Harry Potter and I

It all started in July 2000 for me. I was a carefree ten year old who thought reading was more into the realms of punishment. So it was with carelessness that I listened to a conversation about some books called Harry Potter by some British woman between my dad and his brother.

My American cousin, Kristen, was reading the fourth book in the series at the time. Her dad suggested she’d give the books to me but we both vehemently refused: I because the 4th book was bigger than a dictionary and her because these were her books.

Flash forward a whole year and it’s December 2001, soon after the release of the first movie: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, the original title). My aunt takes my brothers, cousins and I to the movies to watch it and I get mesmerized. I thought the movie was enchanting, the story was captivating. And for a 12 year old, the idea that a movie like that actually had sequels was something that was just awesome. There’s actually a continuation to the story!

Then Harry Potter went into the back of my mind for the following six months. In June 2002, my uncle arrived from the U.S. with a paperback version of the first 3 books. So even though I still dreaded the idea of reading, I found myself enthralled with the first book, of which I had already watched the movie. While my friends were doing their oral final exams back in 7th grade, I was busy reading in class. Soon enough, I started the second book, with a sense of pride that I was now ahead of the movies. I took a hiatus in the middle of the second book before finishing the whole thing in one day on July 19th, 2002. I remember the day because it was the night before St. Elias’ day and my mom was shouting at me, holding the book while sitting on the swing on our front porch. The third book followed soon after. I finished reading Prisoner of Azkaban a few days later. I remember I was sitting kneeling by the bed when it was done. Come end of July, I was done with all Harry Potter books that I had in my possession.

And now I wanted more. But I waited a few months before starting the fourth book. Christmas break 2002. My best friend at the time, Celine, gave me a French copy of her Goblet of Fire book and even though I hated reading French novels, Harry Potter’s French version managed to captivate me as well. On Christmas eve, my uncle got me a bunch of gifts, one of which was the English version of Goblet of Fire. I picked up with that where I had arrived in the French version and as my good friend Paul Gadalla, a great person who started reading the Harry Potter books because of me, said: “the ending of this book was insane!” and he’s a 25 year old Political Science major. Where does that leave a poor 13 year old’s heart?

In late January 2003, my uncle informed me that the upcoming fifth book would be released on June 21st. And so my first wait with everyone who had caught up with the books started. I started to discover fan sites where people shared their ideas and I was fascinated with those ideas. I discovered that the title was Harry Potter and the Order Of The Phoenix and I saw a blue cover with floating candles that gave me no idea whatsoever about the content.

Leading up to the book’s release, Time magazine did a J.K. Rowling expose about her life prior to Harry Potter and her preparations for the upcoming book release. My copy of the magazine is worn out from the many times that I read that article. But I still have it.

And so Order of the Phoenix was released. It was over 800 pages, with more than a quarter of a million words. The book is not many people’s favorite but I really like it. It represented a sense of Harry growing up to assume his fifteen year old self, his first kiss and above all, revelations about his past that were not known before.

And then my two year wait for Half-Blood Prince, book 6, started. Apparently, JK Rowling does these massive book launch interviews where she discusses many details with fans without giving too much away. So I had those details printed to make sense of what awaited me. To say I was off mark again would be an understatement. After all, guessing with things regarding Harry Potter is not a very easy thing to accomplish. The sixth book was released and I got it on launch day, getting a free mug with it as well. I finished it in two days and it left me devastated that I had two wait two years before the story ends. It was also the most grim part of the tale so far. It was a book about death, souls, memories and the importance of friends in times of darkness. But did I want it to end? I sure did. I hated not being in the know.

J.K. Rowling had revealed that books sixth and seven would have one story arc but be two different books. Everyone I knew was on their toes for the final book. The amount of anticipation was insane. It was probably the most securely kept book ever. Massive prints were prepared for the huge opening day expectations. And to say those expectations were met would be a vast understatement. It sold over 11 million copies in the first 24 hours of its release on July 21, 2007 in the U.S. alone.

The final book was relentless. It had no dull moments. It was mesmerizing, captivating. It played with your emotions like a slinky and you loved it for that. Anyone who asks me what’s your favorite book would get this answer from me: Deathly Hallows. Sure, it’s not philosophy or some immensely mature book that you expect a 21 year old to like. Some would say that it’s mentally degrading of me to say that is my favorite book. But what is the definition of favorite? It’s the book that 4 years later, while your little brother is reading and asking you questions, still gives you goosebumps when you remember specific passages from it. It’s the book that you can read over and over again and go on the same roller coaster ride you jumped on the first time you read it. And it’s such a gripping book that it took me one day to finish it. It was done by 6 am on July 22nd, 2007. Yes, I only got a few hours of sleep.

