Today is 11/11/11. When I said this aloud to a pair of my brother’s friends, they laughed and were like, “Really? Is that what day it is? I thought that was on Monday.” Hah. Sarcasm. So funny.
Regardless, this will never happen again for another 100 years. Definitely not in my lifetime, obviously. It’s kind of cool that these things come around once a lifetime.
This makes me want to talk about something else that happens – in my opinion – once in a lifetime. Something so profound that it effects a generation of people; it shapes a childhood. I’m going to talk about Harry Potter.
I’ve never really been given crap about my immense obsession? Love? Mania? with this franchise. It’s not like Twilight or The Hunger Games. it’s different. So different. Because these books teach lessons to people (not saying the other ones don’t but…c’mon. There is a clear distinction). These books have helped people through the toughest times of their lives (just read Dear Mr. Potter, and that tells you that much). They have taught people to use their imagination. They have taught people that good can prevail over evil, even when things seem hopelessly lost. Most importantly, I think these books have taught us to dream. I guess we should all thank Miss Rowling, because she created this wonderful, marvelous, awesome boy/characters/world/magic that has fixated a generation unlike anything before.
This past summer, I went on a Study Abroad trip to NYC, and one thing we had to do was write a review about something we did or saw while we were there. My group saw a production of How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and I wrote a review on that, relating it to Harry Potter, because that musical starred none other than Daniel Radcliffe.
So, in lieu of the final DVD release of the eighth and final Harry Potter film (HPDH PT. 2 came out today, for those of you who didn’t know), I’m going to post my review/essay dedicated to Harry Potter and my childhood. I wrote it in the middle of June, so some of the information might be irrelevant, but it still means something to me. Always.
(Sorry, had to put that in there.)
When I was in second grade, I discovered a book about a boy who lived in a cupboard under the stairs. I found him at a school Scholastic book fair, the kind of book fairs I would beg my mother to let me buy more than two books, one it would take me ages to decide which books I wanted to buy, one where my mother only allowed me to purchase books, never any of the fun toys they sold there as well. On the cover of this particular book, a boy with glasses and untidy black hair was riding a broomstick; I grabbed the last one in the stack. Even at eight years old, I knew the last book on the shelf, hidden behind all the others, would be the most well kept, the one least likely to have been paged through or handled in any way.
The summer before third grade, I read that book about the boy who lived in a cupboard under the stairs. I read it with my mother; she had heard about it – probably through NPR, the talk radio station I hated with a passion at that young age – and how the author had basically been living in poverty and how the book was quickly gathering attention. The author was from Great Britain; there were already two other books released about that young boy.
Not only did that boy live under the stairs, I soon learned, he was also a wizard. He attended a school for other children like him – other witches and wizards – called Hogwarts. He belonged to a “house” called Gryffindor. He played a sport with flying broomsticks called Quidditch. He was an orphan. An evil wizard named Voldemort had killed his parents. He managed to get into all kinds of mischief. He was a rather strange boy, but that suited him just fine. Unable to wait for my mother, I finished that book by myself, reading the last chapter about how this young boy successfully defeated his Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and won the house cup for Gryffindor. A lovely, happy ending.
There was a second book. I read about this boy’s adventures, the boy now twelve, this time completely by myself. I was in third grade, after all; I was more than capable of reading a 300 plus page book on my own. This strange boy managed to get into more mischief, this time with the help of his two best friends, a tall, gangly, freckled boy and very smart girl. Again, there was another, wonderful, happy ending.
There was a third book. I received it for Christmas that same year I finished the first and second; I remember my mother telling me I was not allowed to read it without her because she had heard it was “darker” than the first two. This did not discourage me in the least bit. After reading the first three or four chapters with her, I continued reading it in the dark by flashlight after everyone else had gone to bed; when she found out – as she did – she shook her head, rolled her eyes, and allowed me to finish it by myself once more.
But it was not dark. It was…magical. The young boy was now thirteen. There was an escaped convict from the wizarding prison – a dreary place called Azkaban – on the loose. There was finally a professor whom the young boy wizard could confide in, someone who had known his parents. The young wizard helped his Quidditch team finally win the Quidditch House cup, and, in the end, he gained a godfather, someone who finally loved and cared for him. Once more, the boy who used to live in a cupboard under the stairs had a magical, happy ending.
By the time I finished the first three in the – I soon learned – seven part series, a fourth book had been released. By the time I finished the fourth book and eagerly awaited the fifth, the excitement and anticipation surrounding the boy-who-lived and his story was felt worldwide.
I had fallen in love with Harry Potter.
