It would have been a little difficult to ignore Harry Potter fever this past week leading up to today’s release of the final film in the series. Potter mania is something we’ve all grown used to over the past decade or so, and the knowledge that this would be the last time the world gathered in joint appreciation for the boy wizard and his cohorts has left many people feeling more than a little nostalgic. Certainly, I’m no exception. But for me the true goodbye took place in July of 2007, with the release of the final book.
J.K. Rowling’s world has always been about the books for me, first and foremost. Reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was a farewell to the characters, to their adventures, and to the excitement that inevitably preceded the publication of each installment. By contrast, the film was a farewell to these actors we have watched grow up on screen, to little Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, now adults who have graduated from Hogwarts and the fame it afforded them, off to spread their wings in new projects and roles. It has been a pleasure watching them go from ten- and eleven-year-old child actors just finding their feet in the industry to the accomplished performers revealed in this, their last effort for the Potter franchise.
Much has been made of the unique format of this series—both books and film—in that J.K. Rowling succeeded in creating a series of books for children where the characters aged in each book (something Warner Brothers was miraculously successful in mimicking by maintaining the cast throughout all eight films). Much of our attachment to these characters comes from that structure—we feel like we really know them all. But the Potter books are not the only ones where children grow up. One has only to look to the Narnia tales—where the Pevensie children age (both forward and backward!) or Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quartet—with Meg and Charles Wallace Murray going from children to adults, to know that children do not always stay stagnant. It is true there are many series where children or teens appear frozen in time, but in many cases those series are ongoing and episodic, about a collection of similar, repeating adventures with no overriding arc. In fact, the open-ended series is as popular with adult readers, in particular within the mystery and urban fantasy genres. A detective or monster hunter can continue indefinitely through book after book, solving new puzzles and fighting ever-mounting evil.
So when does an author decide to call it quits? How does a writer say goodbye to the characters they love—particularly when the public adores them, too? Part of the beauty of the Harry Potter saga is that Rowling knew from the very beginning how many books she intended to write. She had the arc planned in her head, had written the epilogue for book seven long before she began the book itself, and has maintained that the adventures of Harry Potter are complete. There are rumors, as there always are, that she will give in and return to the world she has created, but would that be the right decision? The books as they stand form a complete and satisfying tale. Yes, she could write early history—delve into Dumbledore’s youthful adventures or give us more stories about the Marauders. Conversely she could push forward and follow young Albus Severus Potter through his own Hogwarts years. But what would that truly accomplish? In the end, she has told the story she planned to tell in the way she planned to tell it, and experienced unprecedented success in the process. There is much to be said for leaving off at the height of that success, rather than continuing on until interest peters out. Too many authors, especially those with open-ended series, write long past the fading of their ideas and end up ending on a sad note, with dwindling sales and/or worsening reviews.
Everything ends. That includes film franchises, television series, and beloved books. Life moves forward and, even if farewells can be a little sad, it is exciting to anticipate what new things will sprout up to replace the old. I, for one, look forward to discovering where J.K. Rowling will take us next.