As I’m writing this, I’m looking at my little brother Joseph finishing the Harry Potter books with the final pages of Deathly Hallow‘s epilogue remaining, a few hours before the Lebanese premiere of the final Harry Potter movie.
It makes me proud to see my brother read all the books and could think about reading other books subsequently, because Harry Potter has shown him the joy of reading.
It also makes me proud that the movie we are going to watch tomorrow has such rave reviews that top critics are calling it “wonderful, epic and grand.”

You see, our stories with Harry Potter are very much alike and yet very different. we’ve all started reading differently and we’ve all obsessed over the books to varying degrees but we’ve all entered this magical world and never wanted to leave. It’s not that our reality was bad, it’s just that the world of J.K. Rowling’s imagination is so pure and vast and beautiful that you feel like being there, even as a “muggle”, doesn’t mean you’re intruding. And it doesn’t even make you different. After all, the last four Harry Potter books each set the record for most books sold in 24 hours, with each new book breaking the record set by the previous one, a testament of the people who wanted to escape to that world as soon as its doors opened anew.

Upon finishing the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling was asked: “how do you want to be remembered?”
Her answer is something that I keep in my head till this day because it should be a life mantra for many. She said: “As someone who did the best she could with the talent she had.”

And it’s precisely that which is the biggest lesson that the Harry Potter series presented to us through its flawed and vulnerable hero: a story about the importance of aiming high in life and not being afraid to fall. J.K. Rowling was on welfare before the idea of the books popped into her head almost complete while waiting for a train.
While I know that creativity is defined as divergent thinking that, when simmering, allows you to come up with novel ideas, her personal struggle and story is also a testament that you can pull through the hardships of life.

At 10:00 pm, later today, I would have finished watching the final Harry Potter movie. The tagline for the movie is “It All Ends.”
For us, that tagline has a double meaning. You might say that it also signals your childhood ending. But whenever you look at the Harry Potter books, you can’t help but remember the days when you were reading them. Sweet memories and reminiscing… Either way, your childhood lies within you. But like Harry you have to eventually grow up and keep those memories with you. Just look at this post and the amount of memories in it. Who knew I remembered the exact date I finished Chamber of Secrets or in what body position I finished reading Prisoner of Azkaban or how I had read of Goblet of Fire or the Time magazine with the J.K. Rowling article?

They say we’re the Facebook generation. I beg to differ. We are the Harry Potter generation because these books will be what our grandchildren’s children will remember our years by. Until then, “all was well.” Excuse me as I go put my Harry Potter book that my brother just finished in its proper place in the bookcase.

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Early Reviews For Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

The Harry Potter series is concluded with the last installment in its movie adaptation set to be released in less than a week’s time and with it a great chapter in the lives of many comes to a conclusion. And if you haven’t done so already, check out 13 Reasons to Love Harry Potter.

For those of us who can’t handle any sort of wait when it comes to Harry Potter, we resort to reading movie reviews before we actually get to see the movie. So I’ve decided to make a spoiler-free compilation of what top critics have said about the new movie so far, soon after its premiere a few hours ago in London.

Reuters write that the final movie is a statistical anomaly in the Harry Potter series since it brings its A-game from start to finish. They say if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you will come out of the movie with a sense of catharsis and a slightly damp handkerchief. They wrote that the movie’s running time of about 130 minutes was too condensed to fit everything that it felt sort of rushed and that this was the only flaw in the movie. The actors and actresses brought their game on and screenwriter Steve Kloves wrote a screenplay that doesn’t dwell on explaining to newcomers as much as it delivers to veterans.

Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Reporter’s review can be summarized by: “An outstanding capper to the most lucrative film franchise of all time.” He commended the series for giving viewers an astonishing, gripping and exhilarating ending. He spoke about Steve Kloves’ very well-done screenplay as well as the eye-popping visual effects that don’t even need 3D to grab you. The performances of all the actors are actresses was described to be top-notch, saying that the movies have always been spot on with the casting department, hiring the best of the best British actors and actresses. Even the trio Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson get to spread their wings in this one and shine.

Variety’s Justin Chang writes in his review that the end surges ahead with urgency, spell-binding spectacles and overwhelming emotions. At 131 minutes, this is the shortest movie of the series. Why the rush, he asks, since such an ending deserved a longer running time for more catharsis. He expects this installment to garner in more revenue than the series’ most lucrative first movie. He complemented director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves for their work in making this movie better than the first part, making for a more exciting cinematic experience. He says the movie builds up to a great moment which he thinks fails since it doesn’t really capture the magic in Rowling’s universe. But he says that everything is taken to an immaculate standard in the movie, making for a highly satisfying conclusion.

Peter Shaw from The Guardian writes that the Potter saga could have hardly ended on a better note. Saying that previous movies had begun to sag, this final piece brings back the magic to the Potter legend. He says it’s even superior to T.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return Of The King. The spectacle is grand, marvelous and dramatically satisfying, justifying the two-movie split. He says he was on the verge of tears in many moments of the movie to show the immense amount of emotions that this finale held. He said the movie reminded him of the thrill he had watching the first movie 10 years ago.

