The Harry Potter film series is beginning its end with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 on Friday, November 19. A cinematic journey that began in 2001, we’ve watched Harry, Ron, and Hermione grow up and battle evil for almost ten years. Well, I should say, some of us have watched them grow up. As I read Focus on the Family’s review of Part 1, I was reminded of why I stopped reading the books and watching the movies.
They are just too good.
I was in eighth grade when the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was published in the United States, in 1998. There was much turmoil in Christian families and churches about whether children should read these books. How could one argue against the blatant wizardry and witchcraft? It seemed like an easy decision: Christians don’t read Harry Potter.
Yet many did, and still do. One of my good friends, an avid Potter fan, triumphantly and frequently quoted our church’s associate pastor who once said during a sermon, “Maybe we need to read Harry Potter before we criticize it” (paraphrase). Staunch disapproval gave way to intrigued and later enthusiastic acceptance as Christian readers discovered the literary genius of J.K. Rowling.
And a literary genius she truly is. Rowling has created a fully realized world that captures the imagination. Her style is simple yet deep and emotional as she effortlessly describes scenes and characters. The mechanical task of reading the words slips into the background and you are left with simply the experience of Harry’s world. You don’t just read about Hogwarts – you go to Hogwarts. You don’t just read about the dementors and the order of the Phoenix – you live in the house with Harry and Co. Rowling is undeniably gifted as a writer. This fact is evidenced by how even children (or perhaps we should say, even adults) are able to finish the books despite the enormous page counts.
But how do I know all of this, you may be asking? Well‚ I snuck the books. I first read them in high school, keeping them quietly hidden by my bed in the basement. I whizzed through the first book and was well into the second one when my sister discovered them and told my parents. I can still remember waking up later that night and hearing my mom upstairs. I went up and talked to her, and she told me how upset she was that I had brought those books into the house. “I do not want that spirit in my house,” she said.
I submitted and stopped reading the books. At least until my freshman year in college.
I discovered that the university bookstore carried the books, and so between classes I would grab a package of strawberry Pop-tarts and a Potter book and read in the corner of the bookstore. I read The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Order of the Phoenix in this manner. (I can’t exactly remember why I skipped The Goblet of Fire. I think the bookstore was out of stock at the time.) I can still remember the feeling of the thick book in my lap, sitting next to the fake fireplace with paper flames that fluttered orange and red as Harry conjured the white Stag.
Though I read the books, I still wrestled with whether I should or not. I mean, there’s magic in Lord of the Rings, right? And in Chronicles of Narnia? Why were Harry and his fellow wizards and witches any different? I enjoyed the books too much to give them up because of an undecided conviction, so I kept reading and watching.
But there was still that feeling.
I distinctly remember what it felt like to leave the bookstore after reading for hours. I would walk outside, the winter sky dim and cold, and I would by sheer will power pull myself back to the real world. Rowling’s writing was so well-crafted and Harry’s world so intriguing that it engrossed me, pulled me in and became an imaginative world that always lingered on the edge of my mind. It always took a few minutes to bring myself back to reality, and even then my thoughts stayed at Hogwarts. I was fascinated by Harry’s world. If it came down to reading the latest book or spending time with the Lord, I most definitely would have chosen Harry.
And so I stopped. For good, this time.
The books and films have continued to come out, and they continue to be attractive in their storytelling. Many times I have thought that maybe I’ll just get the last two books from the library and finish them really fast. But always that feeling creeps back in, that fascination, whispering and luring me into another world that distracts me from rather than encourages my walk with the Lord.
Thus the Harry Potter movies come to the end without me. I still don’t know the ending of the story, whether Harry lives (I’m betting not) or with whom Hermione finally falls in love (Ron just doesn’t seem like the right fit). But as long as that feeling keeps showing up, like it did while reading Focus on the Family’s review, I think I’ll let Harry leave Platform 9 3/4 without me.
Strawberry Pop-tarts, however, are here to stay.