And, in the End…

Posted: July 18, 2007 in Hot Book News

It’s almost here.

The release date of the final installment in the Harry Potter series, that is. That’s no secret, unless you’ve been living in the Australian outback for the last decade. Even in that case, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the aborigines know all about the adolescent wizard with the scar on his forehead. I wouldn’t be surprised at all. I don’t know of there’s a corner of the globe that hasn’t been influenced by Harry.

I have my copies of Book 7 reserved, both at my local Borders, and at Amazon.uk. I’m all set, as far as getting my grubby little hands on the actual book. It’ll mean milling about with a couple hundred obnoxious, squealing, sweaty kids dressed in black robes and wielding wands, but I’ll have my copy of the book most likely by 1:00 a.m. on July 21st. By roughly 3:00 a.m. I’ll have plowed my way at least halfway through it, and after a nap I’m planning to get up AGAIN and hopefully finish it before I have to pull myself away.

I foolishly allowed my husband to make PLANS for us on Saturday, July 21st. We’ll be going to the Shakespeare Theatre downtown, for a performance of ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ leaving the kids with the in laws at our house. A night out is pretty rare, but what possessed me to consent to THIS WEEKEND is beyond me. Call it a lapse in judgment, or a rare moment of maturity, but right now I’m trying to figure out how on earth I’ll finish Harry Potter before the curtain rises…

Should it make me feel weirdly self-conscious that I have the same mania as most ten-year olds on the planet? Well, maybe. But fortunately I DON’T CARE. I’ve been following Harry almost from the beginning, since just before the mania really got going, and it’s come to mean a lot to me. More than as just a series of children’s books, but as a symbol of what reading can do, how it can unify people and even get you through some tough times.

I was a bookseller when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out, and one day a close friend of mine (a friend who came as close to rivaling my love of books as anyone I’ve ever known) sent me an email saying, “This Harry Potter book? It’s going to be BIG. Watch it. Buy some signed copies if you can…”

I’ll admit it, I scoffed at first. This was a children’s book, and one on a topic done countless times before. Witches and wizards?! Done and done again! I did try to get my grubbies on a signed copy, via Waterstones UK, but they were all sold out. So I shrugged, telling myself “Oh, well, no big deal.”

No.

Big.

Deal.

Well, not exactly, as it turned out. I could have financed half my MLS degree by selling that signed copy, had I gotten my hands on it. HALF MY DEGREE. Let’s pause while I re-group.

Okay.

I did, soon after, read the first installment in the series. I read it around the same time my forward-thinking friend, Jack, was reading it to his son, Chris. Chris was enthralled, and by the time Book 2 came out the two of them were standing in line at Borders, at the midnight release. Again, I scoffed. “I’ll wait until a more reasonable hour,” I told him.

So I did, and of course everything Harry exploded more and more. And Jack reminded me, again (and again, and again), about the current value of that signed edition of the first HP book he’d encouraged me to buy. That I hadn’t put an order in for in time. And he GLOATED, as he had every right to do. Then I got him back, by getting my hands on review and signed editions of other books he wished HE had. He called me a variety of names. And we were even. Well, almost. He was STILL right.

Not long after, we found out my friend Jack had cancer. Terminal colon cancer. He was given two years to live, max. In between almost daily talk of books, we talked about his hopes and fears, his ups and downs, and how he feared he was letting his son down by leaving him. Stuff like Harry Potter temporarily took all our minds off the grim reality. It also allowed Jack another way to bond with Chris, who is the same age as my oldest child, though my oldest isn’t Harry-mad, unfortunately. We can’t have everything.

We both read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and we started comparing notes. Suddenly, I was speculating on this children’s book, making predictions and wondering about what the next book would bring. Jack read the book over and over to Chris, assuming all the character voices in the book. And the kid was hooked like nobody’s business.

Then came Book 3, and enter the character of Sirius Black. Finally, Harry had a firm connection to his past in the form of his godfather. That was a great installment in the series. By Book 4 my daughter and I were standing in line at midnight, at Barnes & Noble in Schaumburg, while Jack and his family went to the shindig at Borders. She wasn’t completely converted, but she had seen the movies at least, and had a vague idea what was going on.

We went home to tear into the book immediately, sharing our crushing feeling of dismay when Ron, Harry and Hermione seemed like they were splitting apart. Of course that ended on an up note, but adolescence was setting in for the trio, and with that came a whole new, more complex set of emotions. They were growing up.

And so was Chris, who was starting to read Harry Potter himself, now, though he still liked it when his dad did the voices.

All the while, Jack’s health declined more and more, as he got weaker and weaker. But he’d surpassed his life expectancy, beating the odds at least that far. Two years had come and gone, then three, then four, five and six. Around the serious talk of last wishes, he told me his Harry Potter predictions. He’d read the books so many times, by that point, he had it all nailed down. An inveterate internet surfer, he managed to dig out the information about the title to Book 5 early on, spotting it on various websites. But he didn’t live to read that one. He died November 12, 2004.

I read Book 5, with anticipation tempered by sadness, knowing Chris was reading this one to himself, not out of choice but necessity. Then came Book 6, which I read too quickly, and it’s now frankly a bit of a blur to me. But the ending…. Ugh. It mirrored real life a little too closely for me.

Now the last book is almost here. The last in this series of books that have meant a lot to me personally, and so much to the world in general. A generation of kids is growing up dreaming of magic and wizards, and you can almost feel the energy of them crossing their fingers, hoping against hope when the dust settles at the end Harry, Ron and Hermione are all still alive. I’ll be reading this book, finally finding out if Jack’s early predictions come true, if things will turn out like he thought they would. He was a pretty sharp guy, one of the finest people I’ve ever known. Something tells me he won’t have been far off the mark.

He won’t ever know that, won’t get that bit of closure he’d have loved having. Those of us who knew and loved him, though, those infected by his enthusiasm for the series and all it meant to him, will finally know how it all turns out. I wish he could be here to share it, to turn the last page of the last chapter and know. But, like so much of life, things just don’t work out that tidily sometimes. Not all endings can be happy. But, in the end, others whose lives we touched keep going on, influenced by everything we’ve done for them.

Jack, here’s to you. With thanks. For everything.

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Comments
  1. Christina says:

    This was a very touching post. Jack sounds like he was one in a million. Enjoy this last Harry Potter book!

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