It's been a long time coming, but Harry Potter finally meets his destiny this week when the eighth and final installment of the movie franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, opens on Friday. 10 years, seven books and eight movies later, it all comes down to this: Harry vs. Voldemort. Of course, readers of the books already know how this smackdown plays out, but J.K. Rowling made the finale edge-of-your-seat suspenseful in the book. Here's hoping series veteran David Yates (directing his fourth Potter film) and scriptwriter Steve Kloves can do the same onscreen—especially after the somewhat meandering middle-act that was Deathly Hallows Part 1 last fall.
In some ways, this last Potter film, like the last book, is a thing to dread, knowing we'll have to bid the long goodbye to some favorite characters. But that was always part of Rowling's game plan, introducing young readers to both the joys and perils of growing up and accepting the adult world with all its responsibilities and inevitable losses. In the fourth book, Goblet Of Fire, the spectre of death oozed out of the past into Harry's present for the first time. After that, through the tragic finale of the sixth book (Half-Blood Prince) and on to the devastating, yet inevitable showdown of Deathly Hallows, fans agonized over which beloved character would meet an untimely demise with each new installment. Commentators, and therapists lined up like spectators at a Quidditch match to pontificate on how to guide young children through these sad and scary bits.
Here's a news flash: Kid Lit is not for sissies. The land of Oz is beset by warring factions. Wonderland is a nightmare of adult irrationality. And don't get me started on Neverland, where pirates and Indians routinely slaughter each other for the pleasure of a tyrannical little boy.
In my day, we didn't have grief counseling every time a beloved fictional character expired. When Bambi's mother was shot by hunters, we just had to get over it. Kids were expected to process these tales as way-stations out of sheltered childhood into the more complex realities of grown-up life. Of course, some of us kids were better at it than others; I still remember the tantrum I threw at about age 7 when I read the book, Lady and the Tramp, in which (unlike the Disney cartoon version) Trusty, the old bloodhound, actually drops dead after chasing down the dog-catcher's wagon with Tramp inside. I was inconsolable.
(in the Disney universe, good dogs get to live forever.)
I have to admit, I still miss having a new Potter novel to look forward to every couple of years, now that the book series is over. I was on a "book tree" with a few other friends; whoever bought it first would read it fast (the only possible way to read a Potter novel) and then pass it on to the rest of us. This involved some down time whilst waiting for the book to come down to me in the food chain, and it was a big challenge in the meantime not to accidentally learn any spoilers re: the plot. This meant no reading book reviews (natch!), nor any kind of media essay or chatroom discussion, and no conversations with anyone who had read the book (which was basically everyone else on earth).
When Goblet of Fire came out, we all knew one character in the book was going to die.; the big secret was, who? For weeks, I went around like Helen Keller, deaf and blind to all external stimuli. One morning, I was sitting in my doctor's waiting room before my annual check-up, when a young mother and two little children came in and sat down a few seats away. She opened up a suspiciously large book to nearly the end (GoF, of course), the kids crowded around, and almost the first words she read aloud to them were, "(Character's Name) was dead!" D'oh!
(Say goodbye to Daniel Radcliffe & the gang this Friday)
I'll be brushing up on my Deathly Hallows notes this week, in preparation for the final film. (After 13 years reviewing books for the SF Chronicle, I always take notes now when I read a book, especially a humungous book whose details my tiny brain is likely to forget.) Let's hope Yates, Kloves, Daniel Radcliffe and the rest give Harry the worthy send-off he and his legion of fans deserve.