Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Harry In Retrospect
Today is a big deal for Harry Potter fans. For me, not so much. Back when I had the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of Potter mania, I stalled. I bought the first book, but found the author's tone too disagreeable to get me past fifty pages. Years later, when our family faced a lengthy car trip across the Canadian prairie I reached in desperation for the audio recording. To my surprise, Jim Dale's robust performance of the book won me over. He relayed the narrative as if, in fact, its twists and turns were jolly surprises to him. The next few years promised several lengthy car trips, so I bought or borrowed the rest of the series, which we finished last summer.
By then I was more than ready for it to be over. I'd grown weary of the Potter Plotline — begin with Squalid Episode in Harry's adoptive Muggle family; transport Harry to Hogwarts where he and his cohort sneak around to determine why Something Mysterious is happening; conclude with Perilous Quest and wrap it all up with Affirmational Epilogue — which Rowling took increasingly more time to lay out. I still wanted to know where it was all leading, but I tuned out for vast stretches of Dale's performance, often cluing in belatedly after someone in the car gasped with surprise.
Anyone who gets kids excited about reading, though, is someone to hold in high esteem, and J.K. Rowling more than qualifies. The Pottter Plotline worked, but more than that, the characters were compelling, especially to younger readers (again, as the characters grew to be all-too-convincing adolescents, my own interest thinned to near non-existence). But more than that, the magical environment these characters interacted in was entirely beguiling.
Near the end of the series, as the tone of the adventures grew increasingly gloomy, I can recall a critic tangentially lamenting that he hoped there might still be room in the (then) forthcoming books for another Quidditch match or two. It strikes me that this remark cuts closest to what has made those books and movies so successful: a landscape of enchantment, imagination and play that entices the reader to speculate and roam further. A little Googling seems to bear this out. Potter fan-fic is booming, and there are all sorts of folks trying to mount a successful Harry Potter on-line RPG.
RPGs . . . Harry Potter appeared just as Dungeons & Dragons was fading from suburban basements, and shortly before video games became persuasively immersive to both genders. Rowling so fabulously bridged that gap, I have to wonder: what might it look like to approach and weave together the next such nexus?