Harry Potter and the existential crisis

By Emily Felder

I anxiously awaited the release of each of the “Harry Potter” books, along with everyone else. In my family the latest book went to whoever got dibs on it first. Calling someone a ‘Mudblood’ was just as bad as any other racial slur or epithet uttered at recess. My hair was frizzy and I wore glasses, so my brothers used to torment me and say I looked like Hermione Granger (which was well before Emma Watson made geek chic or the cover of Vogue last month). People dressed up as Harry for Halloween. Board games were made. We played Quidditch with sticks found in the school yard and bought a jelly beans spin-off of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans (I once mistook a nice Watermelon looking one for a mouthful of grass and dirt).

When I wasn’t waiting for the next Harry Potter book, I was talking about it – theorizing, analyzing, interpreting and escaping. I would take the books with me anywhere and everywhere. I had never wanted to read anything more in my entire life. It didn’t matter if you read for five hours or the next three days straight and missed going to the amusement park or your favorite restaurant; everything else stopped when you held that book in your lap. I took it with me on flights when I traveled, and once at my destination I even stayed inside to read rather than enjoy my extrasomatic environment. Until the book was completed, all communication, food and sleep became somehow automatically secondary.

Before embarking on the seventh and final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, I reread the first in the series – “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I figured after nearly a decade of reading and rereading, exchanging theories and of course watching the movies to the point of being able to quote them verbatim, the “Sorcerer’s Stone” was really the only one I ought to return to before finishing the series.. I read it, like the others, in a single night. I remember crying and holding the book to my chest once I had finished. It wasn’t Harry or the drama of the story that moved me so much; it was my own journey and maturation over the past decade that was represented by the books and the culture they had created.

I knew that in reading the seventh book, I was about to finish what I had been waiting for all along. All this time I’d desperately been seeking closure like the other millions of readers, Once I held it in my lap that final time, I wanted to savor it. I read the seventh book quickly, but not in one punch like the others. I was in Denver, Colo. visiting my grandparents, and I locked myself in a room downstairs and read with a roll of toilet paper beside me. I sighed and teared up when characters died or confessed their love for each other, but I truly wept when there was nothing else left to read but the copyright on the inside cover. Just as with the first, I closed it and held it to me, somehow trying to be within the book itself.

Everyone experienced a minor depression after reading the final book, but it didn’t take long for the announcement of the last three movies to prolong our denial of it really being over. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” came out and then we were told that the final book would be split into two movies, to which a lot of people responded harshly. I thought they were taking advantage of the story for mere box-office gain, but after thinking more about it I realized that maybe two movies would do the story more justice than one big, fast-forwarded mess .

Last fall “Part One” of the “Deathly Hallows” was released. Even though it was part of the final book, and deals with more than half of the book’s plot and content, I feel as though I still didn’t fully grasp that the end was nigh. I mean, 13 years was a long time to gain some sense of complacency that Harry Potter wasn’t going anywhere. I was also a child, and time moved a lot slower then. It wasn’t until I was rushing into the theater with my friend at 12:15 a.m. that I realized this would be the last time I make such a pilgrimage. Other midnight premieres will come and go, but never to this extent.

Some people say, “Why would you want to see a movie that late with everyone cramped in that space?” to which I replied, “Why do we go to concerts where we have to stand cramped next to others, sweating in a confined space, listening to music we could otherwise be listening to driving in our cars alone?” It’s the social, collective experience at work here, and Harry Potter has been the largest of the collective experiences to exist on such a culturally global scale over the last 13years.

Harry’s maturation into adulthood epitomized everyone’s coming of age, especially for my generation. People in their early to mid-twenties understand that we lived and grew with Harry side by side. Our own world around us was unfolding to be just as terrible, just as cruel and just as unforgiving and challenging. Harry may have turned 11 and been accepted into a world of magic, but he soon became aware of the evils that plagued it. Like Harry, we also woke up one morning on a September day and knew that the world and our lives would never be the same again. We’re not 11 anymore, but we remember.

So with the final act that was “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two”, I spent most of the film with my knees pulled into me so that I could wrap my arms around my legs to hug myself throughout the film. I never sit like that in movie theaters, or even at home for that matter, but I was so overwhelmed with emotion – my limbic nature – that it was all I could do to be comfortable. I was so anxious – even though I already knew how it ended! I knew the story, I knew how it unfolded and yet I had even more adrenaline now watching it adapted to the screen than I had in the last pages of the epilogue. It was only when the camera finally faded out, when I got that sudden burst of reality again, that I felt the truth: it’s all over now. This time it wasn’t “it’s over till the next one”. It hit home pretty hard.

Outside on the curb of a mall in West Springfield at three in the morning, my friend and I had literally been rendered incapable of returning to our lives both literally and figuratively after watching the movie. There was a full moon out, and I just sat there, staring at it, telling myself that the tides were still no different despite my existential crisis.

“Dude, childhood is over,” she said. “Don’t you feel so old?”

I told her about the first time I had opened the “Sorcerer’s Stone”, and we talked about how reading Harry Potter gave meaning to our lives. This is why I think art is so vital to our nature. We need it, whether it comes in the form of a book, film reel or chalk on the asphalt. Harry Potter represented the importance of the human condition and then became a part of it himself.

Emily Felder is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]