Saturday, July 31, 2010

Happy birthday, Harry Potter! You're 30!

Today, July 31st, is Harry Potter's fictional birthday. Based on a timeline of the births and deaths of characters in J.K. Rowling's famous series about the British wizard, Harry Potter was born on today's date in 1980.
Hard as it is to believe, Harry would be 30 today if he were a living, breathing, flesh and blood wizard.
One of the bane's of working as a college professor is that my time for leisurely reading is limited during the school year. I love reading fiction, but I don't have time for it except for the four weeks between semesters during the Christmas holidays and the time I don't have to teach during the summer months. Just this past week, I finally finished reading the seventh and last Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It seemed important to read it before the first of the last two Potter movies come out later this year. (So much action is crammed into the book's 759 pages that two films were needed to complete the story arc).
Like all the others in the series, it was a page turner. And that is no small achievement in an era when reading books for pleasure seemed to be a hopeless anachonism of a bygone era. Rowling made hundreds of millions of dollars and gave a significant amount of it away in philanthropic gestures. She is one of the most adored best selling authors who ever lived. When her legacy as a writer is finally decided, if the books are merely regarded as adolescent pablum that helped to promote reading among a generation TV viewers, that will still be signficant.
I will let the literary critics parse the meaning to Rowling's novels to the culture at large. Maybe they will have a better sense of whether the Potter series of books will be read many years into the future. If I were a betting man, I would say no. The fanciful, magical universe of wizards and their potions and spells and other-worldly concerns will seem dated one day. We likely won't read Rowling's version of England in the same the way we look for clues into the Victorian era psyches of Londoners in Dickens.
Nevertheless, reading them was a sincere pleasure. They were rare in the sense they captivated both children and their parents and gave millions of families all over the world something to talk about around the dinner table. An entire generation of young men and women (two of them are my own children) identify themselves as the "Harry Potter generation" and I suspect the Potter novels will stand as a shared cultural reference point for the span of their lives.
It is hard to argue that their most essential message -- that good will eventually triumph over evil; that love is life's most enduring lesson -- isn't one worth promoting or adopting.
So, Happy Birthday, Harry Potter! Enjoy the day, wherever you are! You only turn 30 once!

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