Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Harry Potter and the Mid-Life Crisis

Several years ago, Sylvia presented me with a boxed set of the Harry Potter books for my birthday. I was delighted, for friends whose opinions I trust raved about the books.

I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone almost immediately, and while I was impressed by J.K. Rowling's worldbuilding and the sophisticated (for the genre) twist ending, I was left a little underwhelmed. It certainly didn't feel like a book that deserved such phenomenal acclaim. Perhaps I was comparing Harry Potter unfavourably to Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic, which had tread much of the same territory some years previously.

The next few titles left me feeling much the same way; I appreciated them, but I didn't adore them. In fact, I read the books at a very leisurely pace, cracking one open every couple of years.

It wasn't until Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that I started to feel truly invested in the characters and the main story arc. Even midway through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I began to feel as though I was simply too old and set in my prejudices to embrace the books properly - just as I felt about the latest Star Wars film.

But, determined to finish, last night I came to bed and resolved to wrap up the series. And then, at about the point when Harry and his friends were finally starting to turn things around, the magic happened - so to speak. Suddenly I saw how carefully Rowling had constructed her fantasy world, how skillfully she developed her characters, their relationships, and the themes holding the story together. And when Harry learns the truth about everything, I had to keep myself from a little cry of exultation lest I wake up Sylvia.

I'm very grateful I managed to finish the series unspoiled, so I won't go into much detail lest I ruin the experience for others. In the end, the series is a triumph of children's and fantasy literature, and stands as a compelling, cohesive work. Not only that, it reminded me of how exquisitely felt are the emotions of adolescence and early adulthood. There's nothing quite as sweet as the pain and joy of young romance and the quest to discover yourself, and Rowling captured that experience masterfully. For a couple of hours last night, I felt young again.

Perhaps in a decade or two I'll read the series one more time, start to finish, with less jaded eyes. I think I owe Rowling that much. 

1 comment:

susan_rn92 said...

I haven't read the series either, but your take on it made me think about growing up. It isn't until we are in our maturity that we can look back and understand the process we went through in childhood and adolescence. Most everyone endures periods of confusion and asking "why." Most of the time, it is later that we can answer that for ourselves.