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Potter — Harry Potter

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Aug. 31st, 2011 | 03:26 am
music: You Only Live Twice, Nancy Sinatra

Hard to believe I’ve been going back to school (and into battle) with Harry Potter for the better part of 17 years. Seven novels (my favorite the overflowingly imaginative fifth) and now eight densely entertaining movies ... the most successful entertainment franchise of all time ... until you think to adjust the success of James Bond for inflation (and product placement).

Even harder to believe that I was in school when Bond was outwitting, outplaying and outlasting the Russkies and other baddies in the canonical Ian Fleming novels. I devoured all 12 in paperback, though none of the 40+ Bond books subsequently licensed to other authors, and have managed to see every one of the 24 Bond films in their first runs (1962-2010).

So I feel I can speak with some authority when I say of these two heroes that despite their superficial differences, they have a remarkable amount in common:

— Both lost their parents when they were school kids, and were placed in the care of relatives.

— Both were endowed by their authors with scars.

— Both are reckless games-players and skilled fighters who face overwhelming odds at least annually.

— Secret organizations reinforce both with arcane knowledge and cutting-edge technology. Neither hero could have survived without this help ... and even so, their survival would have remained highly improbable without firm support from their respective authors (and without a whack of luck supplied at crucial junctures by every one of their directors.)

— Fleming dismissed his kinetic thrillers as “pillow-book fantasies of the bang-bang kiss-kiss variety." His Bond appeals to the teenage boy in every fan and embodies a pre-Beatle teenager’s idea of masculine confidence and sophistication. J.K. Rowling was famously a single mother on welfare when she created Harry Potter and his world, and he embodies the insecurity and vulnerability of a real schoolkid of either gender. The fact that he has to find heroism in himself seems to have appealed to most anyone who was ever a child.

— As their series progress, both heroes turn cool, shrewd, calculating, manipulative ... and unforgiving (unless there’s an ulterior motive). As well, both love their friends, but are not very good friends to their lovers.

— Nonetheless, both have inspired loyal followings not only among masses of readers and filmgoers, but also among stars who have built their lives around inhabiting even minor roles in the lives of Harry and James ... year after year after year ... decade after decade after decade in the case of Desmond Llewelyn, who played Q the MI-6 gadget guy in 17 Bond films (1963-99).

So ... can it be mere coincidence that Ian Fleming, who started writing his fantasies in retirement, died in the south of England just months before J.K. Rowling, who started writing fantasy stories at age five or six, was conceived there?

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