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No letting go for generation that grew up with Harry Potter and his pals

Published: Thursday, July 14 2011 12:41 a.m. MDT

Tyrell Careter, Kylie Haws, Adam Moyer and Sarah Walker work on creating magic wands out of hot glue at a Harry Potter themed party in Payson on Wednesday.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Looking back, Trisha Deem is pretty sure she made it through the cruel misery of junior high school because of three special friends: Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley and Harry Potter.

"In junior high, like Hermione, I was an insufferable know-it-all who didn't really have friends. She found her Ron and Harry who accepted her as she was. I knew I could find mine. So I read the books over and over again. ... It was honestly because I could get lost in the world of Harry Potter that I made it through junior high," said Deem, 21, of Sandy, who cried when she finished the seventh and final Harry Potter book.

Welcome to the moments leading up to the last chapter of the wizardly saga. The last book was long ago devoured by Harry-hungry fans. This week marks the release of the final movie in the series, which is more than just a great bit of fantasy fiction, say those who have grown up with it. It's a love story. And a coming-of-age saga. And a look at the ageless battle between good and evil.

Kimberly Gardner, 27, started reading the stories a couple of years after the first one came out. Now 27 and living in the D.C. Beltway, the former Orem resident said the books' message resonates more now than ever. "It's a politically charged atmosphere here a lot. I think there's something when you start reading books like these and see people coming together, working together for the common good. There can be horrible things going on in the world, but there are always people who hope for a better future and continue to have families and celebrate good things in life even if people around them are crumbling. It says we have the ability to make the world a better place."

It's also a great excuse for a party. So Lexi Richards, 20, of Midvale, is putting last-minute touches on her Luna Lovegood costume and wrestling with getting her hair to dye to the exact milky-shade of the pale character. Caitlin Banks, 18, of Spanish Fork has spent weeks with friends planning a night-before-the-premiere party. They also rented two Provo theaters for later so they'll be able to watch the show with all their friends and family. At the party, they were planning to wear costumes and mix potions and make Potter-related T-shirts and wands.

Christopher Amundsen, 26, of Sandy, is in the process of moving to Phoenix over the weekend, so he's going to miss the revelry. But the Potter series has been something he's loved for years. His grandmother, he said, has become blind and they got the Potter books on tape. "It seems at some point during the week, there's a Harry Potter tape on at our house, whether she or I or someone else is listening to it. It has been a good, fun ride for me. Reading them has been an escape from reality, an opportunity to be entertained and forget about what you've got going on. You can lose yourself and focus on something outside yourself."

He was sad when he finished the final book, he said. "J.K. Rowling built these characters up so well and you like them and know them, then they graduate school and it's the end. But they've got to grow up and move on and do something else. So do we all. You want a good story to have a big finish. Had it carried on, it would not have had that."

"My generation grew up with it, going through the same things, just without the magic part," says Chelsey Gensel, 22, Logan. "It has a way of bringing people together. It's about love and friendships and faith and community. There's a huge subculture and it's super nerdy, but it's really important, too. It has given an outlet and sense of community and belonging to kids who might not have found that."

She's even gone to Harry Potter conventions. When she was working as a nanny, away from family and friends, she found community among fellow Potter fans, some still close to her now. And she also developed an affection for Wrock — "Wizard rock" — a music genre that's all about Potter adventures and humor and costumes. What's not to love about groups with names like the Moaning Myrtles or Harry and the Potters?

In interviews, Rowling has said she got the idea for the books in 1990, while on a train. The first book was released in England in 1997 and hit the United States with a slightly different title a few months later, as "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Wikipedia and industry sources say they've together sold 450 million copies, been translated into 67 languages and Rowling is the first-ever book-made billionaire, bolstered by movie deals and merchandise licensing. The Harry Potter brand is worth more than $15 billion.

But it's the passion with which some fans celebrate the series that is most striking. And many told the Deseret News they're not really planning to let Harry and his friends go, just because the storytelling is done.

Melanie Stephenson of Provo is 24. Or will be soon on Neville Longbottom's birthday, which happens to be just the day before Harry Potter's. That's the kind of trivia hardcore Potter fans know. It happens when you've read the series over and over again.

Stephenson didn't want to read the books at all. But one day she was stuck in the car, waiting for her mom, and the book was just sitting there. So after fidgeting a bit, she picked it up. In many ways, she never put it down.

"The movies are not as good," she said, "but they are all part of the Harry Potter experience and I love them because of that."

Reading Potter is not a solitary activity. "I have talked with my friends about the books for hours," said Stephenson, a costume designer who helped her brother Karl go to last year's early showing as a most convincing Hagrid, but has never had time to dress up herself. "I remember when they first came out, before the movies, the excitement was talking about how each of us viewed the Potter world. We all saw it created in our minds a little differently."

Gensel, like others, worried that the Potter "community" would fall apart with the book's last word and the final movie. Now she doubts it. "It's bigger and stronger and closer. They've planned the next couple of years of conventions."

Efforts to keep Potter affection alive have been helped, as well, by the opening of a Harry Potter theme park in Orlando and the announcement by Rowling of something mysterious online called Pottermore. It's going to be interactive for readers, she said, and will share more details and information from the wonderful parallel world of the books. There's supposed to be a big announcement July 31 online.

Mindy Harward, 29, of Orem, was nearly an adult when Potter mania began. She was a nanny who noticed her young charges were all reading the books, so she did, too. "I read the first three in a week and was going to borrow the fourth, but my cousin read too slowly and I broke down and bought it." In college, she wrote her senior paper about the series. She'd decided that the creation of the Death Eaters by evil Lord Voldemort and the good Order of the Phoenix by Albus Dumbledore were the flip sides of a longing for family. She even presented a paper on it at a pop culture conference in San Francisco a few years ago.

She's dressing up for her last movie date with the Hogwarts crowd, dying her hair red like Ginny Weasley and donning a Gryffindor-style robe.

She admits there's nothing even comparable to her love of the Harry Potter series in other books or movies.

"I think I've liked Harry Potter so much because it didn't seem it was fantasy. It was a school story, a kid's day-to-day life," Deem said. "And it gave me a sense of belonging because I was not the only one who loved Harry Potter."

She fit right into the community of Potter lovers, she said. And even among strangers it provided fodder for conversation. So over the years, she's made all but one premiere. Sometimes she's gone as Luna. This time, she's going with a group of friends who are each representing a character from one of the books. She'll be Hermione with her "time turner," which is actually funny because it was her least favorite movie. "I actually don't like the movies because I'm so hardcore into the books. The movies leave things out, which drives me crazy. But I will go and dress up because I feel like that's what a good Harry Potter fan does. And it's always fun to see the costumes."

"We're all really sad that it's ending, but we're super-excited," Banks said of the blow-out party and private showing she helped plan. "We want people to have a good time and celebrate with us — and yeah, cry with us, too."

Gensel never meant to read the books by J.K. Rowling at all. "My best friend convinced me to read the first one and 'if you don't like it, I will never talk to you about it again.' I've read it 34 times," she laughed. "I've tried to read it at least once a year in addition to every time a new book or movie came out. It's also my comfort reading, if I am lonely or sad or need an escape.

"What so many of us grew up reading and loving will always be special," she said. "I'll read it to my kids. I don't think it's going anywhere."

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com

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