Yesterday morning, NPR intern Andrew Lapin wrote a short piece imploring Disney to let Christopher Robin grow up already. On the eve of another Hundred Acre Adventure, Lapin wonders why that little urchin can not simply move on with his life and pass his stuffed animals on to some other adoring child, as he has threatened to do in just about every Pooh adventure — you know, where Christopher Robin is doing something vaguely grown up like going to school while Tigger and Piglet and Pooh fret about his whereabouts, and we the audience realize that our attachment to the playthings of our youth is always fleeting. They will be there waiting for us, but we will move on. That sort of thing.
Toy Story 3 handled this beautifully; Andy let go of Woody. He had a hard time of it, he cried, we cried, but he grew up and passed on the joy of childhood to someone else. Christopher Robin should be, according to Lapin’s calculation, a nonagenarian right now; what is stopping him from doing the same?
Reading Lapin’s query left me with a faintly nagging sense of disappointment. Why demand Christopher Robin grow up? Let him stay with his friends if he wants to. He doesn’t have to ever completely give up his imagined friends if he doesn’t want to, right? At first, I thought my gut reaction had something to do with the boy himself, as if Christopher Robin not being present would somehow damage the Hundred Acre Franchise, but then I realized that it’s Pooh, Eeyore and Rabbit that keep that boat floating, not their human owner, who has been absent from plenty of Pooh properties that have done just fine, thank you very much.
No, I realized my concern had nothing to do with the viability of the franchise without Christopher Robin. It had everything to do with Christopher Robin’s viability without his dearest friend in the whole world. Lapin wanted him to grow up and leave his childhood imaginings behind for some younger child to enjoy, a la Andy. But wouldn’t that be difficult? Who would he become without Winnie the Pooh? And suddenly I was asking myself, “My god, my best friend is leaving me tomorrow. Who will I become?”
This is an interesting weekend at the multiplex, and Lapin’s analysis strikes a really strong chord considering all the children and once-children who will flock to theatres this evening, this weekend, this month, to pay their respects to a dear, beloved friend. I will be among them, bleary-eyed and dog-tired, but with my heart racing and my tear glands prepped for a misty two hours.
If you head just down the hall from where Pooh and Christopher Robin continue to enjoy their perpetual childhood bliss (and wait in a two hour line with a bunch of crazy people wearing heavy scarves in summer), you can witness some of the complex emotions that come up when you put a growing young man or woman and their childhood companion in the same room and ask them, ever so gently, to part ways.
For tonight, before millions upon millions of Christopher Robins are ready to let him go, Winnie the Pooh grows up and leaves the Hundred Acre Wood forever. Tonight, the final Harry Potter film debuts in wide release.
This is strange. Harry is done with us even if we are not done with him. Millions have been and will be pouring into theatres essentially to tell the boy wizard (now a man wizard) how much he has meant to them, only to leave the theatre knowing that, barring some unforseen and possibly unwelcome turn of events that would give us more books or a reboot of the franchise, this is it. No more. As if Christopher Robin said to Pooh, “Even when I am 29 and working at an accounting firm and have a wife, I will still make time for you my friend.”
And Pooh said gently but firmly in response,” Ah, but I need to move on with my life Christopher Robin. You see, there is nothing left for me to offer you, and so I am done. You will always have the memories.”
Imagine Pooh, silouetted in the foggy mist, leaving the Hundred Acre Wood forever, a round figure in the distance. In the foreground is Cristopher Robin, shocked to his core, sobbing, “But I wasn’t ready for you to go.” That is tonight.
Harry Potter has meant an immense amount to me. He has meant an immense amount to so many people around the world — many more then I would even care to quantify — but I am not qualified to speak on thier behalf so I will speak on my own and accept that, in sharing my own experience, I will be sharing something that is nearly universal (if the similar emotional reactions I will hear in my theatre tonight can be seen as any indication). I was not an early adopter of Rowling’s books. When the first book was released here in 1998, I was nine. At the time I was powering through Hardy Boys mysteries and Animorphs adventures which I can barely remember today. For two years, I didn’t know a Muggle from Squib. I didn’t pick up on the books until the fourth book was published and the publicity surrounding this amazing thing had reached even my sheltered ears. My parents took me to Costco, and I left with four (what I thought to be) giant books. The fourth book could have eaten my tiny eleven year old head (if it had been so inclined, as books in Harry’s world tend to be).
