Looking at pictures of Emma Watson at the London premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, in a pixie haircut and a tiered Oscar de la Renta dress, it was hard to believe this was Hermione Granger, the girl who 10 years ago looked like she could fit into your back pocket. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was released in 1997 and its massive success ensured a film version in 2001, when Daniel Radcliffe was just a moon-faced child. Since then, six novels have followed, engendering a Potter-mania to rival Beatle-mania, along with a film franchise that has become the highest grossing of all time (not adjusted for inflation). If there's a bigger story, it's the rags-to-riches journey of the author, J.K. Rowling, who was living on benefits while she dreamed up, on a train from Manchester to London, the saga of a boy wizard. She has since become the first author to earn over a billion dollars through her writing. And now, anticipating the last on-screen adventure, millions of moviegoers around the world might emulate Emma Watson on the red carpet and dissolve into tears that it has all finally come to an end.
What made the series so successful that you heard of people buying multiple copies of the books so that they could read alongside their children? It was the escape into a richly imagined fantasy, no doubt, but there was something more. The series eschewed the moral, philosophical, and religious undercurrents of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia books, and the densely mystical allegories of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels. It also made no pretence of aspiring to the literary greatness of these books. Rowling borrowed from both Tolkien and Lewis but she chose to address the here and the now. The death of loved ones. Rowdy friendships. Gamesmanship. The terror of stigmatisation. And a prospect far more intriguing to the adolescent: dating. Rowling may have filled her novels with flying broomsticks and magical spells, but readers responded because these fantastical elements were woven into a life that could just as easily unfold in a non-magical world. As the series progressed, Rowling became more ambitious. The novels became bigger, with more political subplots like the one about the liberation of enslaved house elves. The films responded by employing the services of renowned directors such as Alfonso Cuarón — not just to transfer plot to screen but also to impart a vision. The last of these visions is less than a week away, but in Rowling's universe there is always hope. She said recently: “It is my baby and if I want to bring it out to play again, I will.” Fans everywhere are hoping it's an Unbreakable Vow.