'Harry Potter' withdrawal: Will fans feel post-'Potter' pain?


Image Credit: Peter Mountain

Anyone who attended any of the record-breaking screenings of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2 this past weekend can attest that the echoes of weeping fans often rivaled the theaters' booming sound systems. And while there's no doubt that the tears flowed early and often because of hanky-worthy moments -- such as (SPOILER ALERT!) Harry accepting his fate to die and Ron mourning the loss of Fred after the gruesome battle at Hogwarts -- it's also fair to say that many Potter fanatics found themselves crying for an entirely different reason: This was the moment in which they were letting go of Harry, and his beloved series, for good. "I don't think I've fully come to terms with the fact that the series is now officially over," says 19-year-old Evan Dalton, an avid West Virginia-based Harry Potter fan who has plans to see Deathly Hallows -- Part 2 for a third time. "It couldn't have ended in any other more perfect way, but it is just hard to think that there won't be any more [movies]

. It means so much to all of us fans because it has been a part of our lives for so long.”

Indeed, the boy who lived had existed in fans’ hearts for 10 years — 13 if you include the U.S. publication of J.K. Rowling’s beloved books. And for the better part of the past decade, fans even more fervent than Dalton have devoured every Harry Potter film and novel, going as far as to develop an intense, addiction-like attachment to the saga. At least, that’s what professionals like Jeff Rudski, PhD, an associate professor from Muhlenberg College, have found. Along with two then-students/fellow Harry Potter fans, Eli Kallen and Carli Segal, Rudski noticed that some children exhibited an addictive bond to the series during a study he conducted back in 2008 following the release of J.K. Rowling’s final, highly anticipated book in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. All might have been well with the boy wizard at the end of the series, but some young fans suddenly found it difficult to cope without the promise of more Harry in their bookstores.

So how might some fans fare without Harry in their theaters as well? Based on Rudski’s findings, you can expect some to struggle with withdrawal. EW caught up with the associate professor, a Harry Potter fan himself who became intrigued by those who were “overly engaged with the Harry Potter phenomenon” when his then 14-year-old daughter became obsessed with the books. In fact, her behavior, as well as others who had an impulsive need to check out Harry Potter-related websites or engage in Potter discussions, reminded him of “someone who needed a cigarette. When they got their fix, the fangs would retract.”

The 2008 study, which polled 4,000 of what Rudski called “hardcore Harry Potter fans,” ultimately found that 10 percent of the participants exhibited characteristics of attachment seen in cigarette or even gambling addicts. Rudski and his colleagues monitored the “cravings” of the fans in the months leading up to the release of Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the time during the book’s release, and six months after it hit shelves. Rudski found that some participants had “mild withdrawal” symptoms and “mood disturbances.” In the study, a 29-year-old female participant is quoted as saying, “Spent some time crying over the end of HP. I feel very lonely” while an 18-year-old male stated, “I simply feel empty inside as a result of the acknowledgment that an entire chapter of my life (that being the HP series) has ended forever.” As a 24-year-old Harry Potter fan simply put it, “Post-Potter depression is real!”

But how exactly does Potter (over-)appreciation mirror something like a gambling addiction? “[The appeal of gambling is] the thrill of the unknown,” Rudski says. “When the books were released … it contributed to the excitement and it got people hooked. The thrill of the unknown, the speculating, which can feed an addiction, explains some of the withdrawal that people went through. There was a feeling of, ‘What now?'” Rudski noted that many of the Harry Potter fans from their study, some of which spent up to three hours a day or more on Harry Potter-related activities, shared a “sense of loss of an episode of their lives” when the series wrapped up.

Anthropologist Peter Stromberg, PhD, author of the book Caught in a Play: How Entertainment Works on You, echoes Rudski’s findings, telling EW it’s difficult for young fans to distance themselves from a fictional universe they became so attached to over the course of the past decade. “[It has become] a world for people,” he says. “They became connected emotionally in so many ways. [They grew] a relationship with certain characters and plot lines … Dobby dying was a genuine loss [to those fans] and there’s a bereavement process to some extent,” Stromberg explained.