That’s right, I cracked open the first book soon after my eleventh birthday! It was the year 2000, the year everyone feared the Internet would shut down. In my house, it did shut down. I had no need for it when I had these books to read! I felt like I too had become old enough to be invited to a magical world. I mean, there were no owls on my stoop and no giants at my door, but the feel of the page in my hands was a close enough approximation. My mind was doing all the work for me. I guess that’s not entirely true. I recieved a lot guidence from a woman who essentially taught an entire generation how to be good, decent people. I would feel this way for a long time, and I still feel this way today: it felt like J.K. Rowling was writing… to me! She may not be the best prose stylist in the world, okay, but no author has ever inspired such fierce, from-the-playpen loyalty as Jo Rowling, whose millions of acolytes would make it so anyone who ever tried to do anything with her charcters without her permission… would be in a lot of danger.
By the time the fifth book came out in 2003, I was fully dedicated. Harry Potter had taught me a lot, and while Cedric’s death shocked you, of course, it also made sure that you were coming back after the three years it took Rowling to put out Order of the Phoenix. The grown-ups let you read this? In 6th grade, I could find something this devastatingly personal in my school library, next to biographies of old presidents and books about basketball? I’ve always liked the first two twee Potter movies, but they didn’t gel with what the series was feeding kids at the time. This world was dark stuff, with menacing surprises around every corner.
And then it all clicked. Everyone just got it at the same time. OoTP is my favorite book, and I think it’s because it was the first I read as a young adult. Alfonso Cuaron’s vision of the third installment gelled perfectly with that — everything in Cuaron’s Britain was taller but ganglier, more askew. (Look at the Knight Bus.) That’s how I felt. I felt out of sorts. I had grown both vertically and horizontally in those three years between books four and five. I had gone through a difficult move that had been difficult on both me (all my friends gone) and my family. I had my first crush on a girl, but didn’t want to tell anyone. I didn’t know how. When I did, I found out she didn’t feel the same way. Middle school sucked. None of this made me an angry kid I don’t think, but in Order, Harry is an angry kid, and I loved it. Middle school must have sucked for everyone else, because all these other weird kids around me loved it too. Going to the midnight party for Order (I dressed as Neville. You should have seen… Oy!) and seeing Prisoner of Azkaban the day it came out were some of the first bonding experiences I ever had with the group of friends that got me through high school.
By 2005, Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe and I had all pretty much synched up. We were all about 15 going on 16. Around that time, I fell in love with Ginny Weasley. I mean, around that time, I think everyone who was my age and reading these books had a crush on some character Rowling created: a Weasley twin if you had a sense of humor, Draco if you liked reading against the grain, Hermione if you were sensible, Fluer if you were really shallow, and on and on… Mine was Ginny. Rowling had been writing her better and better with each book (I will never forgive the movie’s for pushing Ginny to the side so much in the later installments when she becomes such a force) as a strong girl with a wry sense of humor and a down-to-earth sensibility about dating who she wanted to date. She was a lot like a girl I had a crush on then, except more British and, uh, she actually secretly liked the guy who had a crush on her… (Girls…)
Wish fulfillment had me latching on to this dream girl, and when Harry kissed her post-Quidditch match (really, when she kissed him, which was a really big thing for me because I was at that age where I really hoped a girl would come up to me and tell me she liked me as much as I liked her without me having to tell her I liked her) my heart was racing. I turned back and re-read the passage immediately. Did that really happen?!? A girl and a boy can both like each other at the same time, and this is the result? That’s how you start a relationship! That scene is still my favorite scene in all the books even though the sixth book is my least favorite. J.K. Rowling wrote it perfectly. The way the movie did it was rubbish…
Come 2007, Harry and I were both 17 and ready to move on, if only moving on weren’t so difficult. 2007 was my last summer at home before college. Harry had it a lot worst, camping in the woods and watching his friends and owl die, but our feelings couldn’t have been more in sync. At that point we would have done anything for our friends, to hold onto what we had for one more day. Reading The Deathly Hallows, because of this fortuitous timing, was a personal experience that I really can’t describe. I think a lot of people had a tough time in 2007 putting into words what they felt now that J.K. Rowling was done. That’s because we wern’t done. Our eyes had barely dried before we went to go see the next movie which came out like the same week. We weren’t ready to deal with the finality of what Rowling had given us. We were a bunch of emotion junkies searching for our next magic fix.