In 2001, Warner Bros. Studios released the feature film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The title role starred a relatively unknown boy named Daniel Radcliffe. I was in fourth grade. My mother would not let me go to the midnight showing, but she did allow me to miss school that Friday – November 16, I won’t ever forget – and see the first matinee show at 10:45. I remember my fourth grade teacher had found out and was quietly furious, but it was not in her jurisdiction to say I had no right to go see a movie in the middle of a school day. Besides, I got good grades.
In 2002, Warner Bros. Studios released the second in the seven part series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The fifth book would be released that summer, after a three-year hiatus, and “Harry Potter mania” was by now a worldwide phenomenon. The young stars of the movies, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, were fast becoming household names, and it was clear they were in the middle of something none of which the world had ever seen before. There had never been a phenomenon quite like the Harry Potter series.
As the years went by and the fifth book was released in June of 2003, I grew up. I read the fifth book the summer before sixth grade and grieved with Harry over the loss of his godfather, the closest thing he had to a parent. That was the first book that did not have a happy ending. The ending of the fourth had been shocking, but not unhappy.
I watched the actors grow a little more in the third movie, released at the end of my sixth grade year.
In the sixth book, I laughed at Ron and Hermione’s now apparent sexual tension and smiled as Harry realized he was in love with his best friend’s sister. I was shocked when Snape betrayed everyone, and I cried when Dumbledore died, the first book ever to make me cry. This was another book that did not, truly, end happily.
I watched the fourth and fifth movies, the longest books in the series, and I waited with baited breath for the seventh and final installment to be released the summer before my sophomore year of high school.
I could not get through it fast enough, but I also never wanted it to end. The end would mean no more stories of Harry and Ron and Hermione, Hagrid and the Forbidden Forest, the rest of Weasley’s, of Dumbledore, mad professors, and Quidditch and Potions and Charms and Transfiguration and Defense Against the Dark Arts
I cried twice during that volume.
Once finished, I felt strange, almost like I had lost something and did not know where to look for it. I was in a kind of hazy funk; I remember starting another book almost immediately, but I still thought about that seventh and final installment again and again. It was the end for Harry Potter. At least, though, this final book had a happy ending.
But I knew it was not really the end. There were still two more movies to be released. Three, in fact, as the announcement was soon made after the seventh book had been released that the final chapter for Harry Potter would be broken into not one, but two films. There was so much more to look forward to in the next several years.
This summer, on July 15, 2011, the final Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, will be released. It All Ends is what the posters are saying, depicting a battle scene between good and evil the likes the world has never seen. The trailers are enough to send chills down your spine, and the cliffhanger at the end of Part 1 allowed for the excitement to build tangibly during the seven-month gap. This, after falling in love with Harry Potter at the tender age of eight and traveling with him during his adventures for eleven years, will truly be the end.
Last night in New York City at the Al Hirschfield Theater on W 45th St, I saw Daniel Radcliffe star in the Broadway musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He played the title role of J. Pierrepont Finch (“That’s F-I-N-C-H!”), a window cleaner living in New York City who starts taking advice from a book about how to succeed in business and begins climbing his way to the top of a large corporation. The show also starred John Larroquette who, on Sunday, won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his role as J.B. Biggley, the president of the company. There was no doubt this musical would be entertaining. It was fast-paced, lively, and unlike some musicals that drag on too long in Act II with you wishing the song would just end already, this one was perfect, to the point, and I almost wished it had gone on a little longer.
Although Daniel Radcliffe was surely the face of the show – his smiling, blue-eyed visage plastered on billboards and buses all over Manhattan – John Larroquette was the star. He produced many one-liners that were so quick you had to make sure you listened close enough to catch them; his singing voice was strong and he had a great stage presence that was truly mesmerizing. Together, he and Radcliffe managed to share the stage equally, even during their duet in “Grand Old Ivy.”
That is not to say Daniel Radcliffe was not good as well. He was superb, showing he will not be typecast forever as “the-boy-who-lived,” adapting well to the stage. His American accent, though, in my opinion, coming across as whiny and nasally, was spot on and not even a little of his British accent showed through. His singing was pleasing, but it was the dancing that I think surprised me the most. In that aspect, he was fantastic, running across the stage with perfectly choreographed dance moves that made me forget for a moment I was watching him on a stage and not in a movie. “Brotherhood of Man” was by far the best number of the whole production, and even the witty quips they threw his way to poke fun of who was, (Businessman: “Why don’t you just use Queen Elizabeth?” Finch: “This is an American program.” *Cue Laughter*) were admired and appreciated.
The underside of this production was the typical 1950’s housewife aura some musical numbers (“Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” “A Secretary is Not a Toy”) revealed. The original How to Succeed was produced in the 1960’s when it was perfectly acceptable for a woman to want to find a husband and stay at home instead of continuing in the work force, but it annoyed me a little in the fact that many women still strive to find this as their main goal even today. The women in the cast had excellent voices, especially Ellen Harvey, who played Miss Jones and showed off her wide range of vocal chords during “Brotherhood of Man.” Unfortunately, the two leading men – as well as the other minor characters such as Christopher Hanke’s Bud Frump, Biggley’s brazen do-gooder nephew (hilarious in the number “Coffee Break”) – stole the show and more or less shoved the women in the background, making them quite forgettable.
