“Harry Potter Grows Up”: The Meaning Behind a Cliché

For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Late Age of Print, the final chapter of the book focuses on the extraordinary literary sensation that is Harry Potter.  So, needless to say, Harry Potter has been on my mind quite a bit lately, especially with today’s release of the first installment of the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I don’t have much to say about the latest film, honestly, not having yet seen it — although I intend to, as I’ve seen the previous six movies and have read/enjoyed all seven books.  Instead, what I’ve been thinking about lately is the age of Harry Potter, or rather that of his fans.

I teach an undergraduate course at the 300 or Junior level called “The Cultures of Books and Reading”; during one week, we focus on the many-headed Harry Potter phenomenon.  When I first launched the book class, back in 2006, I was excited to realize that my students were basically Harry’s contemporaries. Those among them who were  eleven years old — Harry’s age — when the series launched in 1997 were twenty in 2006, which is the typical age of most college Juniors.

But now it’s four years later, and those twenty year-olds are turning twenty-four.  Yes, that’s right, twenty-four — practically a quarter century.  Graduate school age.  Marrying age.  Getting established in one’s career age.  Even baby-having age.  I’m feeling old just writing about them!  Indeed, it’s not just that Harry Potter and the actors who portray him and his friends on screen have grown up.  The whole fan culture surrounding Harry Potter has grown up, too, to the point where, as with Star Wars fans, we might even start thinking about a whole new generation of Potter enthusiasts.

This is what the release of the first installment of the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows really means.  It marks the beginning of the end of the film adaptations, yet it also marks the beginning of the beginning of the next generation of Potter fandom.  What role, if any, will the books, films, toys, games, candy, costumes, etc. play in their lives?  And what new meanings will the Harry Potter franchise take on once the torch gets passed, or rather shared?

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