With the release of the final Harry Potter movie last Friday, millions have been saying goodbye to our beloved wizard friends and, for some, to their entire childhood. I was a lot older than school age when I first encountered J.K. Rowling’s books, but my memories are no less magical than those of the children who grew up reading them.
In 1998, I was walking past a Crown Books store when I saw a giant display featuring Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in the window. I had never heard of them and wondered why the store felt the books were deserving of such a splashy display. I stepped inside and a bookseller said they were children’s books that were all the rage in England. I didn’t buy them because, well, I wasn’t interested in kid-lit at the time.
But I was intrigued so I went home and researched this supposed Potter craze on the Internet. I found over 400 reviews on Amazon and was surprised to see they were all five stars. There’s always at least one person who complains about something—price, plot, ending, cover—and throws off the whole average with a nasty one-star review. But no, not for Harry. It seemed everyone loved him, and how could everyone be wrong?
I went back to Crown the next day and bought the two books. Read the first that night and cried at the end. Woke up in the morning, shoved it at my husband, said, “Don’t ask questions, just read this,” then started the second book. Mr. PCN tore through Sorcerer’s Stone before I could finish Chamber (hey, it’s longer) and bugged me repeatedly with “Are you done yet? Are you done yet?” until I could hand it over. And so began our obsession.
For the release of every book in the series after that, we had to be at the midnight party. One time, we drove straight to a Borders after getting off a 14-hour plane ride from Europe because we needed to get in line. Luckily, it had a coffee bar there. Another time, we had to wear numbered plastic bracelets for a week, in the shower and all, because the store gave them out early so we could claim our positions in the queue (they were sealed onto our wrists and could only be cut off by a store employee when we came to get our books). The standing in line, meeting fellow fans, anticipation of midnight—it all made us feel like children waiting for Santa. And then of course, Mr. PCN and I would stay up all night reading the books, often out loud to each other in British accents and different voices (I was pretty good as Dobby).
*SPOILERS ahead if you haven’t read the final book or seen the final movie*
It’s funny that I’ve never had the same experiences with the movies, which can’t touch the magic of the books for me. The final installment was underwhelming. It was serviceable and touched on major plot points but lacked emotional heft. I was gutted when Fred dies in the book while the movie just kind of glosses over it. Mrs. Weasley’s showdown with Bellatrix is rushed—how does she vanquish Bellatrix, a terrifyingly powerful Death Eater, so easily? Why didn’t the Elder Wand recognize Harry as its true owner right away, before allowing Voldemort to throw those kill curses at him?
But there’s one thing that holds true for me in both books and movies: Neville Longbottom being the unsung hero. You know how I cried at the end of the first book? It was because of him. Gryffindor thought it had lost the house cup until Dumbledore said, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends” and awarded ten points to Neville for doing just that. The fact that Dumbledore could see the beauty and courage in that shy chubby boy moved me immensely.
And Neville showed he could stand up to his enemies, too. Towards the end of Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, when everyone thought Harry was dead and Voldemort was gloating, Neville was the only one who stepped forward, limping and bleeding, to exhort his friends not to give up. His speech was the only thing in the movie that nudged me close to tears.
He was never the best wizard, always the awkward one who was more likely to blow himself up in class than correctly cast a spell. He had to work harder than many of his peers just to stay in the fight. But stay he always did, with a heart true and pure. When he sliced Nagini’s head off, I cheered more loudly than anyone. Once again, it came down to Neville to save the day. The series had come full circle.
Perhaps this isn’t surprising because Neville could have been the Boy Who Lived had Voldemort visited his house instead of Harry’s that fateful night. It’s admirable to live up to great expectations, as Harry did, but it’s heroic to step up when no one thinks you can win. Rowling has told Harry’s story splendidly and I hope she’ll forever leave him where we last saw him. Professor Longbottom, however, may still have a few adventures left in him.
Matthew Lewis, who played Neville
Photos: Warner Bros.