So here’s a grown man dressed as a student from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, sitting next to his similarly dressed spouse in a nearly-full theater, waiting for the start of a double feature at 9 pm on a weekday. Sitting on the other side of them are a little girl and her mother, both of whom have never read a Harry Potter book but have seen all the movies. Next to them is another married couple who are seeing this film without their children because they couldn’t wait for the weekend. In the row behind are two ladies, one of whom has been instructed to give a full report on the movie to her boss, who claims he has nobody else to talk to about things Potter. Next to them is another mother and daughter who have spent the past ten years reading books and going to premieres together. All of us are waiting for the final act in a media odyssey…the last of eight films adapting a series of seven books and the last worldwide event for the Harry Potter phenomenon.
It’s hard to believe that a book series could have stirred up so much of a hoopla, especially when one considers the state of children’s books some dozen years ago. Back then the children’s section of your local book store was lucky to have one or two major book releases a year, and more likely to have stand-alone stories than long-running series. Demand for children’s books was steady but undemanding and a long line at the book store meant waiting five minutes at the most. Flash forward a few years and suddenly there’s a huge crowd flooding book outlets, counting down the seconds to midnight and the release of the next adventure in the Harry Potter Saga. It’s no exaggeration to say that this book series revitalized and and revolutionized the children’s book market. The Potter books not only inspired children to read, but to read at levels far higher than their age group as each book became more sophisticated.
Now the generation that grew up on Harry Potter was having their last hurrah. Ten year old readers were now entering their twenties and still sharing the experience with their parents and friends. The book and movie premieres evolved into media events, complete with cameras and costumes. I had the pleasure of acting as host for three book releases where we ran the House Cup, giving points to fans for participating in activities or just for being cool. At one it was my reluctant duty to declare the infamous Slytherin House the winner…by one single point.
Sadly there is only one first time for everything. There’s only one release date, only one first reading, only one opening night, and with the release of Deathly Hallows Part II there was the certainty that this would be the last first time. There would be no new film and no new book (unless the ever enigmatic J.K. Rowling chose to change her mind), and more than likely there would never be another series like this one. I suspect that’s why this last movie premiere was so important and so charged with emotion. It was the swan song of the Harry Potter generation. Like their heroes they had moved into their adulthood and now they were getting one last chance to say goodbye. Years from now perhaps they will dust off their books and introduce their children to the story, placing them firmly on the Hogwarts train at Platform 9 3/4 just as Harry does. But whatever becomes of the series, this was the first generation to read the books and watch the movies, and while there may be many more after them, there can only really be one first time.