First let me confess: Though I once was one of those slightly scary adults who went out and bought Harry Potter books on the day they were released - and read them with the excitement of a 10-year-old - I never made it through The Order of the Phoenix. Not because it's the longest book in the series, clocking in at 870 pages, but because I felt it was bloated and took way too long to get moving. Perhaps there were other reasons: Too much to read for work, too little patience?
I still feel that way, but seeing the new Deathly Hallows 2 has sent me scurrying back to Phoenix and the final two books in the series, which I've never read. Hundreds of books demand my attention, and yet Rowling has captured my attention and clearly will hold it hostage until I finish Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows.
Such is the power of Potter.
Deathly Hallows 2 is a terrific film, the best moviegoing experience I've had in ages. Look at Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) over there, throwing down with the forces of evil! But though it's thrilling and enchanting and immensely fulfilling, executed just about perfectly by the filmmakers and actors and screenwriters, Rowling's magnetism is what gets us in the end. I want to see the movie again and will, no doubt. But I also want to stay immersed in the heady joy of what is plain great storytelling. I don't want this feeling to end, even though the story has.
And so I return to the books I haven't read. I'm completely enjoying Phoenix this time round (skipped those troubling first 100 pages or so). Guess what! It gets better. I'm laughing at Fred and George Weasley's antics with the fireworks and their flip-off to Professor Umbridge when she demands they be flogged for creating a swamp in the halls; wincing at Harry's horrified discovery that his dad was something of a jerk at 15 (much like Harry himself in this particular book); grimacing over the bullying of young Snape (always my favorite character, with Hermione a close second); mourning the loss of - well, I won't say, in the interest of not spoiling anything, although by now if you don't know how Phoenix ends, what have you been doing for the past few years?
I can't imagine what it's like for kids who grew up with these books, anticipating each new release, arguing over who in the family got to read it first. I don't know if we'll see another phenomenon like Harry Potter in our lifetimes (though Suzanne Collins' compelling Hunger Games series makes a respectable stab at it), though I like to believe imagination is not a finite thing. No one on earth has done more to introduce kids to the pleasures of reading than Rowling, and I salute her for it. And I'll happily welcome the next Rowling when she comes along.