Reading Harry (Part 2, continued from previous post)

Just before leaving Europe for good, we did something extravagant: We flew the whole family to London to see the premiere of the HP4 movie. Although the movies have always been second-best to the books, that trip placed London at the top of Lucas’ and Fiona’s favorite-place-in-the-world list. So the vivid images of the Goblet of Fire, the World Quidditch Cup Tournament, Cedric Diggory’s death in the maze and Voldemort’s rebirth from a cauldron, were actually trumped by those of the dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural History, ice skating at the Tower of London, and a frigid hike across Kensington Gardens to find the statue of Peter Pan. Harry was still with us, but other things had begun to make noise in our kids’ awareness of the world around them.

We had already been in Argentina for a couple of years by the time the seventh and final book came out, and both kids had read the entire series on their own – some books more than once. In fact, they probably sat and listened to me read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows more out of a spirit of solidarity with me than anything else. Even so, we still had a good cry together at the end: not only was Harry’s story over; it was the last time the three of us would sit and read together. We held on to the knowledge that we still had several films to go, which softened the blow a bit.

After that, there were just two more notable HP moments to add to the lot. One came in the most unexpected circumstances during a long hike in southern Patagonia one summer. Looking at 6 hours between departing the town of El Chaltén to get to one of the jaw-dropping glacial blue lakes in the Andes, the ‘how much longer’ question loomed large on our trek. Among our arsenal of stories, jokes, snacks and mind games to distract whining hikers, 20 questions always worked well. This time I decided to give it a Harry Potter theme. The kids’ categorical questions – Is is a magical creature? Is it a spell? Did it first appear in Book 3? – soon became a source of curiosity for other hikers on the trail, who started joining in. We ended up with a huge line of international Harry Potter fanatics all playing along with us! Seeing my kids as part of a global community of readers? Very cool moment.

So it’s been ten years since we started reading Harry and the time has come to say goodbye. Our final farewell at the movies last month was a fitting close to the saga not for its cinematographic recreation of The Deathly Hallows. In fact, the film took a backseat to the packed theater of fans, many of them dressed in Hogwarts robes, who clearly knew every scene by heart from multiple readings of the book. It was a crowd of readers whose real tears preempted every tragic death, whose shouts, cheers and applause mixed with the raging battle of Hogwarts students on screen to the point that it was hard to distinguish movie from audience. The effect of the collective emotions of all those teenagers not only surpassed the movie, they made the movie. Unforgettable.

The benefit of reading to one’s children goes without saying. What is perhaps not so often mentioned is the gift it gives to the parent who takes his child’s imagination seriously. Reading with my children has allowed me to inhabit the fictional places they have loved right alongside them. I have become the voice of Piglet, Brer Rabbit, and yes, Dobbie the house elf. It’s been a privilege I’ll never forget. Farewell, Harry – you will be missed.