A Tribute to JK
(This post contains no spoilers.)
I have never read a book in the "fantasy" genre; I didn't even like the Lord of the Rings movies, or Star Wars. They were too unrealistic, rather meaningless. I'd rather read Phillipa Gregory, Ayn Rand, Alexdanre Dumas, Daphne Du Maurier, F. Scott Fitzgerald, a good biography of Alexander Hamilton... I had absolutely no desire to read those Harry Potter childrens' books.
I was Up North (that is how we in New Fallujah refer to northern Michigan) the summer that Order of the Phoenix was released, on the tail end of a vacation with my mom and a close friend. It was cold and rainy for three days and I had finished what books I'd brought with me. My friend had borrowed the first two Harry Potter books and had finished the first. I said -why not see what all the hype's about? There's nothing else to do... and picked up book one.
After finishing this book, I asked for book 2 (still not terribly impressed, mind you, but entertained enough to want to read the second book, seeing as it was still raining and there was little else to do). My friend would not relinquish the finished book 2 until we drove to the store so that she could pick up book 3. My mom picked up book 1... It was all over from there. I've never experienced anything like it. We read - from the moment we got up to the moment we couldn't keep our eyes open any longer. We paused reluctantly only for meals - there was no TV, no radio. Nothing but the magic of those Harry Potter books that kept us enchanted until we had to head home, back to work (though, by that time, each owning our own copy of the newly released 5th Potter book).
True, these books are no Atlas Shrugged or the Count of Monte Cristo, but I have never enjoyed the actual reading of anything as much as I have enjoyed reading the Harry Potter books. I re-read and re-read them, marveling at all of the subtle clues, names dropped, cyrptic references made in the first four books, that you could not realize the significance of until the 5th book (or the full significance, in the 7th). The characters lived, really lived for me. I literally would become lost in these books as I read them, completely under JK's spell.
Children's books? Yes, children enjoy them, but in their innocence cannot fully appreciate them as adults can, cannot fully appreciate the motivations of the characters from the perspective of their young minds. Adults not only relate to Harry, but also to the more intriguing adult characters in the books. Yes, they're children's books and Rowling has written them brilliantly - for those who were around 11 (Harry's age at the time of the first book's release), they have grown up with Harry in the books, each one becoming more complex, just as they were - JK is a master.
But people of all ages can appreciate the book's themes. On the one hand, the HP books are your classic hero's journey, the same general themes that have intrigued humans from the time the first storyteller sat beside a campfire. But they're written now, the contempory Odyssey, set in a magical world written from a realistic perspective, entwined with our own, part of it. The comparison to our history is obvious - Voldemorte as Hitler, in his war against anyone whose blood is not "pure." The books also speak almost on a religious level, definitely with political commentary that cannot be overlooked in light of our current war on terrorism, and certainly on a moral level. They are about good v. evil, right v. wrong, that your actions determine your circumstance, that there are consequences for your actions; about doing what is right v. doing what is easy. They teach that sin - not only the big sins like murder and cruelty, but that other sins that we don't often consider, have consequences, too - there is a price to be paid for pride, and greed, as well - and that it is easy for anyone to succumb to their weaknesses, that it is human nature to do what is easy. (I hope I'm not rambling too much here - I am working off 3 hours sleep after finishing book 7 in less than 24 hours...)
I was talking to another good friend, another HP fan, about the eve of the release of Deathy Hallows, JK's 7th and final book in the Harry Potter series. We likened the event to New Year's Eve - with media coverage of the millions of fans worldwide whom JK Rowling has touched with these books - of the people awaiting the release from China to India to Spain to Israel. They were all most anxiously awaiting the conclusion of these British heros that are profoundly human; a story all those fans of all those different religions and ethnicities and backgrounds in all those different countries around the world relate to - about the power of love and kindness and bravery and doing what is right. If that's not real magic, I don't know what is.