08/11/2011 09:32 am ET Updated Oct 11, 2011

Harry Potter : A Confession, and an Appreciation

I'm a bit behind the curve on Harry Potter. The last movie in the series has, astonishingly, grossed over $1 billion in worldwide box office after only its third weekend in release. In fact, having just passed the final Lord of the Rings picture, it's the highest grossing movie around the world not directed by that James Cameron guy. But I haven't seen it yet.

In fact, I haven't seen the two movies prior to it. Okay, so that's more than a bit behind.

So I did something terribly old-fashioned. I read the book.

The final book, I mean. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, all parts in one. It was complex, poignant, logically worked out, and frequently moving, all after suspension of disbelief. It contains messages important for the times. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

I assume you're engaged by it, at least to a certain extent, if you are reading this.

I lost the thread of the movie series two movies back. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was the absence of John Williams' wonderful scoring, which enabled me to sit through Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Perhaps the renewed Doctor Who had taken up the British fantasy series space in my head. Who knows? In any event, I kept feeling I was too busy for the next one, and then for Deathly Hallows, Part I, felt I'd missed too much.

And so this time, realizing that the series really was important and was finally coming to an end, decided that, instead of jumping into icy, half-remembered waters, I would actually read the novel. Which I had purchased the day after it came out four years ago -- at the now closed Borders in San Francisco's Union Square (a commentary in itself on the culture of our times) -- but never read, despite carting it around in my overnight bag for quite awhile. (It's not small, either, and would make nearly as good a doorstop as the new Tom Clancy.)

I see that the movie is being criticized by some for being the shortest of the eight, and leaving out some key elements that I found important in the book.

I'm very glad I read the novel, rather than just try to jump into a universe I'd partly forgotten. It played very well in my mind. It will be interesting once I get around to seeing the movie.

Which is an enormous hit, even bigger than I expected.

I didn't think it would break the opening weekend domestic box office record, with $169.2 million to the $158.4 million of The Dark Knight, a movie more clearly up my alley which may be the key movie of the past decade. It broke the global opening box office record, too, by a huge margin, which surprised me less, as corporate studios are getting amazingly good at moving film around the world.

As to the book, it's no mess of pottage, er, Potter. Quite the contrary.

Actually, it's not so much a mess as something of a marvel.

As huge as the movies are, it's important to remember that they began as a huge series of novels, ostensibly for children in that British sort of way in which entertainments with a point or four are pitched to the young in age and in all of us. I read the first two novels, and enjoyed them as intelligent entertainments that would intrigue children no end, feeling that J.K. Rowling was quite a clever writer indeed.

But dipping back into her literary world at the last (or so she says), I see she has conjured a deeper, richer, and darker world.

The children that so many children of the real world, around that world, have grown up with are growing up, faster than they'd like, certainly, to come to grips with the impending destruction not only of their perfect English school paradise but also of the world as a whole.

The sweet and lighthearted days of "Hedwig's Theme," and of that godawful yet nonetheless exhilarating sport of Quidditch, are long since past. The three principal protagonists, the rather enigmatic yet ever reliable Harry, the delightfully challenging Hermione, who could very well have been the principal of the three friends, and goofy yet ultimately stalwart Ron, who does not win the sidekick prize from Lord of the Rings' Sam, but is good enough, these three must not only save the day but prevent the end of days.

The story, ultimately, is about the audacity of hope, if I may borrow a phrase, and resilience in the face of brilliant evil and the entropy of a world seemingly winding down.

Having read the novel, and having read all manner of reviews of and contemplations on the film, I'm actually not in a hurry to see it. Yet. Not because I don't want to, but because I want to savor the movie I've conjured up in my mind.

Of course, I'll see the movie itself soon enough, I'm sure. I won't be able to resist for long.

But what I'm really looking forward to is a marathon of all the films, start to finish. So serialized are these films that I suspect they will come to be seen in the future -- especially with the time-shifting viewings that technology now affords us -- as a vast miniseries of the sort that the entertainment industry used to turn out decades ago but now no longer does.

It will be especially fascinating to see the cast grow and change over time. Not only the terrific young principals, and their assorted young friends and rivals, but also the fabulous cast of eminent British actors that provides such vivid support to the story's structure and characterization.

Incidentally, I like the epilogue in the book very much. It provides a sense of historical continuity and reminds that we have not been following the tale of a trio of superheroes, or even of one titular superhero, but "merely" that of very gifted people doing extraordinary things because they must.

Which is a fine message in itself in these perilous times.

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