By Malcolm, Teresa
National Catholic Reporter , Vol. 43, No. 33
Little did I know when my sister Krista gave me the first two Harry Potter books on Christmas 2000, that I would be joining the world's biggest book club. And it's hard to believe that now--with the seventh book--it's finally over.
Human beings have an ancient urge to tell stories around the campfire, and when J.K. Rowling's fast book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, was published in 1997--coinciding with the rise of the Internet--the world became our campfire. I had lively conversations about the books with friends, family members and coworkers--puzzling out the mysteries, making predictions, analyzing themes. And then, of course, there were countless communities online, where discussions ranged from the inane to the fractious to the insightful, that took the experience worldwide for many.
You never knew who might turn out to be a Potter fan. I once chatted with a dental assistant about Professor Severus Shape's loyalties--good guy or bad guy?--before she started sticking dental instruments in my mouth, which sadly ended the conversation. A charity book reading last year outed some famous members of the club: Stephen King confessed he was scared of dementors (magical creatures that drain the happiness out of you), and Salman Rushdie pleaded the case for Snape's innocence to Ms. Rowling herself. (She refused to spill the beans, even to this noted novelist, about one of the series' biggest mysteries.)
Ms. Rowling admitted she loved the theories and debates, and used her own Web site (www.jkrowling.com) to engage fans, shooting down false leads, answering obscure questions and providing backstories that would likely not make it into the books.
The hype and the merchandising could get overwhelming at times. But in the end, it was not all the doodads or the movies or the sales records or the news stories that brought my sister and me, and so many others, to a midnight book release party as the clock turned over to July 21, 2007. It was Ms. Rowling's cracking good story, with mysteries aplenty to keep us guessing and characters whom we had grown to love (or love to hate). We wanted to find out: Who dies? Who is saved? Who falls in love? How does it all end?
And now we know. I feel the passing of a unique experience, a communal reading that cannot be recreated for anyone who reads the series from this point on. Future readers will likely be just as engrossed by the story, but they will be able to devour one book after the other without those one-, two-, three-year-long gaps in which we whiled away the wait with endless theorizing.
Will it still be worth it for those future readers? I believe so. It still is, as I said, all about the story. The last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, brought it to a fitting end. (Be warned, those of you who haven't read the complete series and want to preserve the surprises: I'll be giving a lot of things away in this article.)
Despite the fast book's opening in the aftermath : of a double murder--the death of Harry Potter's parents at the hands of the dark wizard Lord Voldemort--the tale was much sunnier back then. Baby Harry survives Voldemort's attempt to kill him, and at age 11 finds out that he is a wizard, not to mention famous for his unwitting part in Voldemort's defeat. Off Harry goes to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
As every book covered a year in Harry's life, we've traveled a long way since then. The subplot of teen romances in Harry Potter and the HalfBlood Prince, the sixth book, was the last gasp of normality and lightness in Harry's life. While Deathly Hallows has its moments of humor and joy, they are short-lived. The characters are living under a fascist regime, and no one is safe, least of all "Undesirable No. 1," Harry Potter.
Harry has gradually lost his illusions about the wizarding society he joined with such wide-eyed wonder in the fast book. In his second year, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, he learned it is a place of barely hidden prejudice against anyone not "pureblood"--that is, born of an all-magical family. …