It’s why the epilogue was so universally despised in 2007. One minute, Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny were you, and the next minute they were these grown-ups you didn’t recognize. Who were these kids on the train platform they had? I don’t care about them?
But here we are today, and the epilogue makes more sense. I feel like, as we watch it play out before us this weekend, it will click and we will realize the beauty of the scene Rowling wrote. It’s been four years since the last book come out, and since then I’ve had a much more final graduation. I have a job. I write. I’ve settled down. I know who adult me is going to be. Our generation can see that now. Some of us have married our Ginny. Some of us even have a little Albus Severus Potter running around the house. Soon we’ll send him on the Hogwarts Express to his first day at pre-school, and the ending Jo wrote will transform from cheap sell-out, happy-ending bullhockey into, well something beautiful and deeply moving and… final.
Harry had kids. He grew up before we did. For more than a decade — the entire decade where we could read and comprehend what great art is — we escaped to his world to find joy and to imagine and play. I know my parents hated that I would carry the books with me to restaurants and family gatherings, my finger always lodged on the page where I had left off last. But can you blame me? I was going to the happiest place I knew, even when that place was dark and Voldermort was unleashing hell on Earth. It was the happiest place on Earth because it understood me. Like the Hundred Acre Wood understood Christopher Robin and gave him comfort and solace, Harry’s world understood me. And now, that world is closed for new adventures. If you’ve read it all like me, then there is only… looking back. Pooh has left the forest.
I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to, in my interface with culture, replicate the magical, nearly miraculous experience I had with Harry Potter. I will search for books that spoke to me the way those books spoke to me — that will keep me awake through the night because, even in my dreams, I can not imagine a more vivid representation of who I am and who I want to be. Why go to sleep when all my dreams are right here on this page?
But I will never read a 700 page book in one night again. At least not voluntarily. I will have emotional connections with books, but I will never need a book in the same way I needed J.K. Rowling’s books, because the fact of the matter is this:
I will never need another character to get me through being thirteen years old again. I will never be thirteen years old again. I will never need another fictional friend — my own Winnie the Pooh — to carry me away from my life as a seventeen year old and take me away to his world and shelter me and teach me how to be seventeen and to be brave and to live. I will never live life as a seventeen year old again. This is both sad, profoundly deeply sad… And wonderful.
I face this realization tonight. We all do. We all need to go look for books now that can get us through being thirty, and then forty-five, and then sixty-four. Harry will always there to remind us of how we grew up — of how J.K. Rowling and Chris Columbus and Alfonso Cuaron and David Yates and Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Harris and Jim Dale and The Potter Puppet Pals and Mugglenet and Darren Criss helped me become the man I am today — but today, when that epilogue finishes and the theater lights come up, he’s teaching us one last lesson. It’s okay to grow up and leave the Hundred Acre Wood behind.
Childhood does not last forever, but memories of it persist. The bonds we formed under the flag of Potter-Mania persist, and I hope that, ten years from now, we can all meet on a train platform, and smile and remember that time we dressed as Sirius Black (I drew on a fake mustache… I have a real one now) or that time we were happy our girlfriend dyed her hair red because she knew about that secret crush on Ginny Weasley (not me, I swear).
When we do meet, we can all bring our children, those tykes we didn’t even imagine we would have back in 2007, and, when they turn eleven, we can do something amazing for them. We can invite them to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Because, while I’ll never be eleven again, and I’ll never be seventeen again, my child will be, bless his or her poor soul, and I can’t think of any better gift you could give a child then the gift I received from J.K. Rowling when I was eleven and those books were bigger than my head and the world was twee and nothing mattered as much as the love of my parents.
I don’t want to grow up and let Harry go. Who would? But I also want to grow up faster, so I can experience the joy of handing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to my own little Albus Severus. (I swear I will not name my child that. I don’t think.) I’m ready for tonight. Tonight is the beginning of our epilogue. I hope ours is as happy.