Fourteen months ago, I began listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks, narrated by Jim Dale. After listening to all seven books in the series, 116 hours worth, I sat enraptured as the last few words of the final chapter, “Nineteen Years Later”, sounded in the early Saturday morning quiet two weekends ago. A sense of loss, of finality, washed over me. It was a feeling of completion tinged with mourning.
I felt the same way on July 22, 2007. We had driven thirty miles to a bookstore that was staying open until midnight for the release of the final book. The store was packed, and we enjoyed seeing the costumes and hanging out with other fans. However, due to the length of the line, we left and headed home. I stopped in a 24-hour Walmart on the off-chance they had a copy. There was a huge stack of books just past the entrance. I took what appeared to be the first one off the stack, paid via self-checkout, and read half of it before falling asleep. I woke after three or four hours rest, moved to the couch, and finished the final chapter with tears in my eyes before lunchtime.
I had a similar feeling on July 15, 2011 when we loaded up the car and went to see final movie. My youngest son was born the same year as The Sorcerer’s Stone hit the silver screen. He grew up watching the films. Though I have encouraged him to do so, he has not read the books. He was content with the story as presented via the movies. I watched the “Nineteen Years Later” segment seated next to him, with the smell of buttered popcorn in the air and my feet resting on the soda-sticky floor. The movie experience was not nearly as compelling to me as that of the books, but as a father, watching Harry’s interaction with young Albus Severus Potter still filled me with emotion.
All three times, across three different forms of media, similar feelings swept over me when the story of Harry Potter ended. If I were to rank the books, the movies, and the Jim Dale audio, I would have to give the books themselves the nod, but only barely ahead of the audio. If I had experienced the audiobooks first, I am certain I would have felt differently. Dale is spectacular, with unparalleled ability to use distinctive voices and a stellar sense of pace. I love the original books more due to the fact that they were the first means by which I entered the halls of Hogwarts and experienced the delightful Wizarding World. But listening to Jim Dale made the words I have read time and time again feel fresh and new once again.
I’m not sure when I will revisit the story of Harry Potter again. But some day in the future, I will see my trusty old hardcover copy of Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone on my bookshelf. Or perhaps I will see the box set of the movies in the entertainment center in a place of honor between the Back to the Future and Star Wars sets. Or maybe I will fire up the audio as I drive to work and Jim Dale will narrate the odd events that took place on Privet Drive that fateful night. Either way, I know that when I inevitably work my way through the entire epic, experiencing that last chapter yet again will fill me with a familiar mix of grief and gratitude.