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The aging of Harry Potter

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is in certain ways one of the best of the Harry Potter series, and in other ways a comedown. I received mail from readers noticing that my positive review seemed less enthusiastic that many other critics--and so it was, contrasted to eight important writers who rated it 90 or above on Metacritic. I suppose my three stars seemed a little reluctant.

Not really. I admired the film, I thought the sequence involving the underground cave was masterful, and I am anticipating "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" in 2010 and "Part II" in 2011. But didn't it seem to you this sixth film was not as light, magical and fun as the earlier ones? In fantasy the term "sense of wonder" is often used. Remember how much wonder we felt in 2001, when "Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone" was released. Delivery owls! Quidditch! Kings' Cross Platform 9-3/4!"

Harry's universe has grown familiar. Of course it has. There are some owls perched about in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," but the Quidditch match is really unnecessary except that it is expected. GCI has become so commonplace it's almost pro-forma.

Harry was 11 at the time of the first movie. Since J. K. Rowling's novels each cover one year of his life, that would make him 16 in the new movie, and I guess he'll be 17 at the end of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," which is one book being made into two films. Whether he ages at the same pace in the films is unclear, and there was an extra year between "Chamber of Secrets" (2002) and "Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004).

Warning: Spoiler alert if you're not familiar with the books.

In any event, Harry is now older than the heroine of "Twilight." Daniel Radcliffe is now 19, and will be 21 by the end, a little old for school days. He is a man, and needs to be about, can we say, his father's business? If Hogwarts and the world of magic seemed like a jolly lark at the outset, life for Harry has taken on darker tones and more urgent responsibilities. Even the hallowed halls of Hogwarts, once so charming, have grown grim and gothic. Remember that Harry's mission is to prevent Voldemort from exercising rule over the Muggles (i.e., the human race).

The two halves of "Deathly Hallows" therefore involve an apocalyptic struggle between Harry and Lord Voldemort. The book is long since a best-seller and we know that it ends, as it really must, with Harry's hard-fought victory after the deaths of some beloved characters.

The problem is that Harry in the process must become an adult, leave behind his childish ways, and deal with such possibilities as defeat and death. And there is a sense in which the Rowling world is challenged to contain such possibilities. At first the whole magical world seemed invented almost just for Harry's delight. Now it has grown larger than he is. A wand and a spell may not be adequate weapons. Recall the Death-Eaters.

What this means is that as it ages, the Harry Potter series is hard-pressed to maintain its spectacular level of pure entertainment. There is still much to be revealed, but little to be discovered. The extended passages involving stores of memories in "Prince" are an example of the labyrinths now opening before Harry. And speaking of labyrinths, in "Hallows" Harry will marry Ginny.

These will not be unwelcome developments. It's in the nature of things that we grow older and life grows more serious. I am simply observing that the Potter series can't easily remain as magical as its beginnings. And in purely movie terms, these concluding films must be less enchanting. Some of the praise bestowed on "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" came because of its "increased maturity." As if that's what we were hoping for.

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