And Thus With the Turning of a Page, Childhood Ends
Oh the torment bred in the race
the grinding scream of death
and the stroke that hits the vein
the hemorrage none can staunch, the grief,
the curse no man can bear.
But there is a cure in the house
and not outside it, no,
not from others but from them,
their bloody strife. We sing to you
dark gods beneath the earth.
Now hear, you blissful powers underground -
answer the call, send help.
Bless the children, give them triumph now.
- Aeshylus, The Libation Bearers
And so begins Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling's phenomenal series of novels that began ten years ago with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1997.
I discovered Harry Potter in 1999 when I was 13. I was in 8th grade, and while the books were popular, Potter mania had yet to grip the nation the way it would when the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released. There were three books already when I started reading them, and I devoured them one after the other in quick succession, and awaited anxiously the arrival of the fourth novel, which at the time was announced to be called Harry Potter and the Triwizard Tournament.
I bought my copy of the seventh book today after work, and on my way back home it hit me - this really is the end. It's over. These books, this phenomenon, these are not mere words on a page. This is the childhood of millions across the world. And today it comes to an end. I have spent eight years with these characters, many have spent all ten. We have lived their lives, we have shared their joys and their sorrows, their triumphs and their defeats. They have been our friends, and we have been theirs. We have stood next to Harry as he fought his way through a living chess game, laughed with his friends, dueled a giant serpent, snuck through the castle in the dead of night, vanquished an army of hooded, soul-sucking Dementors, battled dragons, met a host of eccentric characters, faced dark lords, outwitted evil teachers, escaped zombies, and watched those he has cared about the most die before his eyes. And suddenly the gravity and finality of it all sank in, and driving home from work with the book nestled safely in the passenger seat, I started to cry. And I thought it rather silly that I was crying over buying a book, but this is not just any book. When I bought that book, I knew something was ending that has been a huge part of my life for the last eight years. Sure the books will still be there, as will the movies. But it’s not the same. When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is finished, I will never again know the wonder of reading a Harry Potter book for the first time. The late nights, breathlessly turning pages to find out what happens next will be a thing of the past.
When I got home and opened the book, I began to cry before I had even finished reading Rowling’s dedication - to those of us who have stuck with Harry until the end. And as I began to read, I was struck the most by its seriousness. We knew at the ending of the sixth book that nothing could ever be the same again in Harry’s world - that the last bit of innocence had died. But the humor, the light, friendly moments that made Hogwarts such a welcoming place for all of us staying up past our bedtime to read just one more chapter are just a distant memory in a very dark and bleak world. Those of us among the original group of fans have grown up, and indeed Harry has grown up with us.
I do not know how this book will end. But I do know that no matter what happens it has been a fantastic journey, full of wonder, magic, and excitement. And we will never forget Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Sirius, Lupin, Ginny, Mad-Eye Moody, Snape, Mrs. Weasley, Fred, George, Tonks, Hedwig, Neville, Luna, Gilderoy Lockhart, Nearly-Headless Nick, and all the rest who have been with us on this marvelous adventure.
This has been the childhood for an entire generation. And something tells me it will continue to be the childhood of many for generations to come.
Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.
- William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude - from the prologue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows