Farewell, Harry

As everyone knows, this weekend marked the end of the Harry Potter franchise because the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 2, was released in theaters across the world. It seems a little surreal that his billionaire dollar franchise is now at its end. After seeing the film yesterday on its opening day in the states, I started to reflect on why the series has been such a phenomena. I have to warn readers that if you haven’t read the last novel or watched the last film, this post does reveal some of what happens at the end of the series.

I will admit that when the first two books were released in the states in the late 1990s, I had no interest in reading them. The hype was impossible to escape, but I wasn’t much interested in fantasy stories. However, a few years later, I had to read the first book for  my pop culture writing class during my freshman year of college. After reading the first book, I was intrigued by Ron, Hermione, and Harry’s story.  I then read each book in the series up to that point, and when the last few books in the series came out, I read them as soon as they were released.

The more I learned about literature as an undergraduate, the more I learned why the Harry Potter novels had such a massive, worldwide appeal and the way in which Rowling borrowed classic and key concepts of literature . First, you have to give credit to JK Rowling for creating such an enchanting, magical world. But despite the fact the novels contain such fantastical elements, she bases the books in reality. The characters are relatable to most kids. Harry Potter, for instance, is NOT your typical hero. He doesn’t possess astonishing might or incredible wit and smarts.  Furthermore, he doesn’t come from great circumstances. He is essentially an orphan, since his parents were murdered when he was young, and he’s abused by the family who raises him-the Dursleys. He also ponders all of the things typical kids ponder, including his classes at Hogwarts, friendships, and romantic relationships later on. He also has to deal with bullies constantly at school, especially Draco Malfoy and his lackeys.

Rowling also created a series of complex characters. A lot of the key characters are not black and white, or totally good or bad. Professor Snape is a prime example of that, and his history is rich, only fully revealed toward the end of the final novel/film. Even the  most powerful wizard and mentor to Harry, Albus Dumbledore, is not without his flaws or past mistakes, as also revealed in the seventh novel/film.

Rowling also borrows a lot from classic literature, especially Greek mythology. Harry Potter, for instance, completes the journey of a hero, a concept that dates back to Homer’s Odyssey, at least. In the Odyssey, Odysseus must make a trip to the Underworld and reunite with deceased loved ones before completing his journey and returning to Ithaca. Harry Potter also visits his deceased loved ones and does indeed take a trip to the Underworld when he allows his arch nemesis, Voldermort, to kill him at one point in the final book and final film. However, like Odysseus, upon taking that trip to the Underworld, Harry has the option to keep going or to stay dead. He picks the first option.  The Underworld also serves as a way for the heroes to get key pieces of advice. Achilles, dead, tells Odysseus how much better it is to be alive than to be dead when he says he would rather be a lowly slave alive than rule over all the dead in the Underworld. Harry, too, gets advice upon his trip. It’s given by Dumbledore, who tells him it’s wiser to pity the living than the dead, especially the living who live without love. The living are the ones who still have to face obstacle after obstacle in life, and life is indeed often harsh, especially in Harry’s case.  This idea of the journey of the hero is found in other parts of Greek mythology, including the story of Hercules.  There are also other references to classic literature in the Harry Potter novels, including a few nods to Tolkien.

I think the Potter novels also deserve credit for the way women are treated throughout the series. One of the key characters, Hermoine Granger, is a good role model for young women. It’s doubtful Harry and his friends would win in the end without Hermoine’s smarts. She’s often the one who develops their plans and bails Harry and his best friend Ron out of trouble.  There are other parts of the novels and films where women play assertive roles. Mrs. Weasley certainly asserts herself in the last pages of the final novel against one of the key villains, Bellatrix Lestrange.  It’s also important to note that Rowling made on of the most prominent villains in the novel a woman-Bellatrix. And by the time the novels/films conclude, her body count is quite high.

Finally, there’s one last layer of the novels/films worth addressing, and that is the way Rowling addresses the classicism and racism issue. She does this by through the concept of pure breed wizards and characters in the book that are only part wizard. Some of the villains in the book despise those who are not pure wizards and refer to them as “mudbloods.” When Voldermort returns and builds up his massive army, he begins killing off mudbloods and tries to build a perfect race of wizards.

There are, of course, some flaws with the Harry Potter novels. A few years ago, Stephen King  joked that Rowling never met an adverb she didn’t like in her writing. He also said that he was sick of the way Rowling crafted the beginning of the novels because most of them begin the same exact way, with Harry suffering through time with the Dursleys, until it’s time to go to the magical world of Hogwarts. But King does state that despite some of the flaws in the writing, it’s likely the Harry Potter novels will be read years from now, just like other famous “children stories,” including Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, and the Wizard of Oz.

As for the final film, it is one of the best in the series, if not the best. It’s a great balance of emotion and action, and it does not cut out any of the final key scenes in the last novel.  It serves as a fitting end to a wildly successful franchise that will most likely live on years and years from now.

2 thoughts on “Farewell, Harry

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