Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Influence of Harry Potter Going Forward?

It’s not a surprise that the final Harry Potter film is on pace to make over 30 million dollars on midnight showings alone.  After all, it’s the culmination of the most popular young adult series of all time.  Actually, simply calling it that doesn’t do it justice.  It’s the final movie, and the shutting of the door, of an absolute 15-year phenomenon, and for an entire generation of fans, it essentially marks the end of their childhood.

Can you guess when the first Harry Potter book was released?  June of 1997.  Though I probably would have guessed around this date if asked, to think it came out when I was just a senior in high school gives me appreciation for its longevity.  When I was growing up and first yearned to read, I was fed books like “The Mouse And The Motorcycle,” by Beverly Cleary and “Freckle Juice,” by Judy Blume.  Though the books were enjoyable enough, they even felt somewhat dated and unrelatable even then.  Though we enjoyed movie trilogies like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, we didn’t have the group of magical books that we’d beg our parents to buy at midnight the day of their release.  We didn’t have that book that we’d stay up all night reading with a flashlight, not only because we wanted to know the end, but also so we wouldn’t feel left behind at school the next day.  Harry Potter was a true unifier and a story that an entire generation could call its own. And it should be noted that the Potter franchise never got stale or passé during a time period where EVERYTHING seems to run its course at hyper speed.  No matter what, it could do no wrong. 

I actually only read one of the novels, but it was easy to understand its power on the generation below me.  And from 1997-2007, this Potter generation literally grew up just as Harry did.  They had Potter themed birthday parties, went to Potter themed summer camps, involved themselves in numerous websites, even attended the Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, inspired many to read and dream, and perhaps partially contributed to the lower generation’s high sense of self.  After all, if three teenage magicians could save the world, why can’t they?

But not only did Potter fans get to enjoy Rowling’s books, they also received ten years of quality, top-of-the-line Hollywood adaptations that, from what I’ve been told, actually do justice to the books (I’ve seen all the movies thus far, and have been captivated by each and every one.)  So, really, Potter fans have been fed Potter related entertainment for the past 14 years.  It’s been an omnipresent fixture in their lives and has always given the fans something to truly look forward to.   And after this weekend, that will officially be over.  Fans who started reading the books at six, seven, eight, or nine are now just about to enter true adulthood, and this may act as their final sendoff as, in many ways, the end of the Potter series is a symbolic end to their youthful innocence, a time when they may have thought playing Quidditch was possible, even though it involved flying.

And it also marks the end of an era for Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson who literally grew up before our eyes over the course of the past ten years.  Regardless of what they do with their careers from this point forward, they will always be defined by these roles, and they will probably provide the face of the characters for future readers who pick up the books: which leads to my next question.

Though there will still be Potter related material, mostly on the web, available to fans, I do wonder how these books will be perceived in the future, and if future generations will enjoy them as much as the current one did.  And my best guess is they will not.  The Potter franchise took advantage of the first generation that grew up with true interactivity and many ways to feed their Potter addiction.  Part of the fun of Pottermania seemed to be the anticipation of future Potter material, which obviously won’t be an option for subsequent generations that read the books.  During the books’ run, discussions of the fate of Harry, Ron, and Hermione could be found anywhere.  Its secrets were kept hidden by the author (who wouldn’t even tell her own children), and when important character deaths were revealed, they seemed to be actually mourned by fans.  Clearly, a future generation cannot, and will not, have this reaction.  And though Potter was set in a magical world, it did seem to key on themes, thoughts, and fears of the generation that read them, and I wonder if the themes are universal enough to capture the attention of future generations, or if they will only stay popular because the generation telling them to read it wants to keep it alive for nostalgic reasons.  Because even for reasons I cannot explain, I did feel a certain disconnect to the characters, even while I enjoyed them.  This could simply be because I discovered them at an older age, and wasn’t as enraptured by the magical element of the story (or the silly names of the characters), or perhaps it’s because the story was never meant for someone like me, and may not be truly meant for the generation that hasn’t been born yet (even if this is unintentional).  After all, all works of fiction are influenced from the environment that surrounds the author, and as circumstances of the world change, nuances of story and perception do as well. 

Either way, Harry Potter is officially a part of the world lexicon and its influence will not die with the release of the final movie.  But knowing that this is probably the last new material we will see from the franchise (unless Rowling gets inspired), it puts to bed a story that truly defined a generation.

I’m sure for many (and for me in some ways); the end of the movie will be bittersweet.   

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