Paul Andersen: Fair game
July 25, 2011
As we watched Lord Voldemort fall to pieces at the end of the last Harry Potter movie, it meant more to my family than the symbolic defeat of evil. Voldemort’s final “disapparation” also meant the culmination of our son’s childhood and the end of family life as we’ve known it. Such is the power of the magic of Harry Potter.
Our son, Tait, was 5 years old when the Harry Potter books exploded on the scene in 1997 and proved that books could still rivet readers of all ages. The series took up the bulk of our bedtime reading for more than a decade. We traced Potter’s every move, as if we were privy to the magical Marauder’s Map of Hogwarts.
As designated reader, I portrayed the characters with theatrical voices to heighten the magical mood. Tait soaked in every detail, cuddling with his mom and holding hands with her during scary parts. If I closed the book in the middle of the action, protests echoed through the house like the haunting shrieks of Moaning Myrtle, the ghostly girl consigned to the Hogwarts plumbing.
As Harry Potter aged, so did Tait. We traced their maturation with plot twists, character developments, and the joys and sorrows of growing up. Muggles and wizards are very much alike, and often it seemed as if we were reading about Tait’s school chums, several of whom bore strong resemblances to Hogwarts students in Tait’s own quasimagical Waldorf School.
Rare is the child who eagerly awaits bedtime. Rarer still is the child who pleads, “Can’t we go to bed now?!” Such was the mood in our household during riveting evenings of reading as we sympathized with and fantasized about the struggles of young wizards against dark forces.
The age old contest between good and evil ultimately defined the Harry Potter series, and the mortal struggles of real life parallels post-9/11 became clear. To her credit, author J.K. Rowling nuanced the morality of her characters by shading them in tones of gray. No one was purely good or bad in her books, except Voldemort, who personified malevolence with the darkest, deepest revulsion.
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As the books advanced, so did their complexities. Harry developed crushes on girls that brought up sexuality. He was a child no longer but a developing adult with growing needs and responsibilities. Harry and his friends became more independent, just as did Tait and his friends.
As soon as the movies came out, we watched them as part of a family ritual, following the world of wizards into the dark confines of a theater for the awe of special effects and the materialization of what our imaginations had toyed with for several years of reading. The movies enhanced our appreciation for Rowling’s artful depictions as we came face-to-face with giants, goblins, enormous spiders, hostile trees – and Nagini, that horrible snake.
One of the most magical and inventive twists of Harry Potter was Harry’s communal relationship with the Dark Lord. Harry and Voldemort were on a clairvoyant par, reading each other’s thoughts and feeling each other’s pain. Here was a message of mutuality, especially with those for whom we feel the greatest antipathy.
Last Sunday, we went as a family to see the final movie, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II.” With popcorn in hand and a fresh review of the entire series that Tait was able to recite by memory, we put on 3-D glasses and were engulfed by the scenes that flashed before us.
As the action moved toward the dramatic finish, waves of sentiment washed over me. It wasn’t just the emotion of the movie; it was the culmination of something we shared as a cherished family tradition.
Afterward, over pizza, we talked about Tait boarding the metaphorical Hogwarts Express when he leaves for college in the fall. “So long, Harry!” we said with a pang of loss, as even deeper pangs grew for our parting with Tait as he ventures off on a life of his own.
All the magic in Diagon Alley won’t stop these children from growing up, and all the magic of Harry Potter can’t sanitize a world where good and bad blend into a muddy gray. If there is a special spell in the book of wizarding that can send our kids toward adulthood in peace and safety, we’d love to know it. Where’s an Elder Wand when you need one?