Harry’s Back

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July 16, 2009 | Comments

Last night my son and I attended an opening-night screening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth installment of the legendary series much beloved by our family and just about every other family we know. We wanted to see it before all those other families started talking about it.

Now from the perspective of the morning after, I can’t stop thinking about what I saw last night – the true sign that a film has gotten under my skin. I’m sorry to say I didn’t feel this way after the previous installment — Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — (the film, not the book, of course). That time around the film makers sacrificed worthy in-depth attention to the fascinating new adult characters brought into the fold for an increased focus on the kids’ silly crushes and flirtations. How lovely that this time around they have acknowledged my disappointment and gotten everyone back on track.

With Half-Blood Prince, the film makers knew just where and how to focus the lens, capturing the perfect tenor of dark beauty and foreboding in preparation for the devastating events that we who love this story know are waiting up ahead in installment seven. The actors do all they can to take us there, as well. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) remain perfectly focused throughout, isolating themselves somewhat from their fellow students, as they take the swords that have been thrust into their hands for the singular, diametrically opposed, missions they must undertake. Even our beloved Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), his hand mysteriously burned and damaged, sheds his customary levity, when he warns the students he welcomes back for the new school year that “every day, every hour, this very minute, perhaps, dark forces attempt to penetrate this castle’s walls.”

Because I am how I am, I can’t help but make the connections and reflexively assume that somehow Dumbledore is also speaking to us beyond the darkness of that theater. I can’t help but imagine that Harry’s singular purpose mirrors the challenges that are facing those of us who happen to believe that in our own magical time, every day, every hour, dark forces are attempting to penetrate the walls of our castle, as well.

Back when the fifth Harry Potter book – Order of the Phoenix – was released, my idealistic young son was one of the millions of kids who grabbed the book still warm from the presses and devoured every word. As he neared the end he suddenly slammed it shut and threw it on the kitchen table, proclaiming he hated Harry Potter, he hated this book, he hated all the books, and he would never read them again. As Harry fans have no doubt guessed, he had reached the sad and shocking moment in that book when we lost someone near and dear, and he was not going to stand for it.

Recognizing the need for immediate intervention to ensure my son would not indeed abandon Harry, whose destiny was still two books away, I asked my own near and dear what he thought these fictional events and his very genuine reaction to them might mean. Think about what this story is, I said. Fundamentally what is it about? As each book was becoming progressively darker, more dangerous and complex, together we determined that when all was said and done, it would culminate in the ultimate battle between good and evil. And, unfortunately, I told him, I think we have to assume that these characters, these people we have grown to love so much…well, not all of them are going to survive the battle. But they would be fighting the good fight, so they would not die in vain. My son understood. He picked up the book, and he kept reading. So did I. And when I read it, I can readily think of my country’s own good fights and her own good people who have never hesitated to answer her call.

Whether found in personal musings on citizens and country, or within the pages of a well-loved book, the message of good and evil resonates, because yes, both do exist in our world, and there is no shame in acknowledging that. In fact, there is safety and security in acknowledging it.  Those of us who love Harry’s story view it as a series meant to be read, re-read and read again. I am now plowing through the books again, this time with my young daughter, knowing that very soon we will be arriving at that same shocking moment of devastating loss in book five.  We will soon thus be having that same talk I had with her brother not all that long ago, that same exploration of good and evil, courage and sacrifice, pain and loss. And she will understand just as her brother did, for it is in our DNA to understand. And it is in our DNA to be forever grateful to those who keep us safe from the dark forces we hear at this very minute rumbling outside our castle walls.

Betsy Siino | Comments