It's been a long, fun ride since that day, eight years or so ago, when I first picked up "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." The religious fanatics were raving about how it would ruin society and teach our children witchcraft, and I figured that anything that ticked them off that much couldn't be all bad. That was enough to make me pick it up, but, of course, it took much more to make me follow it through seven books.
I liked the first two books because they were fun. They contained a sense of wonder that I hadn't encountered in books in a while. I reveled in Rowling's world and its inhabitants. Then, with "Prisoner of Azkaban," something else began to happen. Instead of just being fun and fascinating, the books began to transform into a more serious story. Getting progressively darker, and with the exception of "Goblet of Fire" which I still believe is the weakest link in the series, progressively better. It transformed from a children's tale into a true fantasy epic.
I know there are "serious fantasy fans" out there rolling their eyes at that statement. I know because I've talked to them. Snobbish types who look down their nose and sniff at Harry Potter because it was, at least initially, written for children and because it was a commercial success. (Never mind that most of the literary world looks down their noses and sniffs at those same people for reading fantasy and anything that bolsters the reputation and success of the genre should be hailed as a good thing.)
I even had a guy go through the trouble of tracking me down to insult me after a quote from one of my reviews appeared on the cover of a Jim Butcher book referencing Harry Potter. This truly charming individual informed me that comparing Harry Potter to any book for adults was an insult to the author of the adult book. As a writer myself, I'll take a piece of that insult. I'm sure Butcher would, too.
He went on to offer a long list of books that I should read to "educate" myself on fantasy before writing any more reviews about a genre I know nothing about. As a 20-plus year reader of fantasy, I'd read most of the books on the list, and I'd still put the seven Potter books right there with most of them.
Many people have discussed in recent weeks how Harry Potter will be seen by future generations and whether or not it will endure. I believe that it will. The teenagers who are obsessed with Harry Potter now will want their future children to experience it, too, just as I can't wait for the day my son is ready to take a stroll through Middle-earth or Narnia, the places I explored as a kid - and, yes, now I'll add Hogwarts to that list.
More importantly, I hope that people will always seek out a good story, and putting aside the massive commercial success and hype around the books, that's what Rowling has delivered - a good story that shows us both the best and the worst of human nature, the triumph of spirit and the pangs of loss. It's with those mingled feelings that millions of readers finished the final page and closed the cover of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the loss at knowing this could be the last time they walk the halls of Hogwarts, but the triumph and satisfaction of having enjoyed one of the best fantasy stories of our time.