It's So Hard to Say Goodbye: How to Fill the Harry Potter Void

Before the angry hordes gather outside my window with their pitchforks and torches, I want to make something clear -- I do not think Harry Potter is replaceable. Without getting all weepy on you (just kidding, I've been crying since last Monday), Harry was a huge part of my upbringing and is still a part of my life today, even as it ends. The thing is -- and I know this doesn't make me special, because I'm not alone here -- I was 11 years old; Harry's age (as well as Daniel Radcliffe's) when the first film came out. So ten years later, as the core "growing up" years come to an end, it feels like -- and I know this sounds dramatic if you don't "get" Harry Potter -- but it feels like I'm losing a big part of myself.

The thing about Harry, even though it's been said so many times before, is that it was about a fantastical world, but it was also about the most basic elements of the human experience -- loyalty, friendship, love, loneliness, guilt. To learn about those things as Harry did meant that the books were a sort of road map to the adolescent world. The seven Harry Potter books told a beautiful story, but they were also value indicators for young people. What was important was friendship and family, what you could accomplish was always more than you thought you were capable of, and your purpose in life was to love as much as you possibly could. Harry was the best possible coming of age story we could come of age to -- it helped us to make sense of growing up; it helped us in figuring out what kind of people we wanted to be.

Would I have known that love and friendship were important had I not read Harry? Yes, of course. But would I have known -- had a very heightened sense -- of the fact that they could save you in the worst of times? No, probably not. I am endlessly thankful for Harry, but it would be an understatement to say I'm not ready to let it go. I've avoided writing about it -- thinking about it -- up until this very moment because of what it means. This time, it really is the end.

So that being said, I need something -- I think we all need something -- to fill the void in our lives that Harry will be leaving come this Friday. Of course, I don't have a made-for-kids book series in mind at this point. But I still want some fantasy, some magic, even if it's a different kind this time around.

The Hunger Games
It's the most obvious heir to the Harry Potter series, but at this point that's mostly because of timing -- it's the next-in-line fantasy book series turned fantasy movie series. It's got a smaller fan base than Harry, but they're dedicated and vocal about their support, and for good reason. The Hunger Games trilogy is incredibly powerful, focusing on life and death situations in a carefully created futuristic world, with a seriously kick-ass female protagonist. (And the first photos of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss did not disappoint.) It's like Gladiator meets Brave New World meets Alias, but really, it's in a class all its own.

A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones)
If you haven't jumped on this bandwagon yet, you obviously don't read this site very often. (Or you just don't have HBO. If that's the case, I guess you're forgiven.) A Song of Ice and Fire is the series of epic fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin, and Game of Thrones is first book in the series. There are four books total so far, and a fifth one on its way, as well as prequel novellas -- basically, this amount of reading should keep you occupied for quite some time. And if you hadn't guessed, the just-wrapped Season 1 of HBO's Game of Thrones is based on the first book, so there's a TV series if you like the books (or don't like reading). A Song of Ice and Fire, like The Hunger Games, exists in a totally original fantasy world unlike any other. The first book/season introduces our characters -- competing families, wars brewing, and so on -- and then there's dragons (!), and really, we've only just begun. The characters are well-developed, the storylines are so good you'll be glued to the page, and, so far, I'm really impressed with the TV series, too. Basically, this one's a shoo-in for Harry Potter replacement -- it's strong in both quality and quantity.

The Hobbit
Okay, so I know Peter Jackson's two-part prequel to the Lord of the Rings series isn't even close to being released. But what I do know? It's going to be good. With Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry, Lee Pace, and a ton of Lord of the Rings vets all on board, as well as amazing preview videos on YouTube and the faith I have in Jackson because of the incredible job he did with the other three, I'm more than looking forward to this one. So how does The Hobbit fill the void if it's release date is so far off? Catch up on the old Lord of the Rings movies and books before The Hobbit is released -- nothing was ever like them, not even Harry. It was sort of the original fantasy book series. And if you haven't ever seen the movies or read the books, well, shame on you. You should probably go do that right now.

The good thing about this franchise is that there's more material connected with it than even A Song of Ice and Fire. Thanks to the fantastic First Class reboot this summer, it's likely that there will be two more films to make a complete trilogy. But if you want, there's also the previous three films (take my word for it and skip X3), all the comic books the films were based on, action figures if you're into that...and if you're really, really weird like me, awesome X-Men lunchboxes. X-Men is about superhero mutants -- regular-looking people (for the most part) with special powers -- and their assimilation (or not) into normal society. First Class is actually about the mutant involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is amazing -- Matthew Vaughn just decided to re-write history. But the best thing about X-Men in my opinion is that it at its core, it's about a family of outcasts, which is what Harry, Ron and Hermione were.

True Blood
I know Potter fans tend to have vendettas against vampires (damn you, Twilight), but True Blood is worth giving a shot. First (and most importantly), it doesn't take itself seriously, and that's the best thing about it -- it's what differentiates it from all of the melodramatic Bella-Edward-Jacob, Damon-Elena-Stefan nonsense. It's ridiculous, but it knows how ridiculous it is, so it plays on that. There's a lot of sex and violence and absurd characters that would never exist in real life. (And that's not just because they're vampires, shape-shifters, witches, werewolves, and faeries.) If you want, the TV show is based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels, so you can read those too, but I think the show is more entertaining. If you do watch, I would recommend putting a weekend aside for yourself with DVDs of the first few seasons ready to go, because it's about as addictive as vampire blood. (Very, very addictive.)
Finally and thankfully, J.K. Rowling hasn't left us entirely alone -- we're kind of cheating with this whole goodbye thing. Pottermore is a website Rowling created to (first and foremost) sell the Potter books as e-books, but it's also got an interactive angle. You "start" at Privet Drive and go from there and Rowling has promised to "reveal background details on characters and settings...she's been hoarding for years." Um, seeing as the last secret Rowling revealed about a character was that Dumbledore was gay, we know she doesn't disappoint. I'm on board. Hopefully it's going to be a connection to what has become a family of Potter fans, as well as a small reminder of what once was.

Check out an interview with Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint.

Harry Potter: The Best & Worst of the Franchise
Harry Potter: Spin-Offs We'd Like to See
Harry Potter: A Farewell Tour of Hogwarts

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