Accio Kleenex: in which prophecies are fulfilled, eras end, and all the nerds lose their shit

It All Ends Here. That is the completely overblown tagline for the last Harry Potter movie which, in case you did not know because you have been living for the last decade under a rock 40 miles beneath the sea in a cone of silence, comes out TODAY.

As regular readers and Twitter followers know, I am a giant Harry Potter nerd. Seriously, with all the time and energy I’ve spent reading and thinking about Harry Potter over the last decade, I could have learned at least three foreign languages. I love these books. I grew up with them – the first one came out when I was 11, and the last when I was 19 – so some of my most formative years were spent poring over the most recent book and awaiting the release of the next one. But I don’t find the movies nearly as compelling as the books, which is why I’ll be seeing the movie not at midnight tonight, but tomorrow morning (fear not; I will compensate for this lag by wearing a Gryffindor scarf).

It all ends today. It all ends, and as with all such endings, it is bittersweet. Except that for me, it’s not really over.

The last book came out in 2007, but in the intervening years, I haven’t stopped reading the series. I haven’t stopped listening to it on audiobook. I haven’t stopped admiring the plethora of admirable women characters Rowling created – nor the fact that she created just as many detestable women characters, demonstrating that women, like men, can be evil and power hungry and violent. As I wrote when the seventh movie came out last November,

One of the best things about it is that Rowling created a host of female characters who are smart, competent and courageous, women who defend themselves and others, and who defy gender stereotypes. In this sense, Rowling’s books are enormously important; recent studies have found that in entertainment created for children, women and girls are severely underrepresented, and when they do appear, they are less likely to speak than male characters and are often depicted in ways that reinforce gender stereotypes.

And I’m not the only reader who has found feminist inspiration in Rowling’s books. Yesterday at The Frisky, Krystie Yandoli wrote about how Molly Weasley taught her about feminism:

It was a form of magic to see the same qualities play out between this made-up mother character in my favorite books and my real mom. My views on modern motherhood were inherently affected by witnessing both mothers nurture all children who need them, not just their own blood; manage to hold their families together under any and all circumstances; have unconditional love and support, even in the most frustrating moments; and partake in empowering, female-friendly movements that positively influence their daughters and sons alike.

Then, there’s Emma Watson, who plays Hermione in the movies. A self-identified feminist, Watson recently told reporters that she saw a lot herself in Hermione, and vice versa.

“I’m a bit of a feminist in the same way that she is. I will speak my mind,” Watson said to a group of journalists, comparing herself to Hermione. “I’m very heady in the same way that she is; I’m constantly thinking three, four moves ahead. I try to intellectualize a lot, which she does as well, obviously. I’m very determined as well… I feel so much of me went into her and so much of her went into me. I can’t really differentiate too much anymore it’s all a bit of a blur.”

Watson also expressed her disdain for our culture’s obsession with imagining girls as pretty pink princesses (“it’s bullshit”), and said that if she had to be a princess, she would be “a warrior princess.” Damn straight, girl.

To me, the Harry Potter series is so valuable because of the various female role models it supplies. There are so many smart, strong, morally upright women in the series – Hermione, Ginny, Molly Weasley, Minerva McGonagall, Luna Lovegood. That’s not even a complete list, and it puts almost any other popular culture product out there to shame. And while the movies are exciting, they don’t explore those traits in those characters in nearly as much detail as the books do. For this reason, I’ll always be grateful to J. K. Rowling – who was told to use those initials because boys wouldn’t want to read a book by “Joanne” – for her creation. For this reason, the books will always mean a great deal more to me than the movies do. The movies, as time passes, will become dated, and soon the special effects will seem dinky and old-fashioned. That doesn’t happen with books. Books live forever.

So while the last film is now upon us, “it” doesn’t really end for me today. Which is not to say that I won’t cry when (spoiler alert!) a handful of beloved characters die in the final movie. And you know what I’ll say when those tears start flowing? Say it with me, nerds…

Accio Kleenex!

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7 Comments

  1. Posted July 14, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Chloe. I was 11 when the first book came out and grew up as a serious Potter nerd as well. It actually never occurred to me that anything was ending until someone else suggested it and, quite frankly, I feel just as you do about the whole affair. The books are what has always been closest to my heart and so much more tangible in my memory. Hermione reminded me that it really was ok to stick to my guns at a time when I felt like the most unpopular teenage around for doing so. She also reminded me that being “book smart” and working your butt off was nothing to sniff at even when the people around you seem to come by their smarts effortlessly. I owe a lot to being able to identify with that character at a time when I needed it most and that will never “end”.

