The Boy Who Lived (No Spoilers)
I was a little late joining the Harry Potter party. When the first book came out in the US in September of 1998, I was a senior in high school. I don't even remember hearing about Harry Potter much at all until college, when my education-major roommate decided to read the first book to see what all the hype was about. When the first movie came out in 2001, I went to see it with my mom and sister, and found it interesting enough to ask for the first three books for Christmas. It was all over after that, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was never unseated as my favorite book of the series.
I've never been an overzealous fan of the series, never spent any time on Harry Potter forums or written any fanfiction or spent hours dissecting every last plot point, speculating how the whole thing would end. I was content to read and re-read, quietly contemplate, and then wait happily for the next book to come out. I never pre-ordered the books, or even bought any in hardcover, since I like my sets of books to match, and had received paperback copies of the first three.
That said, I really enjoyed the midnight release party for book 7 that I attended with Evilducky, the bibliophile, and Danger. It felt like a rock concert for book nerds, and it was fabulous. From the little bitty kids dressed as witches and wizards--some so young I wondered if they are ready for the darker stuff that happens in the later books--to the white-haired clerk who dressed up as the lady from the Gryffindor Tower portrait, to the 40-something woman in witch robes with a Hedwig puppet, for the brief time we were together, I loved them all. Hundreds of people, packing a bookstore and staying up to a ridiculous hour, standing in line for 30 minutes for a cup of coffee or a cookie, running around doing HP-themed scavenger hunts...all of them were there because they love a series of books enough to spend a Friday night being complete geeks.
I love that I had a chance to witness and to some extent participate in a cultural phenomenon that involves reading. Usually it's bad pop music or weird fashion trends or reality TV that gets people all wound up, so to see the same fervor directed toward books was very cool. I love the idea that a kid might see one of the movies and then be elated to discover that there is a denser and even more magical version of Harry's world to be experienced through the books. There's something very encouraging a series that appeals to such a broad range of people. Nerdy bookish kids, popular kids, parents, grandparents, college students, twenty-somethings--just about every demographic seems to have embraced some degree of Harry Potter fandom.
There really is some magic in it after all, I think. Probably my favorite element of the entire Harry Potter thing is the way that it introduces a shot of imagination and "what if" into the world. Just like lots of kids spent several years opening wardrobes and closets, hoping to get into Narnia, just like I always wished for a Terabithia of my own (without the dying at the end of the story), I have a feeling a lot of kids will spend some magical hours daydreaming about receiving their first letter from Hogwarts, about meeting Hagrid and riding on the Hogwarts Express, about going to Transfiguration lessons and Quidditch practice instead of math class and PE. It's been a long and enjoyable journey, and though I'm a little sad that it's basically over (though two more forthcoming movies do ease the sting a bit), I'm grateful that I was in the right place at the right time to participate, and I'm looking forward to re-reading the entire series from beginning to end. And secretly, I think I'll always hope that someday I'll run into Professor McGonagall...or at least a tabby cat with spectacle markings around her eyes.