Grant Rollings from The Sun described the movie as too much to bear. In the good sense that is. When their preview ended, people were wailing in the theatre for the end of such an era. He says that our favorite boy wizard gets the send off he deserves and in glorious 3D to top off the magic. He describes the movie as epic, dizzying and thrilling, even before the movie reaches its long-awaited climax. He says the movie makes brought everything out for this final film but said Daniel Radcliffe could have brought his game up. He concludes his review with “a terrific movie and a great British success story.”

The Dailymail’s Baz Bamigboye found the final installment in the Harry Potter franchise to be more than satisfying. He found it to be thrilling. He watched the movie with child-like wonder, taken away by how much the actors and actresses (especially the trio) grew up over the course of the eight movies. He counted over 1132 names in the ending credit. He says they’re probably out of a job now. But “what a way to go.”

The Telegraph commended director David Yates on making the movie a terrifying spectacle where the central trio does not disappoint and nor do any of the other actors and actresses of the movie. They even believe that screenwriter Steve Kloves fine tunes some of what they described deficiencies of the final book, to grasp the epic feeling instilled in the movie. They say this is “monumental cinema awash with gorgeous tones, and carrying an ultimate message that will resonate with every viewer, young or old: there is darkness in all of us, but we can overcome it. This is not an end. How could it be?”

And since I’ve said over and over again that this movie is looking to be a serious Oscar contender, Emmanuel Levy shared my view in his review, in which he gave the movie a grade of A-. He wrote: the finale does justice to the whole series. And even though Academy Award members are known for their short memory, this movie should be in serious consideration for a multitude of academy awards such as best screenplay for Steve Kloves, best director for David Yates, best supporting actor for Ralph Fiennes in his chills-inducing performance of Lord Voldemort and best picture, as well as a nomination in every technical category.

I’ll be watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in an early Lebanese screening on July 13th and I will review it immediately afterwards. When will you catch this brilliance on screen? It will not disappoint you. After all, how many movies with a unanimous critical approval fail to match their hype? This will not happen with Harry Potter.

And for good measure, watch the trio along with J.K. Rowling saying goodbye to the series at the London Movie Premiere.

Pottermore Revealed

JK Rowling has just revealed on Pottermore’s website what the thing is all about.

She said: “I wanted to give something back to the fans that have followed Harry so devotedly over the years. Pottermore is a way for the creativity to live on and a way for me to be creative on a platform that did not exist when I started writing the books.”

It is a free website that builds an online experience based on reading the Harry Potter books. People can register for the challenge starting today and one million users will be selected by July 31st (which happens to be both JK Rowling and Harry Potter’s birthday), after they successfully complete the challenge, for early testing of the website, with full public availability in October.

Registration is currently down on the Pottermore website, which you can access here, probably due to an overload of Potterheads trying to get their emails through.

The announcement came via JK Rowling’s youtube page, through a video, in which she said:

Thirteen years after the first Harry Potter book was published, I’m still astonished and delighted by the response the stories met. Even though the seventh book and the eighth movie have now been completed, I’m still receiving hundreds of letters every week and Harry’s fans remain as enthusiastic and inventive as ever. So I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you, because no author could have asked for a more wonderful, diverse and loyal readership.

I’m thrilled to say that I’m now in a position to give you something unique. An online reading experience unlike any other: it’s called Pottermore. It’s the same story, with a few crucial additions. The most important one is you.

Just as the experience of reading requires that the imaginations of the author and reader work together to create the story, so Pottermore will be built, in part, by you, the reader. The digital generation will be able to enjoy a safe, unique, online reading experience built around the Harry Potter books. Pottermore will be the place where fans of any age can share, participate in and rediscover the stories. It will also be the exclusive place to purchase digital audiobooks and, for the first time, e-books of the Harry Potter stories.

I will be joining in too because I will be sharing additional information I’ve been hoarding for years about the world of Harry Potter. Pottermore is open to everyone from October but a lucky few can enter early and help shape the experience. Simply follow the owl. Good luck.

The project will allow readers to answer their own questions, get sorted in Hogwarts houses, play games, add comments, drawings, etc…

The project has also been carefully planned to be spoiler-free. For the time-being, the world of Pottermore will be restricted to the first book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the US version), with the story unveiled over a two-year course, for new readers. It will enable them to live each impact moment of the books.

The new material by JK Rowling is said to be around 18000 words so far. The e-books will be DRM free, meaning they can be viewed across platforms without the need to purchase them again, but they will be watermarked with the buyer’s info. While this doesn’t prevent copyright theft, the file can be retraced to the original buyer.

“This was about the give-back,” she said. “The technology now existed to do something outside the books and the films for existing fans.”

And the attempt to register starts… now!