Another installment from the one and only Paper Machete. Enjoy!
This week in culture. Today, July 31st, 2010, marks the forty-fifth birthday of the right and honorable Dame Joanne Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, first billionaire author in existence, and most excellent MILF. Also, as of two weeks ago, we have entered the year-long countdown to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, the final installment of the most financially successful film series of all time. Having earned 5.4 billion dollars worldwide, it is the Star Wars of our generation, and July 15th, 2011, will mark the release of Harry’s last stand. That means there are 351 days until we can queue up for the midnight screening.
Harry Potter, in little more than a decade, has pervaded pop culture. And, along with the rabid fans, there are the necessary haters. “It’s just for kids. Magic is for Nerds. I’m into hard sci-fi, etc.” To which I say, “Shut up, Geek.” JK Rowling has done what perhaps no one else has: craft a work of literature whose popularity transcends sex, race, country, and age. Because of the magical or adolescent context, Ms. Rowling’s work is all too often grouped in with “authors” like Stephenie Meyer under the umbrella of guilty pleasure. That’s like comparing a fresh bag of Jolly Ranchers with half a Caramello bar you found on the redline. There is a difference between candy and garbage. Consuming the former might not be the healthiest idea, but consuming the latter is grounds for de-friending.
A brief aside to any and all Twilight fans who might be on the premises. Harry Potter does not just kick your franchise’s ass financially because there happen to be more installments. Even if you only count the US box office of the first three (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban – $829,105,101) and compare that to the box office of the three Twilight movies released thus far (Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse – $763,146,373) Harry Potter still wins by over 65 million dollars. Now, money earned does not have a direct correlation with quality, evidenced most recently by the motion picture Avatar, but there is a certain comfort in knowing that while a Twilight fan is likely to be a Harry Potter fan, the reverse has slimmer chances. In other words, “Suck it, Glittertits.”
If you haven’t read the Harry Potter books, or seen the movies, you’ve probably been inundated with cultural references enough to know the story’s broad strokes. A young orphan, on his eleventh birthday (also July 31st), is told that his miserable existence has a shining secret. There is a light at the end of childhood’s dark, lonely tunnel. He will go to a special school. He will meet others like him. He will discover the truth of his past. He will suffer and he will rise. He will save the world. With magic. Yes, Hogwarts has the ring of childish things, but no more than Middle Earth or a galaxy far, far away. Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, or Harry Potter, orphans all, no matter which you prefer or if none of them hit home: that shit is stone cold hero quest, and that is hardwired into our primitive lizard brains. And, a year from now, Harry’s is over.
This makes me a little melancholy, I must admit. I am a fan. I have grown up with the books. The first was released when I was thirteen, the half-way point of my life thus far, and each subsequent volume in the series was awaited with baited breath, and the first read was held holy. One does not work on the Sabbath and one does not hang out on the day a new Harry Potter book is released how dare you ask? When the seventh book dropped on July 21st, 2007, my best friend and I started the morning on her couch, each with our own copy, and read straight through without breaks in five hours. Rowling’s universe is complete, immersive, and ripping good fun.
The movies have been more of a mixed bag. Chris Columbus, he of Home Alone and Night at the Museum fame, created the first two installments, not so much directing as glueing various scenes from the books in a recognizable order. He did one thing right, though. He found Daniel Radcliffe, a big-eyed moppet who could hit the right notes at age eleven, and also grow into the perfect bespectacled hottie. My friends, he’s a 21 year-old playing a seventeen year-old, with the torso of a thirty year-old and glasses. If that’s not nymphet, I don’t know what is. Between Radcliffe and towhead Tom Felton playing nemesis Draco Malfoy, Hogwarts has usurped Bangkok as the world’s capital of beautiful lady-boys. Granted, they’re far more expensive, and I would still recommend the lax prostitution laws of Thailand over the UK. So, remember. “Hello” is “sa-wat dee.” “How much?” is “gee baht?” And, “Thank you,” is “khorb koon.” Always say “thank you.” You’re representing your country. Be polite.
Despite the rough start, the movies picked up in quality after Columbus departed. Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell, and David Yates have done right by the series, infused the films with an encroaching darkness, tone and violence progressing with each chapter. Because here’s the best kept secret of JK Rowling: she does not write children’s books. I had the great pleasure of seeing Ms. Rowling speak in 2000. I was working the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and she was doing a Q&A at the end of her book tour for Volume Four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. And, yes, she only took questions from children, but instead of humoring their innocence and pure fandom, she was honest. Brutally so. A little tween girl asked, “Are Harry and Hermione going to get together?” Rowling’s response: “You’re assuming I’m not going to kill him.” A five year-old boy who might have served as the textbook definition for cherub stood up, quaking at the crowd around him, and managed to raise his voice enough to ask, “Do you believe in magic?” “No,” she said. “I believe that people can love each other, and that that can be a sort of magic, but if you’re talking about witches and wizards, I’m sorry, but they don’t exist.” And he nodded sadly, as if to say, “Good to know.”
It is good to know. And, despite what the Christian groups who deride Rowling for promoting sorcery would have us believe, these books are not evil, and they hold no illusions concerning easy paths or happy endings. People die. Wonderful, powerful people suffer, and die, and there is nothing that our magical hero can do to change it. Times marches inexorably on. Harry leaves school. And whether he becomes the man he needs to be is entirely up to him. He has friends, and they will always have his back, but there is no spell to dull the pain of growing up and changing and doing what you must to realize your potential.
I don’t know where I’ll be in 351 days, when it’s time to line up for Harry’s last picture. I’m moving to Los Angeles two weeks from tomorrow. There’s a professional opportunity I can’t turn down. This means a lot of things. It means that two halves of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may be the first in the series I won’t have scurried to at midnight with my best friend (whose birthday, incidentally, is also today). Even though it’s silly, I feel as though I’d letting Harry down. Rowling’s dedication at the beginning of Deathly Hallows reads, “…and to you, if you have stuck with Harry to the very end.” Harry’s story has been important to me. I was a small town kid. I wanted to be in theatre. I was strange. I ended up at DePaul, and a theatre conservatory is not unlike a school of wizards. More drugs, less homework, but the same sense of camaraderie that comes from pursuing a career most find ridiculous. That camaraderie is perhaps the most precious thing I know. It is more than friendship. It is love, and battle-ready partners, and home. I think that’s why I will be back to see those two films here, where I’ve seen the others, with the person who’s watched them with me. The story, stripped of wands and spells, and British slang, tells us that home is a certain people. That’s good to know, Ms. Rowling. So, Happy Birthday. Begin the countdown. 351 days until the end of Harry’s story. As much as good stories can ever end.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II opens July 15th, 2011. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be there to see it.