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Harry Potter: An elegy

Harry Potter and I go back some way, as the earlier years of this journal attest. I wasn’t quite in the throes of pubescent adolescence when I discovered the books, as I was when I discovered Hanson, the first of my three great teenage obsessions (Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles being the third, and, perhaps, the most enduring). There was a time when the novels and the films and the fandom were everything, despite occasionally wondering if I wasn’t too old for all this (never!). At one point a friend and I were composing songs for a Harry Potter musical, and it was going to win all the Tonys. I’m not even going to get into my one-time strange and tumultuous dream relationship with dream!Daniel Radcliffe. As with almost all passions, mine waned, but never completely. There was no question about seeing this through to the end.

My favourite part about these books has always been, in a way, the backstory. I adore the overarching timeframe, the cyclicality of the sacrifices of Harry’s parents and their generation, sacrifices that are redeemed in the end. I love the way the past is constantly in tension with the present. To truly know himself and understand his destiny, his future, Harry has to be prepared to learn about not just his past but that of all the wizarding world.

There’s also something very beautiful about relationships and love, and love that transcends death. My favourite line has always come from The Prisoner of Azkaban: “Do you think the dead we have loved ever truly leave us? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself when you have most need of him.” I loved the echo of this line in the Deathly Hallows film, when one of the shadows (I cannot remember which – his mother?) said that they had always been with him, and would stay until the end. It’s not just that Harry is the physical image of his father, but that he shares enough of his father’s personality to bother the one who always disliked James Potter. Carrying on a legacy isn’t always about the good things. Then there’s his mother’s eyes, the only consolation he can offer to a dying man.

The dead never leave. Their spells of love protect us. Their best-laid plans come to fruition (or fall apart). They dispense wisdom in scenes from the afterlife. Some take a long time to truly die, while others come back to life.


Nostalgia’s a powerful feeling. My work at the moment even involves nostalgia studies to a degree. I think that nostalgia is always contingent upon the impossibility of return, whether to the homeland or the past, or whatever the object of desire. My lazy undergraduate days, of writing and reading fan fiction, updating LiveJournal, and endlessly dissecting the Harry Potter books, are long gone. I don’t necessarily desire to return to that time, but I do miss it. I miss trying to study for uni exams and read a new book at the same time. I miss talking about the books with friends who shared my inability to talk about anything else. I miss that overwhelming sense of obsession. As I said, I’ve felt that way about three things during my adolescence: Hanson, the Vampire Chronicles, and Harry Potter, in that order. The only thing I have been more passionate about is my work, which by nature of becoming my work ceased to be less of an obsession and more something I do because I need to. Even falling in love has been a different kind of passion, and dare I say it, less intense. Grand, but on a different scale.

Harry Potter is the only one of the three obsessions that has afforded me some measure of finality. With Hanson, it was a slow decline. I still don’t own and haven’t heard their most recent album. As for the Vampire Chronicles, it comes and goes, but I can’t seem to quit them, if maintaining a LiveJournal community is any measure of interest. But Harry Potter has come to a definite end, on paper and on film, and it’s all been very fitting and lovely and an appropriate close.

I love what cleolinda wrote about the epilogue of the movie in her post here: ‘But to me, at the end of this movie, it wasn't really about the main characters' futures and how many kids they had and what they named them and which ones got the red hair. It was about us.’ She continues: ‘And this is the end of that, its completion, and we're standing on the platform, in the middle of other, different, separate journeys now--but we're on that platform watching all the young kids coming up and getting on that train for the first time.’

You know, I’m just so envious of those people who are going to experience Harry Potter for the first time. Passions are always most intense at the beginning, before they mellow out into love.

This seems an appropriate moment for another of my favourite quotes, this time from Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale:

"I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled."

Harry Potter is the closest that I have ever come, as a teenager and adult, to fulfilling that lost pleasure in books.



Loved this.

Love what you've written here.

Also, I love The Thirteenth Tale (I have lovely memories of listening to Lynne Redgrave reading it) and LOVE that quote.

And that quote you've cited captures it all completely. It truly does. It's all rather bittersweet, isn't it?
What a beautiful post. Thank you for writing that.

I have a quote for you from Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (wonderful book, btw):

"It was absurd, but underlying his experience of the world, at some deep Precambrian stratum, was the expectation that someday - but when? - he would return to the earliest chapters of his life. It was all there - somewhere - waiting for him. He would return to the scenes of his childhood, to the breakfast table of the apartment off the Graben, to the Oriental splendor of the locker room at the Militaer- und Civilschwimmschule; not as a tourist to their ruins, but in fact; not by means of some enchantment, but simply as a matter of course. This conviction was not something rational or even seriously believed, but somehow it was there, like some early, fundamental error in his understanding of geography - that, for instance, Quebec lay to the west of Ontario - which no amount of subsequent correction or experience could ever fully erase."

