Several years ago during a mystery fiction conference, I listened to a session devoted to children's and young adult mysteries. The talk soon turned to Harry Potter and how this little boy wizard certainly worked in that rarified category of mystery fiction for the younger set.
At the time, J.K. Rowling had three novels out and each was dominating the bestsellers lists.
And with good reason—Harry and friends were and still are a wonderful tale for children with themes of empowerment, friendship, belief and loss. Time after time the books have shown that it doesn't matter who you are or what your background is; it matters what you choose to do with your life and how you choose to live.
Sure, kids loved the books. But so do adults. I've read each one and have looked forward to each movie. I also have listened to each one, read by the incomperable Jim Dale who does a different voice for each character.
While the first few novels had just enough scary stuff to appeal to kids, I've often told parents that younger kids shouldn't read the last couple of books until their children were old enough to deal with Rowling's increasingly dark vision.
This is especially true of the last novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as well as the wonderful movie that is just out. Rowling's last Harry Potter novel is her longest and her most dark. Instead of generating one movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is being divided into two parts.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 opens Friday Nov. 19, 2011 across the US.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1, the evil that has invaded the world of Hogwarts and Harry and friends is no longer being kept at bay. It's very real and penetrating all aspects of life in the wizarding world and that of the muggles. (If you don't know what a muggle is then, well, my sympathies.)
The battles that Harry and crew have been preparing for since book one are here and there is no more practice time. Those who have read the novels know that some characters to whom readers have been very attached die in the last two novels. There is a very real carnage in the novel that equals Caligula. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 only begins to scratch the surface.
It is this often bleak world that also contains glimmers of hope that the movie version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows captures so well. The cinematography is exquisite, showing a noir world that spans from cities and homes to the wide open spaces of mountains, lakes and forests. Filmed at a variety of locations in the United Kingdom, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 is as beautiful a movie as Lord of the Rings.
But Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 isn't just lovely scenery. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 keeps the spirit of the novel intact, and that's as much as any of us can hope. It's directed by David Yates who helmed the last three Harry Potter films. Dividing the novel into two movies works because only one film would have to leave out too much, resulting in a Cliff's Notes version, hacked up, then quartered and undecipherable. As it is, Part I leaves out a lot but keeps the spirit of the novel.
(L-R) The bewitching Harry Potter played by Daniel Radcliffe, Ron Weasley played by Rupert Grint, and Hermione Granger played by Emma Watson. Courtesy of Warner Bros.
The depth of the characters shines in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley know the seriousness of their mission and what will be lost if they fail. Even a moment of levity in the forest is tinged with sadness.
Likewise, the actors who portray these characters have grown. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint aren't just cute, spunky kids as they were in the first film.
They have grown into actors who have an impressive range and show signs of easily making the transition to adult actors if they choose. Radcliffe already has proven his acting chops on the stage during a turn in Equus; Grint has become a go-to guy for British independent films. Watson has made several films and is currently studying at Brown University. Plus, each time Radcliffe, Watson and Grint are interviewed, they come across as well-balanced, level headed young adults.
I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when it first came out in 2007 and while I knew what was going to happen, some twists in the movie still came as a shock. A couple of deaths in Part I are emotional and, yes, brought me to tears.
Ever since the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone came out, a controversy has arisen among those who believe the movies have never captured the novels and those who believe the films have delivered the essence of the novels. I belong to the second camp.
By all means, read each of the novels first, but don't discount the films that allow us another peek at this wonderful wizarding world.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 counts in at nearly two and a half hours, but the time flew. I could have easily stayed to watch Part 2, which is due out July 15, 2011. I can't wait.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1: Rated PG - 13 for "some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality." Running time: 146 minutes.