Unless you have been living under a rock, as the saying goes, you are probably aware that at midnight tomorrow night, the seventh and final book of J.K. Rowling‘s “Harry Potter” series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will go on sale across the world. An unprecedented 10 million plus copies of this book have been printed, and I have no doubt it will quickly sell out. Our family has two copies reserved already, and The Lovely Anna is considering getting one or two more when she goes to the bookstore with our kids in the wee hours of Saturday morning. At 700 plus pages, it will take a bit more than a few hours to read and there are five of us who will want to dig in as soon as possible. I predict that a lot of homes that have been loud and boisterous with energetic kids on summer vacation will be pin-drop quiet this weekend… it will be interesting to see if it affects the size of the crowds at the theme parks.
As I’ve said many times, we are all big Potter fans here. The release of the final book is a source of both anticipation and dread at the Richmond household. It’s been a long wait for the final chapter of the series, since the days of reading to the kids at their bedsides from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1998. Anna and I would read a chapter to the kids, then take the book downstairs and keep reading ourselves. Naturally we are all looking forward to the final chapter of the tale, and to find out what happens to Harry and his friends in their war with the evil Lord Voldemort.
At the same time, we are all dreading the end. Not because we don’t trust Rowling to deliver, but simply because this is the end of the series. No more Potter books. Once we read that last word at the end of the final chapter (“scar” as has been famously reported by Rowling for years) the tale has been told and magic is ended. All good things must come to an end, but it’s never easy to see something that’s been so entertaining and enthralling for so long take it’s final bow… more so around here for the simple reason that our kids, like so many others, have literally grown up with Harry Potter. In 1998 our youngest was two, and we had a four, five and seven year old as well. They grew along with Harry and company, started school and found a love of reading thanks in no small part to Rowling’s tales. Now at 11, 13, 14 and 17, Harry has been a part of most of their lives. For the last decade we’ve always turned that last page knowing there is another chapter soon to come. It’s hard to imagine that last page this time around.
I have been trying to come up with another pop culture phenomenon to even approach the Harry Potter craziness, and I cannot come up with a single one. Some TV show cliffhangers got a lot of publicity and were water cooler fodder for the summer until the series continued in the fall (“Who Shot J.R.” comes to mind), but that pales in comparison to this. These books appeal to young and old with seemingly no demographic limitations, are outrageously successful commercially, have sparked a fervor and following that seems endless and have spawned a series of films that are also hugely successful. I cannot think of an example in literature that can compare. I’m as big a Stephen King fan and eagerly awaited the final Dark Tower books, but again that is no comparison. Was Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books as eagerly anticipated when published? The Hobbit was a successful book of the time, and the Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes, but in quick succession in July and Nov of 1954 and Oct of 1955. Regardless their success in initial publication also bears no comparison to the Potter books. I think Rowling and Harry Potter may have set a standard for popular fiction that will never be equaled. Copied, yes, but never equaled.
There are some interesting and fun “Potter Parties” going on all over the country Friday night and Saturday. Most bookstores have some event, usually with costumes, etc. going on. Locally the best one seems to be happening on the Minnesota Zephyr, a restored historic dinner train that embarks from Stillwater, Minnesota on a 3 plus hour trip through the gorgeous St. Croix valley’s bluffs as you enjoy gourmet dining. This weekend they are transforming the Zephyr into the Hogwart’s Express and Stillwater Depot into Hogsmeade Station, with half hour trips and butterbeer for passengers and a Tri-wizard maze to explore. Copies of the book will also be available. I don’t know how well they’ll be able to make the silver Zephyr look like the red Hogwart’s Express, but you have to give them a “A” for concept. I’d be interested in just tasting a butterbeer! Sounds gross, but so does Culver’s “Butterburgers” and they are delicious.
The internet has been teeming with Harry Potter spoilers in the form of supposed full and partial copies of the new book for the last several days. Here’s a news story on the phenomenon and another on Rowling’s plea to not spoil the experience. I had a good friend and fellow Potter enthusiast email me a PDF of what seemed to be the full text of the book. It took me about three sentences to see it was a fake… definitely not Rowling’s style of writing. He later told me he’d gotten a hold of the real thing via individual jpegs of the book taken page by page. He offered to send it to me. I said absolutely not. Why spoil it just to get a few day’s jump on the rest of the world? Part of the charm of these books is a comfortable chair, a good reading lamp and a quiet, peaceful hour or two to immerse yourself in Rowling’s wonderfully imaginative world. I’ll read it properly and enjoy it thoroughly when the time comes, which may be right away since I am much larger and stronger than the rest of the family and can therefore confiscate a copy and no one can stop me!
Just kidding… I am pretty sure Anna could kick my ass me if she had to. She knows where my weak spots are.
So, I expect a lot of peace and quiet around here this weekend, even with a big drama camp play thrown into the mix that three of my kids are in on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. I also expect some melancholy feelings for all after the book is closed. The saving grace is that Harry Potter is always just a turn of the page away for the rest of eternity. Revisiting favorite books is like seeing old friends you didn’t even know you’d missed, and getting to know them all over again.
We all have that to look forward to.
Oh, and thanks, Ms. Rowling, for a decade of enjoyment, wonder and anticipation.
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