"My childhood just gasped its last breath."
I heard many statements like this as I left the movie theatre the other night, and I'm not going to pretend like I don't share the sentiment: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II effectively concluded an important period of collective imagination for a large portion of my generation.
Some of us have been following J.K. Rowling's series for over twelve years, enjoying the exploits of Harry, Ron and Hermione through our most awkward (i.e., formative) years. When I first sat down with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows four years ago, I was, like many, dismayed at the final book's cringe-inducing epilogue; but after seeing the final scene acted out on film (where Harry, Ron and Hermione meet at Platform 9 & 3/4 nineteen years into the future, helping their own children board the train to Hogwarts), I was actually glad it was there. It's still slightly clunky and out of place; but after the gravity of what had just passed for Rowling's characters--the destruction of Hogwarts, the defeat of Voldemort, and the inexplicable "resurrection" of Harry--the context of the theatre helped me realize that we all desired some kind of denouement, some kind of release of tension and anxiety. It was nearly tangible. As the "well-aged" figures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione appeared on screen, laughter filled the theatre; applause soon followed. After bringing to climax seven films' worth of rising action, The Deathly Hallows ended with a reminder that the franchise has always been an irreducibly social phenomenon, and, as such, the various anxieties that permeate contemporary British culture (economic, religious, environmental, and so on) surface of in compelling ways. (I was reminded of this again in Voldemort's death scene, where he more or less disintegrates into flakes of ash that fill the sky, much like the volcanic ash that grounded flights and caused European airports to shut down their services a couple years back).
For me, the final installment of the Harry Potter franchise demonstrated again that a large part of our social imaginary has been forged not only in the practice of reading literature, but via the very Western archetypes I've committed a good deal of my time and effort to studying. This observation may seem banal and obvious, but, all the same, it has significance for me. Why? Because over the last year, I've become (rightly) discouraged in my studies: most of the difficulty with my project and the methodology I'm currently working through has to do with historical anachronism and cultural currency. Perhaps such difficulty has something to do with the critical position I've more or less taken up, wherein one's methodology must not only be historically appropriate, but socially progressive and politically conscious. Yeah, it's a tall order. No wonder I'm having doubts.
I'll be the first to argue that we still have much to learn from the literary production of the seventeenth century--while acknowledging that "literary production" itself is generally a product of retrospective analysis. But how can I be attentive to my own time and place, as well as the critical resources that are ready to hand, while giving the objects of my study their due? This is perhaps the most important of several questions that I'll be struggling through (or bumping up against) as I write my thesis.
Of course, the last novel of the Harry Potter saga arrived in 2007, but the film series inadvertently prolonged the narrative and, for the vast majority of Harry Potter fans (who are more accustomed to the flashes of a screen than they are to the pages of a book), instantiated it. The popularity of such a film demonstrates again that the generation currently preparing for positions of power is no less (perhaps even more) responsive to Christian allegory and classical archetypes than their progenitors. Again, the social and economic factors that currently condition this kind of popular nostalgia go without saying.