Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thank You J.K. Rowling

Yesterday, I took my son to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, a fact that seems fairly mundane given that literally millions of other parents did the same. But for me, it was special, a not-quite-final step on a journey my son and I have traveled together.

Ask anyone with a 19 year old son. Having him choose his mother as a movie date is a rare thing. A young man of 19 generally prefers his friends, his girlfriend, even his younger brother for an evening at the multiplex.

But this was Harry, and Harry is ours.

I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone eight years ago when a student recommended it. I remember thinking the characters were vivid and likable and the plot was original, but most importantly, I remember thinking my eldest son, then 11, would like it. I had not come to grips with the fact that he didn't enjoy reading fiction. I love fiction passionately. I had read stories to him since he was in the womb. How was it possible he didn't feel the same way I did?

The only fiction my son ever enjoyed was fantasy. He had a collection of books about dragons and the origin of dragon myths. He liked stories about magic. Harry seemed the perfect vehicle to show him the the joys of reading fiction for pleasure.

I bought him the book and then watched it sit on the floor next to his bed, untouched. When it disappeared under the pile of various and sundry crap that always seems to litter his floor, I changed tactics. I offered to read it aloud to him at night. He has always enjoyed being read's how we got through Jane Eyre, so he could pass Senior English.

We started with chapter one, "The Boy Who Lived," and I could see the interest on his face, but then as we read chapter two and the first part of chapter three, I lost him. He was the same age as Harry, and he hated the way the Dursleys treated Harry, so much so, he wanted to stop. The effect of that mistreatment is mitigated in the movies by making the Dursleys objects of derision, but in print, with nothing but an 11 year old's imagination, it was powerful.

We stopped reading for a week. He refused to read a story where the character he identified with was so powerless. I begged him to persevere, swore to him it would get better, and promised the Dursleys would get their comeuppance. And he finally, albeit reluctantly, agreed. Once Hagrid arrived and whisked Harry away to Hogwarts, he was hooked.

Interestingly, Voldemort never seemed as threatening to my son as those abusive, neglectful Dursleys. There is a poignant moment early in the Deathly Hallows where Harry takes one last look at the cupboard under the stairs. My son and I turned to each other, and he smiled. Both he and Harry had moved past those bad times early in the story. The Dursleys no longer held any power over either of them. It was one of those transformative moments the best kind of stories bring, where you feel what the character is feeling.

After the first book, my son read the rest of the series on his own. The summer the fifth book, The Order of the Phoenix, was released, we went to a midnight release party. He was a piece in a game of wizard's chess. We drank butterbeer and ate lots of foul-tasting Bertie Botts every flavor beans. Then, we both stayed up all night with the book. Yes, we each had a copy.

We have seen all of the movies together. Even as he got older, got his driver's license, and became more independent, we still shared Harry. He never considered seeing any of the movies with anyone else. We discussed the different directors' visions, the minute changes in plot, the choice of actors. (Neither of us got over the loss of Sir Richard Harris and his Dumbledore. The new guy never measured up.)

I'm glad the producers decided to break the last book into two movies. Even though my son and I both groaned after the last scene in part one, I have at least one more Harry Potter experience to share with my son. I'm glad it's not over yet.

I sobbed, yes, literally sobbed, through the last twenty pages of The Deathly Hallows, and I know I will cry at the end of the last movie. I love those characters that much. They are real to me. That final sacrificial walk Harry takes into the forest is archetypal and so well-written, I was there with him. And so was my son. He walked that journey with Harry, and he cared as much as I did.

Thank you J.K. Rowling. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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