I remember reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the day it was released, July 21, 2007, over one long sitting, all the way to the end. The immensely satisfying process included locking myself at home, cancelling all social engagements, phoning in pizza and taking coffee breaks. It was the perfect finale to a wholly addictive series that began in 1997 with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
A similar sense of anticipation consumes fans that have embarked on the countdown to the cinematic version of Deathly Hallows Part 1. With one major difference — readers of the books were anxious to find out what happens, while many viewers of the film already know, having read the book. The latter's anxiety centres around hoping that their much beloved story has been filmed just right.
If trailers are any indication, fans are unlikely to be disappointed. Among the spate of video clips doing the Internet rounds, I came across a rather charming one of Daniel Radcliffe admitting how he cried on the last day of shooting, of how he looked at himself in the mirror and realised he would never, ever, again sport a lightning scar on his forehead.
He has our sympathies. When I flipped the last page of Deathly Hallows, I was conscious of being oxymoronically full and empty: if there was satisfaction over a story that delivered everything it had promised, equally, it was a hollow feeling to think that the escapist pleasures of quidditch matches and strolls down Diagon Alley were at an end. The Potter films, however, have filled the breach in part.
The story so far
“Quidditch”, “muggles”: it's no easy task to bring non-fans up to speed, so they can watch the penultimate film — there are six films/books worth of back story. In the absence of a magical wand to cast a summoning spell like “Accio Story So Far!” here's a more prosaic lowdown in prose.
In the Potter universe JK Rowling has ordinary folks, us muggles, living in ignorance alongside those with magical powers. The hero is the boy wizard Harry Potter, orphaned as a baby by the evil Lord Voldemort who then mysteriously vanished. Once Harry turns 11, he is made aware of his true lineage and enters the fabulous Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The timing marks the shadowy return of Lord Voldemort. Together with trusted friends that include Ron, Hermione and Professor Dumbledore, Harry battles both the Dark Lord and the problems of adolescence over six detailed books. Which lead to the seventh, Deathly Hallows, and its epic, inevitable and intricately plotted showdown between Voldemort and Harry.
The Potter phenomenon
Why this hysteria over Harry? We have all tried — with incomplete degrees of success — to dissect the enduring power of the Potter phenomenon. But rather than the increasingly esoteric explanations, one suspects its popularity rests on the most obvious reasons: first and foremost, that the characters feel real and get under your skin, so you care deeply about who lives and dies. Secondly, the story itself is an absolute page-turner, and set in an exciting immersive world. Also, Rowling's plotting skills are nothing less than magical — consider that plot points from the very first book find resolution in the last one.
If the detailing is fun for younger readers, the layering sucks in the older generation. For instance, it is very clever how the spell to dispel a nasty Boggart who assumes the shape of your worst fears is the incantation “Riddikulus!”, while thinking of something happy. That's the entire distillation of many sessions on a psychiatrist's couch.
Harry looks likely to continue being part of our cultural landscape even after the last film, and remain a bit of a trendsetter. For starters, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 champions the idea that films of complex, treasured books can be broken up into two parts — an idea since adopted by Breaking Dawn, the last film of The Twilight Saga, and probably The Hobbit.
Harry, a money-spinner
Of course, Harry is a great money-spinner for his creators. There's a reason why Warner Brothers this month bought UK's Leavesden Studios where the Potter series was filmed; they have announced an investment of £100m in the 170-acre site that will include a permanent Harry Potter exhibition.
JK Rowling has famously been against the idea of lending her boy wizard to the creation of amusement rides, but Warner is creating a Harry Potter film museum, scheduled to open in the spring of 2012, with film sets, costumes, puppets and make-up.
Equally, spinning Deathly Hallows into two celluloid parts is a commercial moneymaking decision. However it will also allow — uncomplaining fans — a chance to savour every detail of the seventh book, and delay a final farewell to Harry and his friends till Part 2 in July 2011.
Keywords: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows