The End of an Era: Harry Potter #7

Dec 14, 2021

I read aloud the first Harry Potter book to Aaron and Maxwell when they were seven and five, respectively. 

It was always my plan to read one HP book every fall until we were finished with the series. And amazingly, we stuck with that plan. My kids never read ahead, even as their friends methodically spoiled every single plot point over the years. 

It has been something we've looked forward to with great anticipation at the beginning of every school year. Harry's adventures have been as distinct a part of the season for us as pumpkins and crunchy leaves.

If you've done the math, you know where this is going, right? One book a year, starting in 2015, meant that we were up to #7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this fall. Aaron and Maxwell are now 13 and 11, respectively. When we cracked the cover and read the opening line ("The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane"), it felt momentous--the beginning of the end.

To be honest, this seventh book was bittersweet, right from the start. I felt myself holding onto this sweet, fun tradition with my kids. We were excited to finally see how the series ended (especially me, since I had somehow managed to avoid most spoilers) but also so sad to know there wouldn't be any more books after this. 

Also, I know this won't be news to anyone, but this last book was intense. It was a continuous stream of battle followed by near-death (or death) followed by confrontation-with-Voldemort followed by battle, etc. What would have been the climax in any of the other books was just getting things going in this one. It felt a little relentless and exhausting, especially with so many favorite characters dying. My kids already knew about most of the deaths before they happened, but I didn't, and they took an emotional toll on me. 

And yet, despite it not being at all carefree or pleasant, this book was absolutely masterful. I was amazed with the way everything came together: pieces from past books suddenly returned with a purpose that was unseen before. Additionally, the complexity of the characters--their many layers and mistakes and triumphs--left us questioning our previous loyalties: Dumbledore so beloved but also selfish; Snape so despised but also loyal. 

As Harry himself grappled with combining what he thought he knew with unpleasant revelations, I found the following scene rather profound: Hermione said, "'But you know how much truth there was in everything Rita wrote about you! . . . How can you let these people tarnish your memories of Dumbledore?' [Harry] looked away, trying not to betray the resentment he felt. There it was again: Choose what to believe." I feel like this is the type of decision we all face at some point (sometimes over and over again): How are we going to move forward with the evidence we have about someone? Will we let the good in them overshadow the bad or vice versa? Will we give them the opportunity to become a better version of themselves? Or will we do all we can to keep them trapped in a self-made box of mistakes? As Kingsley later said, "Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving." 

We finished the seventh over Thanksgiving break. After reading a combined total of 4100 pages over the course of seven years on beautiful late-summer evenings on the front porch and chilly fall evenings around the fire, we finally read the words, "The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well." It felt good. It felt satisfying. It felt right. But it also felt so, so sad. It is hard to see a good series come to an end, especially one that literally accompanied the coming of age of my kids. These books encompassed a significant part of their childhoods, and they will always remember them.

But as this annual tradition comes to a close, you might be wondering, "What about your other kids?" 

I'm kind of wondering the same thing.

You see, when I came up with this idea of reading one HP book every fall, it seemed so perfect. I wrote about all of my reasons for reading them aloud and spacing them out in this post from 2016. Everything in that post worked perfectly for Aaron and Max. From start to finish, the experience was dreamy and magical and just so fun. 

But you want to know who got the short end of the stick? Bradley.

This is how the Harry Potter series went for him:

2015 (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone): He was barely four years old and not interested in listening to a long book. 

2016 (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets): He had a longer attention span and joined in the listening with his brothers.

2017 (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban): He thoroughly enjoyed listening to the book.

2018 (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone): He was barely seven years old; I thought he was too young for the dark themes in #4; Mike started the series over with Bradley and Clark.

2019 (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets): Mike read aloud to Bradley and Clark while I read #5 to Aaron and Max (side note: biggest slog of the series for us).

2020 (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban/Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire): Mike attempted to read #3 to Bradley and Clark; Clark got bored and complained about it every time they tried to read; Bradley got frustrated that they couldn't even make it through a book he'd already heard before; I compromised by letting him listen to the audio version of #4 on his own.

2021 (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix/Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince/Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows): It was a bumper HP year for Bradley as I realized that things hadn't worked out for him. I let him listen to the audio versions of #5 and #6 so he would be caught up and be able to read #7 with Aaron, Max, and me.

Although the series ended on a high note for him, and it was so fun to have him back with us for the last book, I feel like his experience with the series was much different from the other two. And I feel really sad about that. For Aaron and Max, it was this seamless, predictable, comforting experience. For Bradley, it was a disjointed jumble. 

Looking back, I don't know what I should have done differently. All I know is that my "perfect plan" wasn't very perfect for him. Having a bigger family makes some traditions harder to navigate when you're trying to cater to different ages and needs. 

But looking forward, I'm making plans for what to do now. I can't imagine next fall without some Harry Potter in it. And I think Clark might finally be more on board with it and probably Ian, too. So I might just start over with the series, reading specifically to those two but knowing that Aaron, Max, and Bradley will most likely be pulled into the story again if they are home in the evenings. It might be even more of a family experience than it was the first time through, which might make it even better.

But I think I might let Jim Dale read #5 for me because I just don't know if I can do that one again. 

1 comment:

  1. My Dad read Little House on the Prairie completely three times through once for each kid. Read it again - when things are loved you can do them again and again!


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