For Gen-Yers, last Potter book marks the end of an era
With the release of the final Harry Potter book on July 21, youth ponder the role the boy wizard will play in defining their generation.
For Brent Lomas and thousands of other college students, the official end of childhood comes Friday night at midnight.Skip to next paragraph
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Once he's read "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," "I have to go out into the world and say goodbye," says the college senior, only half-joking. "It's the kind of thing that defines your childhood. I spent my teen years always being excited about the next book, and now that's over.... It's like letting go of a friend or a family member."
J.K. Rowling might have created the boy wizard, but the fans who were contemporaries of Harry, Ron, and Hermione while the series was written say they own the books in a way that no other generation ever will. "He belongs to us," says Andrea Farrer, a senior at Hackett Catholic Central High School in Kalamazoo. "Harry grew up with us." "It's the defining thing of our decade. That's what our generation will be remembered for," says her friend Kaili Doud, who plans to dress up as Winky, the house elf, for the final midnight party at Barnes and Noble here in Kalamazoo. While it would be going too far to call them the "Harry Potter generation," a number of Gen-Y fans think that they and their peers will be tied to Harry in cultural memory the same way that boomers have the Beatles and Woodstock and Gen-Xers have "Star Wars." And frankly, some of them say, they could do a lot worse.
"When you think about what kids look at these days to teach them about the world – Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie – I think it's very interesting that this fantasy character and fantasy series have been able to teach us morals and lessons about the world," says Mr. Lomas, who cites among those lessons acceptance of others and the importance of looking within yourself for strength. The senior at the University of Southern California ran his own website from eighth grade until, Lomas says, he "had to apply to college and become a real person." "I hope people identify us with Harry Potter over Bratz dolls and celebrity obsession. I hope they think of us embracing a creative idea."
With 325 million copies sold so far, plus movies, video games, websites, tribute bands, and a planned theme park, "embracing" is putting it mildly. Indeed, "rabid fandom" may be too tame a term. Certainly, adolescents have always at least partly identified themselves by the pop culture they consume – whether it's Elvis or emo (sad, mopey rock music, usually sung by pale young men with droopy bangs) – and sought a fellowship of like-minded fans. "That's what our age group does," shrugs Kalamazoo high school senior Katie McAtee, who belongs to the Facebook group "Please Don't Bother Me on July 21" – the date of the book's release.
The Internet obviously has made building connections much easier (and given people a way to maintain excitement between each book), but technology alone can't explain the sheer size of Pottermania. So, of course, experts have stepped into the breach.
"Harry's the herald who offers a moral code in times of great upheaval that vibrates to this generation the way the early [Bob] Dylan still echoes in the lives of boomers," argued Joel Garreau in an opinion article in The Washington Post in 2005, just prior to the publication of Book 6. "He is the prophet and precursor of a new generation."