By about a quarter of the way through the last movie installment in the Harry Potter series, I was very glad I had opted to see it weeks after it hit the big screen – sitting next to my husband in a theater scattered with about ten other patrons, all strangers and all middle-aged. I had originally planned to see it with three of my girlfriends at midnight on its opening date as I had seen each of the four previous Harry Potter films. But, every year, with the kids and schedules, it has gotten harder to do those midnight screenings. Plus, Jeremiah really wanted to see it with me, and… I kind of knew it would be messy for me.
Almost as soon as the show began, I was crying at about the level I think most normal people shed tears at the end of a very touching film. Within one hour, I was sloppy, and by about 30 minutes from the end of the movie, I am sure I was worrying some of our fellow movie-goers with my sobbing. I think they must have thought something was very wrong – that I was in mourning for a close friend who had died and who happened to be one of the cast members or that my husband had chosen the middle of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 to tell me that he wanted a divorce. But, no. It was, is, more complex than that.
This summer, I have been reading the first book to Jacob, my almost-eight-year-old. We plan to read one book a year until he’s old enough to handle the darker parts, and then I’ll probably let him read what’s left of the seven-book series over a single weekend, as he is bound to want to do (at least I hope so). We’re about halfway through the first book, and Jacob is lukewarm. He thinks it’s neat and all, he’s just not bonkers about it. What weirds him out and what has taken me completely off guard is how often I burst into tears as I’m reading the book to him. I’m not a big re-reader of books, and even though I kept planning to read all of the books before each of the movies, I never actually ended up doing it. So, I am experiencing the whole story from the beginning for the first time since I picked The Sorcerer’s Stone off an end-cap at Hastings in Searcy, Arkansas in 1999 thinking to myself, “Huh. This looks interesting.”
As I read it again, I find myself getting choked up without any warning at unexpected parts. Remembering what a borderline abusive life Harry had living with the Dursleys. Reading about the first time Harry met the Weasley family. Hagrid. The parts where Ron and Harry realize that Hermione, who seemed so annoying to them, is brilliant and earnest. And, the latest part that has me so emotional: when the sorting hat took so long to decide which house Neville belonged in. I couldn’t have known how Neville would turn out when I first read the book. I couldn’t know that the sorting hat must have been wondering if Neville belonged in hard-working, loyal, and maybe a little dull Hufflepuff or if he belonged in brave, noble, and daring Gryffindor. Little Neville, who kept losing his toad. We all know now what we didn’t know then, but what the sorting hat DID know: that Neville most definitely belonged in Gryffindor.
When I was boo-hooing tonight as that revelation kept washing over me, as scenes of that final battle at Hogwarts kept flashing in my head, and as I thought about what was in store for the little kids in this first book whom we all “watched” grow up in our heads, Jacob said to me,
“Mom, you’re crying like these people are real. Like they’re your friends or something.”
Oh, dear. I feel so silly to admit it: they are! Not since Little Women and The Phantom of the Opera have characters in a book felt so real to me and so dear to my heart. As I sniffled my way through the final movie of the series, I was not only feeling what was happening on the screen, I was knowing the characters – remembering what they had given up – realizing where they were ending up. They may as well have been real! Real people I once knew whose story I carry around in my head with me for always. Isn’t that what it’s like with real people’s stories? You think back on what was, knowing what will be, wondering what comes next… it’s emotional. It’s the magic of any very good story.
I know not everyone responds to the Harry Potter series like I have, but I know I am not alone. I’m looking forward to finding out if Jacob, my own little Harry Potter, will feel it like I do. I think he will – and we will have camaraderie in it. (And, if he doesn’t, I’ll just move on to Jackson. Ha ha!)