It All Ends Here.
So proclaims every advertisement for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”, possibly the most anticipated movie in recent history and the climax of a multi-billion dollar media franchise. That tagline evokes something deeper, however, than just the end of a film series. For me and for others my age, it symbolizes the end of our childhoods. We are, after all, the Harry Potter Generation. Some have considered us to be the product of the Information Age, and others have noted how we have grown up in the shadow of 9/11, but I am convinced that it is our embrace of a fictional orphaned boy that will end up defining my generation.
For 14 years – a full two-thirds of my time so far on Earth – we have been living in Harry Potter’s world. We’ve waited outside bookstores at midnight, dressed in costumes normally reserved for trick-or-treating, staying up far past our bedtimes to enjoy the simple pleasure of holding a book in our hands. We’ve devoured each new installment in the chronicle of Harry’s life while our attention spans, supposedly destroyed by YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, somehow managed to grow in proportion to the length of the latest volume.
We’ve dutifully attended all of the movies and bickered about how the screenwriters left out seemingly crucial details, or how the actors playing the three leads just weren’t cutting it, or how mind-bogglingly impossible it is to ever recreate on the screen the universe that we’ve designed in our heads. We have been indefatigable in our fandom. And together we’ve journeyed to this point in our lives, when we will finally be released from Harry’s world and thrust into our own.
Circumstances made us – and Harry – grow up faster
It is a favorite cliché among politicians that we are living in uncertain times, and this is doubly true for my generation. The job we want could be taken by someone living halfway across the world who is willing to work for a fraction of the cost. The unemployment rate in the US for those between 16 and 24 stands at around 19 percent – double the national rate.
And we are still coping with the knowledge, made suddenly and terribly plain to us a decade ago, that there are people out there in the world who want nothing more than to see our bodies strewn across the wreckage caused by their malice and closed-mindedness. In many ways, like Harry, we reached adulthood far earlier than a kinder universe would have allowed.
But this is what makes the “Harry Potter” series so important for us. It has helped ease the transition, allowing us to slow down a bit as we followed Harry through his dangerous but still relatively childish pursuits. As we became old enough to accept sorrow and grief, Harry, too, confronted a more complex web of emotions and responsibilities. We grew up alongside Harry, Ron, and Hermione, sharing in their triumphs and wallowing in their despair.
It certainly helped our navigation of their world that the evil they were fighting was unsullied by nuance. Lord Voldemort never exhibited any redeeming qualities. He certainly never showed remorse. Unlike most situations in the real world, with “Harry Potter” one never had to hesitate before choosing sides.
A global generation united over Potter
Perhaps because of this moral certitude – and because of the vividness and humor with which J.K. Rowling has designed her alternate reality – these books have done something extraordinary: They have united my generation. The “Harry Potter” books have sold more than 450 million copies and have been translated into at least 67 languages. Indians and Pakistanis, Russians and Chinese, Israelis and Palestinians have all shaped part of their childhoods around this boy wizard, and the way we interact with one another cannot fail to be altered by having shared this experience.
After all, one of the main themes of the “Harry Potter” series is the need for tolerance. Voldemort exploits the differences between wizards and Muggles for terrible ends, but the belief in racial superiority that drives him and his followers is nothing but an illusion. In a way, this realization may carry over into our own lives. Whatever our differences, we will have Harry in common. We have all poured our time and our cash – and our hearts – into Harry’s universe.
And as our generation heads out into the world, someday to lead it, perhaps we will be able to meet a stranger and strike up a conversation about the books that have meant so much to us. Maybe finding this commonality will spur us to search for more of them. If so, Harry will be doing our generation a service even greater than the one he’s already performed.
Noah Bokat-Lindell is a rising senior at Yale University majoring in political science and history. He is currently interning at the US Department of Education and, like the rest of the world, he plans to see “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II” this weekend.
The Monitor has no less than eight other quizzes on the Harry Potter book and movie series. Give them a shot.