The end of an era with Harry Potter |

The end of an era with Harry Potter

Stephen Bedford
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyThe final book in the Harry Potter series is released Saturday.

These are strange times to be a wizard.

Legions of dark forces are mobilizing behind evil incarnate Lord Voldermort while Albus Dumbledore, one of the few sages who can lead the charge against the villainy, is presumed dead. Needless to say there’s a dark moon on the rise over the mystical, magical land of Hogsmeade as the fate of nations rests on the slim, lanky shoulders of a teenager who is still awkward around girls.

If none of that quite made sense to you, consider yourself in a minute minority well off the pop-culture grid. Or maybe you’ve just been living in a cave for the past 10 or so years. Better yet, consider yourself a Muggle, which is Harry Potter slang for a boring, everyday, hum-drum human, ignorant to all that is magic and sorely lacking imagination. At least get used to the term because you’ll be hearing it a lot in various contexts for quite a while as the seventh, and final, Harry Potter book is released Saturday.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” will undoubtedly cement the series as a cultural phenomenon in the same vein as Star Wars, perhaps the only franchise that can rival Harry Potter in terms anticipation, merchandising, fandom, revenue and pure fun. Not ironically, both are billion-dollar franchises about magic, wizards and the timeless struggle of good versus evil that ensnare the imaginations of men, women, boys and girls.

A little more than 10 years ago, an unheard of, unsigned English writer named Joanne K. Rowling was badly in debt about to take up residency in the poorhouse. Then some daydreaming on a train ride through the countryside manifested itself into a boy wizard who fights evil with his plucky friends all while dealing with the onset of adolescence. And the mania was born.

In 1997, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released to critical and commercial success. Not long after, Rowling went from the brink of bankruptcy to billionaire status, ranking only behind the omnipotent Oprah Winfrey on Forbes magazine’s list of wealthiest female entertainers in 2006. Rowling’s personal treasury dwarfs that of the Queen of England herself. Presently, there are an estimated 325 million copies of the first six volumes in print.

Scholastic Corp., which owns the U.S. publishing rights, has printed an industry record 12 million copies, with millions more awaiting reprints in the coming weeks. Adults and children alike will scoop up copies Saturday at 12:01 a.m., at release parties throughout the nation.

The Bookworm in Edwards has already pre-sold 200 copies, and expects to sellout its shipment of 300 by midweek if not sooner, with backups on the way on a daily basis. The store began taking reservations in early March. Leading into the book’s official release will be a Harry Potter themed party, practically a tradition for independent bookstores everywhere, featuring a variety of activities based upon the series culminating in the book’s release.

Shortly after, everyone, whether they care, will know the fate of Harry, his friends and foes. If you’re not getting to “The Deathly Hallows” immediately then best of luck avoiding the mass reaction. Having the ending spoiled seems inevitable at this point to those not ready to read at 12:02 a.m.

The popular consensus is that Harry Potter will perish, albeit heroically, to banish the depraved doomsday armies. This notion becomes a cathartic moment for the most ardent, and mature readers.

“I’ll be sad and depressed when it all ends,” said Avon-based automotive sales consultant Sean Benderly, 26, who seemingly regresses roughly 14 or so years while talking about the series, not hesitating to call the finality of book six, and the series in general, “emotional” with plenty of conviction.

“I just hope Harry doesn’t die and that [head wizard] Dumbledore comes back to life,” Benderly said.

Statements such as these reveal the true magic, and impact, of Rowling’s series. The excitement and anxiety is perhaps even more palpable for adults than the intended pre-teen audience. Perhaps the Potter series serves as a touchstone for older audiences who let their imaginations run wild with J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series and the “Star Wars” films decades ago, or maybe it’s just escapist fantasy and storytelling at its finest.

“The quality of the story, the settings and the characters are just so developed,” Benderly said. “Yes, I know I’m a huge dork, but they’re just exciting to read. I read the last one twice and it’s just as good the second time and definitely gets you worked up for the final one.

“I think there’s more in there you can relate to then you first think. There’s the whole magic, fantasy side, but there’s also the human side about Harry growing up, dealing with school and girls that everyone goes through.”

The coming-of-age themes along with the ingenuity of the story and its protagonists provided much more for Kate McKay, who runs McKay and Associates accounting firm in Edwards. Potter practically grew up alongside McKay’s daughter Anna, now 15, as the story seemed to trace the arc of her life, McKay said.

“When I think it about it now, Harry Potter kind of defined her childhood,” McKay said. “She was 6 when the first one came out, and I remember her falling asleep to the tapes and getting all the books, reading them in a few days.”

The series became a shared experience for mother and daughter, McKay said. As the whirlwind of teen years set in, the two always had something relatively non-serious and fun to bond over, she said.

“It’s just fun. Lots of fun,” McKay said with resounding, emphatic emphasis on the ‘fun.’ “I started reading them because I wanted to be reading the books Anna was. There was also some curiosity there because we heard so much about them. Once I started I just couldn’t stop. I found myself relating to Harry, which I never thought would happen, and also a lot of the themes about growing up and being a teenager.

“And when you have a teenager, sometimes they don’t want to talk about anything, but we can always talk about Harry Potter,” McKay said.

Benderly discovered the series when it first hit American shores in 1997 with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Since then, he’s been hopelessly hooked and soon could be hopelessly despondent not just over Harry’s destiny, but what he said is a somewhat premature ending to the saga.

“I think there’s a lot more potential there,” Benderly said. “I don’t think the story is close to being exhausted. There’s a lot of room to keep the story going, maybe do spin-offs, like, 10 years down the road or something. It doesn’t need to end.”

Conversely, McKay said it’s time for the series to end but she, too, is optimistic about Harry’s fate.

“I think the theme here is love and that love conquers all,” she said. “I think, well, I know someone has to die, maybe a few people, but in the end I think love will save Harry. If you go back to the beginning it was Harry’s mother’s love for him that saved him from Voldermort. I think something like that will happen.”

Both have reserved copies, and both plan to begin reading instantly, savoring each page until the very end regardless of how uplifting or depressing. Certainly it will be a shared global experience of readers of all ages bonding over a boy wizard.

“I remember when the first movie came out and our whole family went,” McKay said. “My parents hadn’t been in a movie theater maybe ever, and they wanted to know why we were so excited about a magic boy. I told them that boy had enough magic to get us all here together.”

And maybe that’s the greatest spell Harry Potter ever cast.

Stephen Bedford is the store manager of The Bookworm.

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