If I can’t get into heaven, I’ll settle for Hogwarts

July 10, 2011 

There were two dependable pleasures I got in the habit of looking forward to, from before I was a teenager until after I was (technically) an adult: the next Beatles album and the next Alfred Hitchcock movie.

All good things, as they say, must end. The last album the Beatles recorded (or so I’m told) was the iconic “Abbey Road”; Hitchcock’s last movie was “Family Plot.” One out of two had to do.

I thought I’d gotten too old for that kind of innocent and gleeful anticipation. Then Harry Potter came along.

We are among that parental demographic privileged to watch its children grow up, almost literally, with Harry, Hermione and Ron and to fall under the spell of delightful characters like Albus Dumbledore, Rubeus Hagrid and Minerva McGonnagall.

Those now-legendary figures are creations of the epic talent and fertile imagination of J.K. Rowling, the English former welfare mother who supposedly sketched the outlines of her magical universe on a paper napkin before committing it to print and creating an empire bigger than any Britain itself can still claim.

Rowling has since become, by some estimates, the wealthiest woman in England after the Queen, and Her Majesty’s riches come from taxpayer pockets. (Some welfare mothers have it better than others.) A syndicated columnist -- George Will, I think, but I could be wrong -- opined that however rich J.K. Rowling might be she’s earned every shilling of it, and I absolutely agree. In the age of Internet and video games and social media, she managed to get children reading -- not just books but intelligent books, maybe even great books.

(Those pitiable souls who think the near-illiterate “Twilight” series is somehow comparable need to be sedated … but that might be redundant.)

Part of Rowling’s genius is that her characters grew up with her audience, and so did the novels themselves. Each successive volume of the Potter story is a little more sophisticated, a little more adult, and yes, a little darker than its predecessor. It’s a whole different concept of young people’s literature from what I remember reading in whatever distant geologic era spawned me. The Hardy Boys -- my literary companions until I discovered James Bond on a drugstore paperback rack -- stayed the same age long after they should have been getting AARP mail.

By contrast, the Potter saga evolved from the surface-simple but deceptively rich “Sorcerer’s Stone” into a complexly coherent world that stirred English literature, biblical symbolism, Arthurian legend, classical mythology and Rowling’s own unique imagination into a magical potion. The characters’ names are like something synthesized from the literary DNA of Charles Dickens and William Blake: Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort, Lucius and Draco Malfoy, Snape, Sprout, Flitwick, and the deliciously despicable Dolores Umbridge.

So seldom do movies live up to books that the quality of the Potter film series is a happy anomaly. That has a lot to do with a troupe the Royal Shakespeare Company might covet. The casting of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as the three principal characters (and kudos to Rowling for insisting that the first director, Chris Columbus, not import a bunch of Americans to inhabit the eminently English world of Hogwarts) was note-perfect. But it’s the roster of supporting players that really reads like a distinguished actors’ roll call: Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman, Julie Walters, Brendan Gleeson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson.

The last book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” was published a while back, and it’s a grand slam of a finale. Now the last movie is here, and then it’s over. Like Beatles albums and Hitchcock movies, the Harry Potter legend is finished and complete.

That makes me a little sad. But it also reassures me that enchantment doesn’t have to be just for the young.

Dusty Nix, 706-571-8528; dnix@ledger-enquirer.com.

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