The very last Harry Potter film ever opened today. And yes — I saw it. And I’ll see it again tomorrow. The ritual of seeing HP movies on opening day with friends is apparently sacred. And I blew it saying yes to one friend and oops to the other. My attempt at a save is to say, well at least it’s opening weekend, and I’ll see it again tomorrow.
The thing is, we’ve already mourned the end of Harry Potter when the last book was published and devoured July, 2007. It’s just taken this long for the movies (and the rest of the franchise) to catch up.
J.K. Rowling has stated in a number of interviews that her Harry Potter series is a meditation on death and dying — and specifically, the loss of her mother to multiple sclerosis. Rowling had started writing HP at the time of her mother’s decline and death, but had not told her mum about it. And part of that terrible loss is not having your mum live to see your work come to life and flourish into a worldwide phenomenon. Her mum was only 45 years old when she died.
The Harry Potter series looks death squarely in the face. The death of one’s parents, first and foremost — making the point that a child (of any age) never gets over the grief. Here, Harry and Tom Riddle (Voldemort) share the same loss as Rowling, but their responses could not be more different. Rowling shows kids that we make choices about how we respond to such terrible loss. And it is our choices that define us.
Each book brings Harry another death of a key member of his support system (if that’s what you’d call it). By the last book (and penultimate film) Harry has lost not only his parents, but his godfather, his mentor, his familiar, and his wand. He’s left with nothing but his wits, his commitment, and — his best friends. And that is enough to carry him to the end.
But in that end, Harry (and Rowling) has to accept his own death. Face it. And not flinch, moan, or walk away.
And the final film lets him do just that. I’m just not sure the power of it comes through. And maybe it doesn’t have to. My expectation is that kids (and their elders) will watch the HP movies over and over just as they read the books again and again. If the point doesn’t come through the first time, maybe it will by the time they’re reading them to the next generation.
How do you face death? Here’s a question even Confucian monks of antiquity have pondered.
How do you face death — in a children’s book? A children’s set of books. Kids movies. And kids have flocked to both books and films. It’s a good reminder that kids want to tackle the big issues just as much as their elders do.
My son when he was a kid, gave me my first Harry Potter book. And insisted that I read it. And I read a page or two and put it down. And he insisted again, that I had to read it. I found Rowling’s writing so odd. I’d never read anything like it. She allowed herself to fly all over the place, linguistically speaking. She allowed herself to say things that she needed to pour out. She wasn’t thinking about making the big bucks. I don’t think making-the-big-bucks comes by trying to do so. I think the fame and popularity of Harry Potter came precisely because she kept her focus.
The volumes (and maybe the films) are Rowling’s kaddish for her mother. I can only hope that in completing the task that she feels some kind of release, some weight of sorrow lifted. My expectation, however is quite different. What I expect is that when we read whatever next pours from J.K. Rowling’s pen, the words will still reflect that loss. I’m not so sure that even writing a saga such as hers is enough to still the grief that led her to begin.