Friday, December 22nd, 2006
Today for me was a very different day. Not so much special, even though it was, but very, very different. Along with the rest of the Potterverse I avidly clicked on the door and the wind chimes to reveal Jo’s gift to her fans. A simple game of hangman spelled out the long-awaited title to the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Like the rest of the world I was ecstatic to receive the title that I’d spent many hours guessing and weeks looking forward to. It came in a truly Jo way, without fanfare and in a way that would ensure that the fans would get it first and not just any old journalist trawling cyberspace looking for something newsworthy. Only the truly dedicated would have worked out that puzzle. I have to admit I did a happy dance when I read it. I sat hungrily down, ready to analyze every possible meaning of the two simple words, when something very real and very heavy hit me. That was it. The last time I would ever wait eagerly to find out the title to a Harry Potter book. No more guessing, no more theorizing. It was for me the first page in the final chapter of the entire Harry Potter series.
Once I had the title, I sat trying to figure out exactly what could have been meant by Deathly Hallows. I felt that it read differently than the others. Even without having read the books anyone could surmise that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix were possibly about items or groups of some kind and that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince were about people. But how does one begin to imagine what Deathly Hallows are? All the waiting to finally hear the name of the book, so sure that it would be a clue, only to not even know if what the title describes has a physical existence. Still, I cherished this time to ponder as I realised that never again will the quest for a Harry Potter title take us past The Toenail of Ickilbõgg to the Pillars of Storgé in search of the Mystical Kettle of Knackledirk. Every generation of Harry Potter readers after us will miss out on these wonderful searches; miss out on having to wait two years before discovering what fate awaits our hero between the covers of the next eagerly awaited book. If my kids want to read J.K. Rowling’s beloved series they could reasonably do so in a week, book one through book seven, and to me that would take away some of the magic. For the fans who have had to read the latest book and then wait, letting their minds agonise over what will happen next, these books have lasted a very long time.
Over the past ten years fans have watched Harry grow up slowly, as they would their own children or even their siblings. To many he is more than just a fictional character; he is as much a member of their family as their own flesh and blood. Would anyone have grown as attached to Harry if they could have read from his parents’ murder straight through to the final outcome in a single week? To some maybe, but for the majority, probably not. Sure, the books would have been a great read, fantastic even. But I just feel that they would have lost some of their magic. Really how concerned can someone be about a character who they only met a week ago? Every time a Harry Potter book ends, Harry’s fate hangs in the balance. In desperation for answers we reread the books, and every single reread uncovers details that were missed the first time; little details that let us get to know the trio as intimately as we know our own friends. Then, when we can drain no more from the pages, we turn to fellow Potterheads online and in person to listen to their theories and voice our own. The Harry Potter books have united millions of people; everyone reading the books at the same time, making the discoveries as they happen, as though we are all watching the life of a real live person. It is a community – no, a family – linked by the common member of Harry. Reading his adventures is like watching a family member grow. The sweet torture that we all go through every time someone spots something new that may be the key to the last book, every online debate of whether or not Snape is truly evil, and every verbal battle over just how unforgivable the Unforgivable Curses are. I, for one, shall miss that.
The outlet of creativity that Jo’s writing has inspired is astronomical. Just think of the theories that have come up: Is Harry a Horcrux? Was Neville under a memory charm? Some of these theories are so well written that they are book worthy by themselves! Many people would never have written something so complex had it not been for her books. I cannot help but find that staggering. What will happen to that creativity once the final book is published? Surely the fan fiction will continue, but it will subtly change, as it did when Dumbledore died. The possibilities become more limited, the thirst to know how it all ends diminished. That is why I find the release of this title so sad. It’s the first step of everything we know coming to an end; the first step in the book release parade. Next will come the cover art, then the actual publishing of the book, and after that, it’s over. After the glorious spectre of the colourful guesses and theories has passed all that will be left is the wind blowing around a few sheets of paper. Sure there will be the Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows films still to look forward to, but we already know what happens in those. Ask any self-proclaimed Potterhead if they are more anxious for the fifth film or the seventh book and I think I can guess the answer without ever setting foot in a Divination class.
Though it’s a sad time, this is still a moment in history we should all treasure. The last time the English speaking world become so hooked on waiting for a literary instalment was probably when Charles Dickens was writing his The Pickwick Papers serial way back in 1836. Eagerly the Victorians would wait for the next segment, the next plot line to unfold. The frenzy that Papers produced more than doubled the sales of the newspaper that it was published in. Fans used to write their own fiction while they waited for the segments to be released, and they only had to wait for a month! It has always been defined as a unique moment in history. Had the Victorians been able to access to the global communications network that we have today, this Dickens fan-frenzy might have resembled our current Rowling-obsession. Like our counterparts of 150 years ago we are living in an era which will be forever considered magical. Just as we cannot go back to 1836 to witness the final instalment of The Pickwick Papers, future readers will never be able to return to 2007 to witness what we are witnessing now. In 150 years, people will look back and marvel at the experience that we are having and wish wistfully that they too could have experienced the joys and heartbreak being felt by us all today. Not (like Dickens) in just the English speaking world, but worldwide.
While I feel privileged to be alive in such a time, I lament that the books will end and I hope against hope that the varied and colourful Potterverse as we know it will not fade totally into a dry and barren wilderness where only the few deluded, obsessed fans remain; a fate that has sadly befallen many fandoms. I will cling to the hope that next Christmas will not be the last Christmas that we’ll hear the festive filks and that the messages boards will continue to contain deeper comments than just “I like that chapter.” But for now I shall try to put this sadness to one side and enjoy the limited number of days left of the delicious agony that reside in the space where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows shall soon fill, because I am one of the lucky ones. I get the chance to feel this agony.