Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter: The boy who out-lived Luke?

The “Boy Who Lived” from my childhood is Luke Skywalker. The magic of the Force was taught to the young and powerful sorcery newb by a little green wizard who lived on the swamp planet of Dagobah. And the black-clad, “You Know Who” villain with pale, damaged skin was actually the young apprentice’s father, not the one who killed him.

More than any other popular culture masterwork, Star Wars defines me. It is a part of my POP-DNA; having been born into it and grown up with it, I am a proud member of Gen X-Wing.  Yet I feel the pull of the Potterheads.

J.K. Rowling’s first book was introduced to American readers Fall 1998 in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; it was the second year of college and my pop-culture attention was wrapped up with a movie which wouldn’t be released for another eight months - Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the first of George Lucas’ prequels (and no, I’d rather not talk about it). It wasn’t until 2000, when book four, The Goblet of Fire, was published I began to read up on the books and take notice of the Potter mania.

While I came to appreciate the books, and the expertly-cast film franchise that began in 2001, the story of a chosen-one orphan against an ultimate evil engaged me – but not enough to label myself a “fan.” I presumed there can really be one defining pop phenomenon per lifetime, and I’d staked out mine.

Then I visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at the Universal Orlando theme park. It was a pretty balmy October evening in Central Florida, but as I crossed the threshold into Hogsmeade and saw the snow-covered shoppes of the wizarding hamlet – with Hogwarts castle presiding over the entire town – a childlike sense of wonder kicked into overdrive. The experience was not unlike a very early memory of taking in the eye candy of Santa’s village occupying the rotunda near the food court in our local mall.

I still don’t know if the chimes of John Williams’ “Hedwig’s Theme” from the movies was actually playing in the park, or if I just heard it in my head, but I do know that I sucked down multiple Butter Beers (a delicious cream soda/caramel cider/butterscotch hybrid beverage), ate chocolate frogs from Honeydukes and seriously considered getting a wand from Ollivander’s. Around the same time a colleague asked, "You must be a big fan of Harry Potter, right?" - after riding The Forbidden Journey attraction three times and discussing much repressed trivia about the Potterverse - I realized an inner HP fanboy was hiding in me behind my Star Wars nerd.

Courtesy Tailgate365.com
I sort of have been talking about Harry Potter a lot since that visit. In fact, I think it’s making friends uncomfortable. Last weekend’s Quidditch World Cup in New York City captivated me more than the Super Bowl, and the tipping point may have been when I recently attended a meal at some fancy joint decorated with the illusion of floating candles all over the room. With more genuine enthusiasm - and way less sarcasm - than intended, I questioned aloud when McGonagall would be showing up with the Sorting Hat.

Speaking of being sorted, I purchased a large, ornate Slytherin stein (with faux-ruby snake eyes on the handle) in Orlando, and I feel deliciously evil when I drink coffee out of it.

Although I’m not ready to cut off my Padawan braid just yet, the wonder and awe I’d discovered in relation to Rowling’s creations isn’t really shared with the galaxy far, far away. Star Wars will always be what defined my childhood entertainment, and molded much of my entertainment consumption habits, but the Harry Potter series just may be what defines my inner kid – the one we are all allowed to indulge over the holiday and with simple pleasures like an ice cream cone or a trip to the zoo. As much as Star Wars is cool and fulfills a young boy’s hero fantasies, Potter is magical.

I will still take a lightsaber and membership with the Jedi any day over attending Hogwarts with a wand, but there is something slightly more appealing in the idea of a realm of wizarding all around us, in the modern world, that’s just a little beyond the view from Muggles.

Like other readers, I know how conflicts are resolved for Harry, Hermione and Ron, and this Friday I shall join movie audiences to begin the eight month farewell to the film franchise starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint in part one of the final chapter - I’m still wrapping my head around that – titled Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, which will conclude in July 2011 with Part 2.

But conclusion aside, the Harry Potter phenomenon won’t end – at least, not for me. Ten years after my introduction to the magic, I’m still a member of Gen X-Wing, but I’ve been sorted as a Potterhead.

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