Harry Potter, Peter Pan, and continuity of meaning and experience


I saw the last Harry Potter film with my 11-year-old and 9-year-old at Broadway 16 in Myrtle Beach today.

Without spoiling too much –I’ll try to be vague — at the very end of this very last Potter film, the director moves us 19 years into the future to a time when some of the main characters of the series are taking their own children to Platform 9 3/4 so they can go to Hogwarts.

This storytelling structure reminded me of a children’s stage production of Peter Pan that the entire family saw at the O2 arena in London during the Christmas 2009 holiday.

In that Peter Pan, at the very end, after the other children had grown up and had children of their own, Peter Pan returns to the nursery to find a sleeping girl (I think it was Wendy’s daughter). The little girl awakens, and Peter Pan gives a bow of introduction to her.  The end.

Both of these endings — for Potter and Pan — were moving. I think they’re moving because something about humans really like continuity of meaning and experience. We want our children to share some of our experiences, at the proper time, and to attach a similar meaning to those experiences as we did.

Moreover, we want to believe that the best stories carry on — that they are told again, and that they even happen again. The magic of the Potter and Pan storytelling technique is an ending that doesn’t end: No matter how little our imaginations pursue the possibilities for a new generation of Hogwarts students or Wendy’s daughter, we’re left knowing the story carries on.

In some cases, we cannot achieve a repetition of an experience, even for ourselves, never mind for someone else. Then again, some stories, rites of passage, traditions, ceremonies, and so forth, seem to be fundamental to our imaginations.

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2 responses to “Harry Potter, Peter Pan, and continuity of meaning and experience

  1. Excellent point. I think that, money aside, that is also one of the reasons sequels are so popular, and why there is so much pressure for an author like Rowling to write another series in the same world–people are hoping, desiring, to revisit the same people and places they came to love. And often the most magical stories are the ones that suggest endless stories that happen just off the page or just offscreen, where the story being told is just one of many that could be told in that world, with those characters. Star Wars has always been great at that, especially the original films, by giving extra touches of personality to even the most minor characters (like the weeping handler of the Rancor in Episode IV, for instance); such things feed our imaginations and cause us to wonder, which we like.

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