Like everywhere else, Oslo has had movie posters up for weeks announcing “Alt Ender” for Harry Potter. One of the strangest things about traveling as an American citizen is that—as far as billboards and media are concerned—you could be in some strange town a few miles down the road rather than a strange country. As it got closer to the release date, the signs multiplied (almost magically one might say).
I wasn’t really planning on seeing any movies while I was away for the summer—certainly not in Norway. It’s about as expensive as everyone said it would be; more for some things. But when everyone started talking about The Deathly Hallows, Part 2, first on Facebook and then all around me, I started wanting to see it. By the time I got back to the United States in late August, the hype would be all be over. Tickets to a normal movie are twenty dollars in Oslo; for the first few days after a film opens, they’re twenty-five. That was a powerful dissuasion.
But I ended up seeing it anyway. The movie was in 3-D and, in Europe, it opens two days earlier than in the United States. Rather than being behind everybody back home, I’d have the pleasure of seeing a Facebook status saying something like, “Can’t wait for the final HP tonight at midnight!!” and commenting with a quick, “The movie’s great.” A month abroad has not stamped out the All-American desire to be first in all things.
My cousin and I bought the tickets and paid about thirty dollars each (3D glasses in the style of Harry Potter’s—sans tape—were not included in the ticket price). In Norway, you choose your seat at the time of purchase so we were in the eighteenth row, two from the very back of the theater. The movie itself raced between being funny and dramatic, sometimes cringingly sweet. There were three or four moments where the theater audience burst into loud applause or laughter. I’ve never heard more than a handful of people clapping during any movie before. But when the movie was over—it was really over. The Final Ending, as the posters said.
The cast looked alarmingly young in the flashback sequences during Harry Potter og Dødstalismanene. How must I have looked back then? I was about ten-years-old when I got my first and second Harry Potter books at the same time. Say what you will about the series’ impact on literature or the quality of the directing or acting in the films—Harry Potter went on longer than I’ve committed myself to anything. Not a TV show, relationship, or address.
Harry-Potter-the-phenomenon has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I—along with many others—enjoyed them enough to wait in long lines and pay exorbitant sums collecting the hardcover books just so I could read them at the same time as everybody else. Except for Harry Potter (and now perhaps Twilight but I refuse to go there), no other book has had a hotly awaited release date in my life time. The series didn’t bring the same sense of nostalgia for my childhood as books like The Little Prince or the old Disney movies. Harry Potter did something quite different: it was consistently there, every year, for the last eleven years of my life. And now it’s over.
What was rare about this series wasn’t the phenomenon of the long lines or the truck drivers who were ordered to deliver books without food or bathroom breaks. It was incredible that, today, something managed to capture the patience of multiple countries for thirteen years (counting from the 1997 release of the first book). That’s longer than most people have their dogs.
My generation and I went from puberty into adulthood with Harry Potter. The summer of my first (highly dramatic) break up, I’d just moved to a city where I had no friends nearby. When Half-Blood Prince came out that July, it was the first day I’d not moped around in weeks (though I still stayed in bed all day reading). There may not be a “where were you when…” story for each book’s release but I do remember some of these occasions. My mother’s friend gave me the last book, The Deathly Hallows when I was seventeen. I read it on the pullout couch that was my home for the summer. Some of these things just stick.
And I wonder if there will be anything to take its place: a series that’s more than vampires and love; something with a story we can actually relate to, all of us. In all honesty, I’m not sure it could happen again. Maybe the only story that doesn’t go bad with time is that of someone who did better for himself, preferably in a rather spectacular way. A love story is always nice but you can’t draw out a relationship over thirteen years (as many television shows have discovered); there has to be something larger than that. That’s why, with this series, a gigantic number of people got involved.
I now say goodbye to Harry Potter—that small something that was always on next year’s media horizon. It all ended that much sooner in Norway than in New York or Wisconsin or California. I don’t envy them their last days of anticipation. I know what’s waiting: the world where we don’t clap in unison in a movie theater, where no one stands dutifully in line at a bookstore year after year, the world without something so simple as magic and fate to bring so many millions of people together.