledore so wisely put it. I choose not to give up. Harry Potter will always be in my life, long after the books and movies. I look forward to the many times when I will go back and revisit the book series (including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Quidditch Through the Ages, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard), starting with "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much" and concluding with "All was well," rewatching the movies, listening to the soundtracks again, being able to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme part someday for myself, and yes, with the new chapter that is Pottermore. "It's not really goodbye, after all." Dumbledore never spoke truer words. However flawed, he always had the wisest of words to pass on to us.

But more than all of that, what Harry Potter has give me already is something that I can never give up. It's embedded deep within me, in my veins, in my heart, in my brain, in my whole being. The story of Harry Potter is on the fiction shelf in your local bookstore and library. But in truth, there is nothing fiction about it at all. "Of course it's happening in your head, Harry," Dumbledore said, "why should that mean it's not real?" There's nothing fiction about the power of choosing between what is right and what is easy, the power of choice itself, of love, of friendship, of loyalty, of right and wrong. That is all real, and it all has sprung forth out of the pages and into our everyday lives and made us who we are, has made me who I am and who I will always be.

I didn't not want to write this. But I did. And now I am glad I did. Because instead of saying goodbye to Harry Potter, I am looking at this as a book itself. With the release of the final movie behind us, we have finished one more chapter on this journey. Another chapter will begin soon. And another after that. And even more, for years and decades to come. I can look back on all the great memories, and reminisce. That is why this isn't goodbye. Harry once said of Dumbledore, "He'll never be gone -- not as long as those who remain are loyal to him." I would say the same thing of Harry. Harry Potter will never be gone, not as long as those who remain are loyal to him (and to Jo).

So I thank my step-grandma for introducing me to the series in the first place. I thank my great-aunt for being there with me on this journey through all the books and movies. And a very special thank you and immense gratitude to Jo herself for the series that defines a generation. My generation, in fact. (Mine is the only generation to have grown up with the series, and I wouldn't have it any other way). That day on a train when an idea popped into her head about a boy who discovers he's a wizard. Who knows how that idea sprang forth in the first place. That's the great thing about writers; a genius idea can come out when nobody expects it.

And I come away from this being able to gladly quote J.K. Rowling herself as she concluded the chapter of this journey that is the books, and that is...

All Was Well.

Jeff Dodge, Ravenclaw

Follow me on Twitter @TheJeffDodge. I tweet various thoughts and opinions there. And anything I post on this blog will be tweeted there as well (so that's the best way to find out when the blog's updated). And if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, either tweet me or e-mail me.

Stay tuned for my Recommendations of the Week, which will be up here on Sunday.

See ya later...

No comments:

Post a Comment