Harry Potter and the Family from Frisco

It must’ve been just about 10 years ago when I read a magazine brief about some new children’s book that was catching on big in England. I recommended it to our then-8-year-old son, not realizing what a game changer Harry Potter would be in our family.

Before long, everyone was reading the books, and we were doing all those silly things rabid fans do: counting down the days to the next installment of the books and, later, the films; collecting trading cards; buying robes, wands and Harry specs; attending book release parties at local bookstores, etc.

While my wife and three sons have led the pack of Harry Potter fervor, our two daughters are at least somewhat interested, and I’ve read all the books and seen all the films (although I’ve yet to don robe or glasses for any reason). The literature snob side of me is aware that the books are highly derivative, silly in places, tedious in others and larded with clich, clunky writing and outright rip-offs of everything from “Lord of the Rings” (Sauron=Voldemort; Horcrux=Rings) to “Stars Wars” (wands=light sabers; Harry, Ron & Hermione=Luke, Han and Leia) and even The X-Men (wizards=mutants).

But Shakespeare was a thief, too, and I have nothing but admiration for J.K. Rowling, who walked her shopping cart through the halls of fantasy’s greatest hits, cherry-picked the good stuff and emerged with a fun distillation of it all. Along the way, she did plenty of her own inventions, merging familiar pop culture of our own with that of her wizardly world while giving us a colorful cast that kids – and plenty of adults – can like and relate to. Oh, and she made a few hundred bazillion pounds – a feat every aspiring writer dreams of and the stuff of publishing legend.

With a body of work as large as the Harry Potter series, though, fans do need to be somewhat patient and even indulgent. When Quidditch games appear on the page or screen, I usually flip ahead or leave the room for a time. Just as I’d like to go back in time and somehow persuade George Lucas to excise Jar-Jar Binks from the fourth Star Wars film, so, too, would I encourage Rowling to forgo Quidditch in favor of … anything else – even golf or Tour de France.

Watching the theater full of families, teens and couples at Wednesday’s sold-out showing of the newest film (“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”) reinforced my belief, though, that there are precious few things that cross as many demographics as Potter does. Men, women, children, couples, families … we were all in there together. And even if some of us found this newest installment to be somewhat ponderous and even boring at times, well, it was still ours to pick apart as we choose.

With three of our kids launching for college over the coming three years, my wife and I cling to any and all family traditions and do our best to relish them. Before long, we know, the kids will care little about things like Harry Potter, and it’s rare to get them even now to suffer a film with the folks. With two films still to come, the Harry Potter era is winding down, but it has been an almost constantly presence for a decade – oddly coinciding with the bulk of our parenting years.

Wizardly gifts aside, I think our kids are a lot more interesting than Harry, Ron and Hermione. That we’ve had this one thing to share as a family has been priceless, though. And for that, my hat’s off to Rowling and the gang at Warner Brothers who put the films together.

Now … what’s next?

Summit Daily News, July 16, 2009

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