Not only had I grown up in the past few years, but Daniel Radcliffe had as well. He was no longer Harry Potter; I do believe he will always be, in every fan’s hearts, Harry Potter, but he just wasn’t anymore. Last night, on that stage, he was J. Pierrepont Finch (“F-I-N-C-H!”), a young man trying to make his way in the world with the advice from a book. When the announcer came on to ask everyone to turn off their cell phones and the conductor began the opening score, programs were shut, backs were straightened, and necks were craned as the anticipation built to see the man come out on stage as someone we did not know as well as that young boy wizard. The cheers and applause came as the voice of Anderson Cooper (the narrator of the How to Succeed book for the duration of the show) rang out and Radcliffe’s grin spread throughout the whole theater; there was a feeling of great delight and joy to see this young man take on a whole new persona, one far from behind the camera of robes and witchcraft and wizardry in the world of Harry Potter.
When the final Harry Potter film is released in less than a month, it will be met with much enthusiasm and anticipation. It will be met with crowds flocking to the theater to watch the fate of this beloved boy – who is now a young man – as he takes on the most sinister of evils and tries desperately to save the people he loves. It will be met with costumes and parties and midnight showings. It will be met with laughter, and it will be met with tears. The characters that the ever-loyal fans of this magnificent series have come to love will say their final adieu on the screen, and, finally, it will truly be over.
I do not wish it to be over, not in the least. For me, it is quite bittersweet as I feel myself getting choked up even thinking about it. My whole childhood was spent with this boy; I was at the perfect age to have been thrust into the world that J.K. Rowling created nearly twenty years ago; I grew up with these characters, felt what they felt, and I can truly thank Harry for giving me an imagination that will help me into adulthood. I believe this final film, this film where “It All Ends” is like closing the door on my childhood. I am in college now, entering my sophomore year, and I am already considering what my serious plans for the future are. It scares me, but I feel prepared. And if I could explain it at all, it would be because I had Harry Potter to grow up with. In second grade I knew then that I liked to read, even at a young age, but I believe it was Harry who clinched that fate for me, the fate where I would love to read, where I would feel most comfortable in a book store or a library surrounded by words, by pages, by so many different stories, where I would get lost in a book without even trying, delving deeper and deeper into the lives of characters and wanting more even after the last page was turned.
For me, this final film will be met with excitement and anticipation. Anticipation that I do not know when I will feel again for something so simple as a film or book. I closed the pages on Harry’s story four years ago when I read the final words of the seventh book, but I knew there would be several more films, with several more years of anticipating this final installment. Now what will happen when the final credits roll? There will not be a midnight showing to this magnitude, as far as I can see, ever again. I have been part of a worldwide phenomenon, a special, magical fascination with a set of novels and the story they contain. So, I do not regret saying that as much as I am excited for this film, I am also despairing over it being the end. It all ends. Nothing has ever sounded so final before. Quite the contrast to “The magic begins” that graced posters everywhere for that first film ten years ago.
Harry and his friends have taught me so many lessons. Lessons on standing up for what you believe in, even if it is not always right. Lessons on friendship. On family. On bravery. On life. On love. Ms. Rowling created a world that has resonated with millions of hearts all over the world, creating something that will last forever. These characters, this world this genius of a woman created, will be read by future generations, the story about “the-boy-who-lived” passed on from child to child. To have something that will last that long and to have lived during its hay day is something I am grateful to have experienced. I can still read every book and not get bored, even though I know what is going to happen next; I can still feel the magic every time I turn the page. To have that happen for a book is extraordinary in its own right. Harry Potter will always be there, even after the final story has been told.
So, watching Daniel Radcliffe on that big Broadway stage brought things into perspective. Sure, I’ll be sad when the Hogwarts Express pulls away in that final scene and the final film’s credits start rolling, but, like Daniel, I’ll be moving on to bigger and better things. I still have my whole life ahead of me, and a childhood full of memories to look back on and smile. I have people I have grown closer to because of a mutual love for Harry Potter, and I cannot even think what my life would be like without them. I have a cherished set of seven books that will go with me wherever I move in life, and I will pass on the boy wizard’s story to my children someday.
And that copy of the first book I picked up at that Scholastic Book Fair over ten years ago? No longer is it a clean and crisp and pristine paperback, but a well worn, well read, beloved book with a cover practically falling off, scotch tape helping it cling to the edges of its binding.
And that, my friends, is what I consider to be a happy ending.
-Written on: Saturday June 18, 2011