I think that's me. If I actually stop to think that the past is gone, permanently, it devastates me. Part of the machinery my mind needs to keep going is that kind of illogical, irrational, unconscious assumption.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. (Greek roots: the word for coming home, and the word for pain/grief.) And so is the experience of reading as a child. You're right, there's nothing like it. I had an earth-shattering moment some years ago when I picked up The Voyage of the Dawn Treader after not having looked at it since I was a child. It was always my favorite of the Narnia books, the one that enchanted me completely, and reading it again as an adult brought back all those memories so vividly. Not just the memories, but the feeling of reading that as a child. That's also the reason why I don't want to see the LOTR movies: I'm sure they're very well done, but when I read the books, I still see the images I saw as a child and have those feelings, and I know that the movie images would overtake my mental images very quickly.

The good thing is that passions come and go - and come again. Flat, dull periods are sometimes just fallow time, and then you find all kinds of unexpected richness and strength coming back again.

Just a couple other things -

In the movie, did they do a good job with the scene where Harry finally understands the message on the snitch and says, "I am about to die"? That part in the book killed me, absolutely killed me, OMG so good - did you like how they handled it?

And since you mentioned some...interest in Daniel Radcliffe, have you seen this picture? (Warning: NSFW, though not lurid or anything.) http://static.regretsy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/potteruncut.jpg
That's a lovely quote. I think there's something to be said for such a belief, or at least, for a belief in cyclicality. I mean, I'm Catholic, so not really into reincarnation or anything, but Christianity's sense of time is at once linear (Creation ----> Apocalypse) and very very circular, based as it is on the concept of resurrection. Anyway! Yes, the impossibility of return is something we can't ever truly confront as it's too devastating.

I've struggled a bit with nostalgia studies because I want to adhere so fully to the word's roots. If it wasn't home, or wasn't your time, then can you truly feel nostalgic about it? For example, someone who obsesses about the 19th-century and wishes they could live there: are they nostalgic, or something else? Unfortunately I'm not sure there's another word for that something else, so it has to be nostalgia nonetheless.

Oh, Dawn Treader! I watched the movie on a plane trip a few weeks ago and considered writing about it. I loved Narnia also, but I've consistently reread them, the last time being as an undergraduate and so I'm probably overdue for another go. It had been too long for me to remember how accurate the film was to the book (except one scene that I know they did horribly wrong and it didn't work), but the movie really reminded me how fun the book was. It's just such a cracking adventure story! And so consciously medieval, with all the mythical places and races.

HP7: yes, that scene is brilliant. I'd forgotten that Harry's realisation actually comes from Snape's memories in the Pensieve, which is a brilliantly powerful montage, and the movie really hits an emotional high at that point. They did add one thing that I didn't like, but the scene at the edge of the forest where he turns over the stone and the shadows appear is pretty much all that I hoped for. Very well done.

Haha, I have, but thank you! Mmm.
I agree with so much of this, especially about the passion of obsession and how powerful it is. I saw the last movie last night and the nostalgia was just incredible, I don't think I've been thrown so firmly back into the past in... I don't even know how long. I re read some old fanfictions before going to see the movie, ones I would get up before school to write, which was some serious dedication. This whole book and movie fanchise has been about SO much more than a book and a movie.
This is such a wonderful post. You've reached into the heart of what our engagement with storytelling means to us.

I don't think it's an accident that I fell for the VC during that weird down-time I had between GCSEs and Forming An Adult Relationship. It made me start reading history again, and added a dimension to my questioning about various things, but most importantly it drew out an atmosphere in my head (which was inherently nostalgic) which had already been there, and deepened it.

I'm not saying it wouldn't have become a full-on obsession had I read them later, when I was busier, but I do know that my periods of deepest obsession with anything have coincided with free time.

When I saw X-Men: First Class last month, I was all OMG WHAT IS THIS; YOU GUYS, YOU GUYS; I HAD NOT KNOWN HOW MUCH I MISSED YOU!. I'd been very fannish about X-Men in my teens, pre-internet, and suddenly there was this character > effects film with all the slashy potential of the canon (which I hadn't known was a thing back then) gloriously unfurled and...

...I just had no freaking time to squee about it on LJ, or dig up meta, and the one fic I've read is amazing and I want to re-read my old comic collection and FROLIC IN IT but there is no time. And I've read several things in the past few years which I think would also have become obsessions if nurtured by the magic formula of time + getting locked into a strong community online.

The funny thing is that Harry Potter is one of those. I got into it in 2001, and discussed it on a couple of forums in the next 2 - 3 years, but somehow it never became The Precious except when new books came out. I love it to death, but I think it suffered from proximity to other obsessions, and from the fact that I never had that thing you mention, of being part of a community of friends who share the inability to discuss anything else... someday I'll re-read it and LJ about it and see who gets hooked in.