Saturday, July 21, 2007

Watching the End of an Era

I've never been such a dedicated fan of anything in my adulthood that I went and stood in line for an event. The only time I did that was the last two Lord of the Rings movies and actually didn't spend much time at all even for the midnight showing of Return of the King. In fact, that was the only time I went to a midnight event and it was a low key affair locally, La Crosse being a small city. So it was with amusement that I read the email notification from Barnes & Noble about the Midnight Madness event. While I'd reserved a copy, I had no plans to pick it up until later next week.

As the days went by, I pondered the fact that the Harry Potter series is most likely the last gasp of big event books. Like others, I'd placed a great deal of hope on it bringing more young people to books in general. It would be the thing that got kids going in an increasingly illiterate culture, for if kids would be willing to read 700 page books, they'd have to look for other books, right? Alas, that has not proven to be the case, kids are reading fewer books today than they did ten years ago. Oh yes, they would read Rowling's books, but that's it. To a bibliophile such as myself, this was painful to find out.

With that in mind, I realized that I'd most likely never see such an event again in my lifetime. This was a cultural "happening" that wouldn't be repeated, for there will be no more adventures of Harry Potter in the foreseeable future. So I drafted my dad to drive and off I went to B&N to watch the people there, as people fascinate me. While he went off to Sears to match exterior paint for our long overdue house repainting, I walked over to the book store to see how things were scheduled.

At 8:30 pm there were already kids in black robes wandering the store and the staff were in full costume. After inquiring about how the books would be distributed, I had my name checked against the reservation list and had a paper bracelet put around my wrist, an orange one with the number 95 written in green. Those with orange bracelets went first, with green to the mallside registers and red to the front registers. These were the first waves to get the books, I was told and they figured it would be less than an hour to get them all sold.

I left and returned at 9:30 PM after going to another store, the rest of the mall was officially closed with one of the exits open besides the B&N entrance. The parking lot was packed, the store was packed, and more people were arriving. Most were young, of course, with many a parent in tow with a smattering of adult fans present. Spirits were high and the mood was festive, entertainment began around 10 PM with activities for the kids. There had been a broomstick contest I hadn't been aware of, so all the fancy brooms hanging from the ceiling weren't just there for decoration after all. The pretty young lady who won the contest got to be the first buyer, which was a nifty prize. I didn't see the wand making activity, but heard about it, but the fun one looked to be the potions table. Hard to tell, the kids were packed tight around it.

As time went buy, fatigue set in and I began to hurt a great deal, but I was still wandering around, observing the festivities. Eventually, I parked myself in the military history aisle and started reading Machiavelli's Discourses, which I purchased along with Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Oddly enough, I was in a very small minority purchasing other books that night, so much for getting extra sales from the event. After awhile, I had to get up and stretch, circulating once again. It was around 11 PM and the young folks were starting to really tire, especially the under 8's and teenagers. The tweeners had more energy and I could see parents rubbing their faces. Even so, the mood was still good.

A bullhorn was used to announce some things and half the store couldn't hear it. Of course, that was the half I was in, so there was some confusion for awhile. I ended up asking questions at the middle of the store and found out I had to buy my other books right away, which I did. At 11:30, more muddled bullhorn announcements and finally they started lining people up, with the first 50 of each color going first. At 11:40, even more unintelligible bullhorning and I suspected my block was next. I snaked through to the center of the store and found someone in authority (she was standing on a table, so I automatically assumed she was).

Yep, time to get in line and since I was number 95 (I am not a number, I am a free man!), I was asked to anchor the line so people with lower numbers could go before me. Lo and behold, I'd been drafted without even going through the Sorting Hat routine! Ah well. Some of the best conversation on the night was held in the line, because it took forever to get moving once Midnight hit. People were well behaved, even those with astronomically high numbers such as 270.

Once the line did start moving, it got going fast and I was out of there by 12:20 AM. The store was rapidly emptying as was the parking lot, far too many of all ages were up past their bedtimes and wanted to go home.

There was a sweetness to this event that you don't run into very often these days. While it was rough on my health, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness an end of an era. I find myself somewhat saddened by it.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

It is an end of an era that has spanned a decade for the Harry Potter book series has finally been completed with the release of Deathly Hallows. I was a latecomer to the hoopla, only getting into it after buying the first book for my sister in an effort to encourage her to read. Out of curiosity about the craze, I borrowed that paperback edition of the Sorcerer's Stone and was impressed with it. It wasn't great literature (at least it won't be considered that for some time), but it was an old fashioned ripping good yarn of the English variety. The adventures of Harry and his friends, Hermione and Ron, have been a welcome companion over the years, with each book becoming progressively more adult and dark. Yet there was always the intertwined themes of love and hope, which promised a happy ending after all the darkness.

So does the final book deliver on that and provide an entertaining story? I can say that it does in my opinion, but that light at the end of the tunnel only comes after harrowing setbacks and many deaths. This is a very grim book with only occasional touches of humor in it, as it starts off with loss of life and just keeps going, with more lives and innocence lost in the following chapters. Answers to the mysteries surrounding various characters are finally answered, many were telegraphed in the previous books but there are still many surprises to be found.

Some may be confused by the final battle, which is lengthy, but it all holds together in the logic of the Potter universe. The characters I wanted to see together got together, while others are tragically lost. What I liked was that Voldemort was shown to be as weak as he truly was, something I'd picked up on in the earlier books. While I can imagine people will cry foul at the resolution, I felt it to be realistic given the age of our protagonists.

The one spoiler I'll give is a simple one: Neville is the MAN. The boy finally gets his shining moment and after seeing the latest movie, I can't wait to see that young actor play it out on the big screen.