Accio Memories

It’s time again for the world to go to Potter. Just once more.

If you’ve been keeping track, you know the final Harry Potter movie debuts in London on Thursday. If you haven’t been keeping track but have small children, you likely know just how many days, hours, minutes and seconds remain until its local opening – with regular updates.

It’s the end of an era. A rather exciting one.

How often, after all, do kids spend  almost 15 years getting jazzed about a literary idol?

Yes, I’m a bit of a fan myself. I like J.K. Rowling’s combination of broad humor and tender heart. I like what she has to say about love, about friendship, about sacrifice and self-discovery.  I like how she takes the wish-fulfillment most adolescents have – this isn’t my real family, I was born to something special – and shows how even when it comes true, it’s not free.

But even if I’d never read a page, I think I would love her anyway.

I spent four years in college working in a bookstore. Among kids, our most popular books by far were the Goosebumps series, the juvenile horror series by R.L. Stine. They weren’t exactly great literature – OK, they were literary chewing gum – but they went off the shelves almost as quickly as they came in.

For that, I loved them.

You see, reading isn’t a natural instinct. It’s a trained habit. It requires a curious mix of impatience and dedication that’s almost foreign to a video-game mindset, the eagerness to dive through a story and the willingness to swim through a river of words to do it.

You have to get hooked. And over the last decade and a half, Ms. Rowling has been one of the best pushers in the business.

I used to direct summer Shakespeare in Kansas, with casts that had a heavy teen content. It was not unusual, when a performance weekend overlapped with a “release day,” to see half the cast backstage, plowing through a few more chapters of Hogwarts while waiting for their next entrance.

I didn’t mind. (Well, as long as no one missed their cue.) The passion had been freed. It was becoming a habit, even an addiction.  Seven hundred pages? All the better – more to read!

That was the real magic.

The books came to an end four years ago. The films, riding their success, are concluding now. But I hope the reflex that’s been trained over seven volumes and 4,175 pages won’t die. That the same eagerness that led children to fill bookstores at midnight (and resent spoilers dearly) will find its way into other works, other stories, other discoveries.

And I hope all of us can keep encouraging them. No delays. No stifling.

Just Harry up, already.

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