  2. Posted July 14, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    As an alterkacher, my formative books were those of J. R. R. Tolkien. But being outside the target demographic never stopped my partner and me from reading the Harry Potter books and enjoying them thoroughly. She has done so multiple times, me only once, although I’m sure there will come a time when I start the whole series all over again. I have read The Lord of the Rings probably 30 or so times in the course of my life, and enjoyed each time. We as readers change over time, so each time we go back to a favourite book, we see it with new eyes.

    Tolkien wasn’t nearly as good at creating female characters as J. K. Rowling was, but there is one who shines brightly: Éowyn. I always loved her. She is so much more of a character than Arwen. She does get a bit simpy at the end, but before that she has the most powerful scene in the entire book — her vs. the number one Nazgûl. And then it seems (to me, at least) that her marriage to Faramir is destined to be one of equals.

    I do appreciate the pantheon of female characters that Rowling has created. Hermione and Ginny, of course, but I think my favourite of the good ones is Luna. It’s easy to dismiss her as a bit cracked, but then you slowly realize that she really sees the world more clearly than others. I also love Tonks (given short-shrift in the films), who is strong and independent.

    The evil female characters are just delicious! Belatrix is fun, of course, but my favourite is Dolores Umbridge. The film makers did some of their best casting for that role — Imelda Staunton embodies Umbridge well. I think I find her most compelling because I’ve enountered Umbridges is real life. She’s truly scary with that little smile of hers, sweetly crushing anyone who doesn’t toe her line.

    Sorry for going on, Chloe. You’ve sparked my nerdliness. I shall have to write my own blog post. :)

    • Posted July 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Tell me about it – I get all nerdy over my Lord of the Rings, too. :)

  3. Posted July 14, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Chloe, your interpretation of the women in Harry Potter is remarkable. I completely agree with everything you have said. I read the first book I was a little younger than 9, unaware of many things that I became aware of in my second reading of the series. But I still remember the way I admired Hermione (in my first reading) even though she is viewed as snobby and nerdy by her classmates. (A similar prejudice was very prevalent at my school at the time.) To be honest, her know-it-all manner inspired me while my know-it-all manner caused me many a trouble. Throughout the series, I always saw that there was something about her that I wanted to make a part of me. Of course this wasn’t sparked entirely by Hermione, but her confidence in herself and her way of identifying with both girls and boys made me aware of my gender in a way that was not restricting.

    She is a remarkable character along with the other ones that you write about. It is just she who I identified with most.

    You are also correct in your identification of female “villains” in Harry Potter – women of great power who seek for more, like Bellatrix Estrange and Professor Umbridge. Their capacity for evil was both horrifying and electrifying. I was, in part, fascinated by their carelessness and emotionlessness. I was especially captivated by how sexy Bellatrix is in her depictions in the novels.

    I think that a special mention of Tonks is important here. She is one of my favorite characters in the series. Her wittiness and tomboyishness were so charming, and her dedication to fight against evil and her eventual (spoiler alert!) martyrdom at the end of the series made me proud to be a woman.

    Waahhh! I have written so much. I hope you don’t mind. (:

  4. Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed the title of this post! ha. I’ve been a big HP fan since they came out. I was lucky enough to be living in NYC two summers ago when the sixth debut. My boss gave me tickets to the premier and not only did I get to walk the carpet, see all the stars and watch the film before the public, I got tickets to the after party. We loaded double decker buses to the Natural History Museum and got to eat and drink with the cast for hours. It was a great night!

    Can’t wait for the movie tonight
    Liz-CoolProducts

  5. Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I, too, grew up with Harry&co. I read the first book when I was 11 years old, the same age as Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and had the wonderful opportunity to come of age alongside them. As such, this “end of an era” elicits a raw, emotional response from me and many of my friends. It makes me happy that so many young people were able to grow up with a story featuring such a diverse group of female characters, from villains to valiant witches. Accio kleenex, for sure. I’m going to need them.

  6. Posted July 15, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I too have spent the last 10 years of my life absorbed with everything Harry Potter. Two nights ago I was reading Deathly Hallows quotes and I ran across this on by McGonagall “I shall expect you and the Slytherins in the Great Hall in twenty minutes, also. If you wish to leave with your students, we shall not stop you. But if any of you attempt to sabotage our resistance, or take up arms against within this castle, then, Horace, ,b>we duel to kill.” It put a smile on my face and tears in my eyes. She was such an amazingly strong woman staying at Hogwarts that year with all the darkness that surrounded that place. She did it for her students and the greater good and she will forever be a woman I aspire to be.

    Its plan and simple, I was a lost young girl like many are today, but some years ago I found something that gave me strength and confidence. Feminism and Harry Potter saved my life.

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