Monday, November 14, 2016

Fifteen Years and Revisiting An Old Friend Named Harry

I am 29-years-old and I just got sorted into House Hufflepuff. You might be thinking that I'm arriving at Hogwarts about 18 years too late, and you would be right, but apparently there are no age limits for starting at the most famous wizarding school in the world! Traveling by way of platform 9 3/4 was a tad awkward though, especially when all these little wizards were asking what class I would be teaching. No matter, I am forever young at heart, and I will be starting school just in time to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the movie based on Hogwarts most famous alumnus.

Alas, that all only happened in my elaborate imagination. Yet there is one real fact to pull out of that perfect illusion - today marks 15 years since the release of the movie version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Light up a ballroom full of candles, throw on your best dress robes (the more ruffles the better), and raise your glass of butterbeer – it's time to celebrate!

After all this time what Harry Potter fan (aka most humans) doesn't still wish they could be whisked away to Hogwarts? That may not ever become a reality, but being able to be sorted into a Hogwarts house on fantasy supporting websites, like Pottermore, or visiting a theme park, like The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, makes us all able to actually experience a smidge of what J.K. Rowling wrote about so profoundly.

With all the years that have gone by, I’m not the only “adult” (age is only a number, not a state of mind) that spent their childhood, teens, and then college years addicted to reading about Harry's adventures and watching the subsequent film versions. Patiently waiting for each new book to be released and instantly consuming every page became part of our growing up. I barely remember what the world was like before the phrase, "he who shall not be named" became universally known as the term for a specific evil doer. If memory serves correctly, pre-Potter pop-culture involved a lot of TGIF and Urkel.

That first generation of young Potter readers and viewers have aged quite a bit more since the last book and movie was released (boy, don't I know it). Even being a huge fan, I hadn't read the books or watched any of the movies in many years. With that in mind, I had recently started to wonder if my generations collective love of these stories would carry over into this thing called being an adult. There was only one way to find out.

With a special tip of my pointy black hat in honor of the anniversary, I settled in recently for a viewing of The Sorcerer's Stone. Surprisingly, even though I knew all the twists of the plot, it felt like I was watching the movie with fresh eyes. It is nice to know that after repeated viewings there can still be excitement in watching Harry find out that he is a wizard. I actually got a huge smile on my face as he walked into Diagon Alley for the first time.You can marvel in all the sights along with Harry as if you too would soon be getting your new wand from Ollivanders.

The movie is perfectly crafted with the hopes that viewers will always get lost in the idea and possibility connected to the mysteries of this magical world. Overall, aside from some silly looking CGI (as in, every time people are flying on brooms), the movie holds up completely. Part of me felt like I may have enjoyed it even more than when I first saw the movie, back when my biggest problem was dealing with getting movie snacks, like the essence of stickiness known as caramel apple suckers, stuck in my braces. Could this continued positive reaction partly be due to childhood nostalgia combined with longingly watching treasured actors who have now since passed on? (RIP Alan Rickman.) Or is it just a fact that the movie will always be fun to watch? All of the above can be the only answer.

After watching just one of the movies I was full on buzzed with Harry Potter fever. It was like I was fourteen and hopped up on nothing but Fun-Dip all over again. (Yeah, I have basically been a giant ball of sugar my whole life. No regrets.) It only made sense then to continue on to the next logical step of this re-awakened obsession - marathon through reading the series. Some of the earlier books I have not picked up since I was 11, the same age as those first years taking their initial trip to Hogwarts. So far I'm only through Goblet Of Fire, but I have been enjoying every page, proving, once again, that there is no age limit for a classic tale.

All of those out there who were full on grown-ups and enjoyed the books when they were originally released (my dad included) already knew that there was wide appeal to Rowling's creation. Now it will just take us all to keep these books with us as we continue to grow older. Not just to read to our (hypothetical) children, but to proudly carry out in public and defend their right as good novels, not just kids books.

I now know that each time you visit any part of the series you can get a whole different experience. That is the true test of a well crafted story. When you're a child you can be charmed by the magic and the idea of an interesting world outside of our own, in your teens you can relate to the drama of friendships and relationships (plus, the magic), and as you grow up you can connect to the lives of the Hogwarts students, having already lived through much of what they experienced (only with less Quidditch). And you can still appreciate the magic! The idea of having a wand will be cool until the day I die. As an adult you can also read more into the plight of the older characters who are trying to protect students or their children. Those adult characters, much like us grown-ups in the real world, have the tenacity to keep waking up every morning knowing the truth that there is a world full of evil among all the good.

After taking on more life experiences the struggle of Harry and his friends can actually be more relatable as well, especially when it comes to the pain of loss. I had never personally experienced death when I had first picked up the books. Now after coping with my mother's death, I definitely feel Harry's pain and suffering, as if I too have a permanent lighting bolt scar. He lost his whole family, but still powered on. He is the boy who lived. Rowling did a fine job of incorporating life changing lessons that can equally empower the young and the young at heart.

Rowling may not have been the first to mentally transport an entire population through her art, but she just continued a great literary and cinematic tradition. From Narnia to Middle Earth and Tatooine to Hogwarts, it seems like once in a generation an artist breaks out to create a new complete world that absorbs the masses and makes us all look at our own existence in a different way. And, guess what, she's not done yet.

With what appears to be boundless creativity, Rowling has continued to expand the Potter universe. On November 18th, fittingly very close to the release date of the first movie, Rowling will make her screenwriting debut with a new adventure - Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

The action has moved across the pond to America and transported the story back in time to 1927, years before the future of Harry Potter was known. It follows Newt Scamander (author of the Fantastic Beasts text book used by all first year students in The Sorcerers Stone) as he makes a pit stop in NYC while traveling the world looking for magical creatures. Knowing Rowling, this new branch of the wizarding world will be just as complex and fascinating as everything else she has already written.

Fifteen years ago, Harry Potter mania was just kicking up with the release of the first movie. Who knew all this time later the same fan base would be ramping up to enjoy a new set of stories and, at the same time, still love the original tales just as strongly.

Other authors have created entirely different worlds with just their words, but Rowling has taken this tradition to a whole other level that still continues to impact our culture. The new film series will be five movies, which ties Rowling up for years to come. Although, who knows what exactly her brain will be cooking up fifteen more years from now.

I'll tell you where I'll be by then - settling in for another read through of the Harry Potter series and popping in a copy of Harry Potter and The Sorcerers Stone (or likely streaming it through my eyeball, because it will be the future).

Time goes by, but, at least for my generation, it looks like some interests will never change.

Until next time. 

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