This past Friday at 12:01 a.m. marked the release of the 8th and final Harry Potter film. For a lot of the world, this didn't signify anything other than the last movie in a series that they felt was split to make sure they made as much cash as possible off of the franchise. For the rest of us, those devout Harry Potter fans, it meant so much more. I'm not sure what everyone's experience has been, but for me Harry Potter has been a life changing series.
I showed up late to the party with the books. The first one was released back in 1997, at the end of my Freshman year in high school, and I paid no attention. Even when I was working in the school library my Senior year and the librarian was posting articles from Time magazine about the phenomenon that was Harry Potter, I didn't really pay much attention. It wasn't until Jason was working for a store run by PBS and preparing for the release of the 4th book that I thought "Wow, this might be a big deal". He bought the books, brought them home and tore through them in just a couple of weeks and said "You have to read these. You have to". So I did, and that in itself was a game changer, because Jason and I had never shared the same taste in books before, but suddenly we had this commonality to work from and this addictive series to discuss and theorize over at length. Harry Potter brought us closer together. That's what this series does though, it brings people together. I can't tell you the number of people I've connected to through a common love of these books. When I worked for Waldenbooks, I bonded with staff and customers time and time again over how these books are not just a kids book series, but a common ground on which people can build relationships.
I don't think I would have gone into teaching if it hadn't been for Harry Potter. I know that sounds strange, but it's true. I spent so much time in the bookstore watching kids get excited for the release of a book in an age where the X-Box and iPod reigned supreme and I thought "It's not that kids don't want to read, it's that no one has made it exciting for them", and then I found myself thinking that maybe I could be that person. I suddenly wanted to be the person who lit that spark of fascination for kids who may not really care about reading. I wanted to excite people about books, and teach them how to think about them and analyze them and truly understand them. Selling books wasn't enough. I needed to teach them. So I went into education. Harry Potter put me on the path to a career that I would not have otherwise thought about going into, and it took my floundering uncertain 24 year old self and gave her purpose for the first time since she left high school. When I had the opportunity to meet J.K. Rowling, I was given about 3 seconds to say something to her. I said "Your books made me decide I wanted to teach" and her advice was "Don't be Snape".
My story is really just one of many, because fans all over the world can point to ways that this book series has changed their lives. Hank Green of Vlogbrothers fame saw his career launched when he wrote a song about the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The people of Haiti received 5 chartered jets filled with disaster relief and medical supplies from the HP Alliance, a charity group formed to carry the theme of the Harry Potter novels out into the real world through charitable deeds. A group of fans, young and old, who banded together to bring more love and good into the world, as inspired by the message J.K. Rowling so diligently wove into her novels. Their motto is "The weapon we have is love". Pretty powerful stuff to come out of a series of fiction novels.
My point is, these books have touched countless people, and changed lives in ways that no one would have initially expected. And now, as we reach the end of the series in its film form, we as fans come to a startling realization that we have nothing more to look forward to. We have nothing left but the relationships we have built, and the undiscovered paths that our lives will take as they have been touched by J.K. Rowling and her endearing characters. We have grown up with these books, these films, these characters. We have laughed and cried with Harry, Ron and Hermione. Now we are left to laugh and cry on our own. There will be no new experiences for us in the Potter universe, but there will always be new experiences elsewhere, and we will have to take what we have learned from Harry Potter along with us, and strive to carry on with creating a better world as we were inspired to do the first time we read those newly minted pages. As Dumbledore has said, "Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open". That is the world we strive for, thanks to the lessons we have learned from a small boy wizard and his friends.