Friday, July 20, 2007

The Last First Page

Some time tomorrow morning, either before or after we take Little Man to his swimming lesson, the mail carrier will arrive with a small cardboard box for me from I will swoop it up with glee, do a small happy dance, open it carefully, take a long look at Mary GrandPre’s breathtakingly beautiful cover art—and crack open Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Thus will I take part in a cultural milestone—thus will I enjoy “the last first page” of an amazing journey through Harry’s magical world.

What is it about Harry Potter? It’s just seven books, just seven simple stories from the imagination of a gifted writer. So why has this particular series captured the world and become such a phenomenon? Why has the HYPE (IN ALL-CAPS) taken on a life of its own, far, far beyond the books themselves? Part of it, I’m sure, is simply the nature of our global mass culture. Something promoted worldwide, something given such incredible buzz for nearly 10 years now, via word of mouth, magazines, newspapers, television, the Internet, blogs, and just about every modern form of media there is, is going to have people jumping on the bandwagon no matter what it is, no matter what its intrinsic worth (can you say Eragon?). People are like that. Perhaps it could have been some other book, some other author, some other character inspiring midnight madness, costumes, hysterical mothers in Georgia demanding a ban, and children actually eagerly and excitedly sitting down to READ a 700-plus page novel.

And yet—there’s something that makes Harry and his world unique and special. There are the sharply defined, skillfully drawn people we have come to feel are real to us, whom we love dearly or hate with a vengeance, due to the author’s amazing ability for character description and ear for dialogue. (Including one particular character so masterfully written that debates have raged for years as to his true nature and his true motives. The world is holding its breath to find out “where his loyalties lie”!) There is the setting—a wonderfully realized mixture of typical British boarding school and magical academy, with humorous and clever twists on normal teenage life that these young wizards and witches simply take for granted as part of going to school. So many minute and vivid details has she created that you feel you are at home at Hogwarts, in the Burrow, or even on Privet Drive. And of course there is the plot, a magical drama of the struggle between the forces of good and the powers of evil, spread out over seven books, yet with each one still containing its own satisfying tale. The stories are richly and carefully woven, with drama, suspense, humor, politics, a touch of romance, pain and triumph, great joy and deep sorrow.

In the end, Jo Rowling has made me and millions upon millions of others around the globe CARE about Harry and his world. Her creative gift and her imagination, begun as a struggling single mom in a coffee house in Scotland, have left a legacy that I believe will stand the test of time. But there will likely (unless Jo changes her mind!) never again be a time like this, a worldwide celebration of a new Harry Potter story, a time to enjoy The Last First Page together.

Thank you, Jo!
Come on, mail carrier!

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