It’s possible, however, that Harry Potter fans may not experience as strong a reaction letting go of the movies. “They’ll [go through] something related, not similar,” Rudski says. “The [last] book was a major milestone in people’s lives. A lot of them had grown up with Harry Potter. Some fans were the exact same age as Harry was in the first book. His adolescence was their adolescence.” Rudski — who also wants to make clear that a Harry Potter obsession is not nearly as dire as, say, a drug or gambling addiction (“Harry Potter doesn’t ruin your life,” he says) — thinks typical movie fans that are letting go “wouldn’t have been engaged with it to the same extent [of those who read the books from the beginning.] It’s a completely different set of people.”

And Stromberg says even the most intense devotees will get past their post-Potter pain after a short grief period. Not that they’ll ever have to fully let go of the boy wizard — they’ll likely not be given the option to. From the wildly popular theme park to Warner Bros.’s plans to keep Harry Potter going through the ages (a recent story from the Wall Street Journal reported that the studio, “is eyeing two properties in particular: Ms. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a companion book published in 2001, and Quidditch Through the Ages,” as well as, “turning Leavesden Studios, where the eight films were shot, into an 85,000 square foot attraction”), it’s clear that though the series is over, it’s certainly far from gone. As Stromberg says, “There are lots of ways people are trying to extend the experience.”

Still, not all fans are desperate to cling onto the series. In fact, some are using the Harry Potter finale to turn the next chapter of their own lives. Leah Wynalek, a 22-year-old recent college graduate and intern for The Columbus Dispatch, for which she recently wrote an op-ed chronicling her life with Harry Potter, was ready to say goodbye. Wynalek told EW that while she, like scads of other devoted fans, attended a midnight screening of Deathly Hallows — Part 2, watching the final film “made me finally realize I’m an adult.” Wynalek, who began reading the Potter series in the fifth grade, told EW, “I don’t consider it a goodbye. The books are always there for you.”

Perhaps when it comes to Harry Potter, “It All Ends” when the fans say so.

Read more:
‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2′ recap
How many times did ‘Deathly Hallows — Part 2′ get you misty, give you chills?
‘Harry Potter’ Central

Comments (69 total) Add your comment
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  • h

    I’m in withdrawal :(

    • Jonathan

      I was surprised with how sad I was after seeing the final movie. When I got home I picked up my 1997 copy of The Philosopher’s Stone and read the first few pages, my eyes welling with tears. 14 of my 21 years have involved Harry to a big extent — and who really remembers the first 7 years of their life? — so this will be hard. As silly as that all sounds..

      • Thom

        10 of my 21 years

      • Nemo

        11 of my 20 years

    • tati

      Me too.. :(

    • HC

      same. took me a couple of days to get out of a weird funk….

    • Tom Strong

      GET A LIFE!

      • Arizona

        Hey, lookit, unless you’re William Shatner on Saturday Night Live… how do I put this delicately? STFU. This is a big PIECE of a lot of people’s lives, including mine, not necessarily what our entire existences revolve around. I could argue that YOU’RE the one who needs to “get a life,” since you have nothing better to do with your time than deride something other people are passionate about, and to do so with all the wit and incisiveness of wax paper.

  • itskjbomg

    The last book was released in 2007 not 2008.

    • mafe

      it was in 2008 indeed

    • Minurani

      Nope, I agree, 2007, indeed. It came out on my wedding day. Friends lined up at midnight, so that I could get it as soon as I woke up.

      • Laura K.

        It was 2007. The speculation was that it would come out on 7/7/07 (there were a lot of weddings that day, as well, because it was supposed to be lucky, and obviously the number 7 is sort of important to the plot). Anyway, it actually came out four years ago today.

  • rose

    I found myself feeling quite sad after watching it, being that it was the last “new” thing to look forward to. However I remember being much more sad after finishing the last book. Just have to remind myself that the books and movies will always be around, and that we were lucky to be at the right age to experience all of the excitement surrounding the releases.

    • Amanda

      It really was a once in generation kind of phenomenon and I am thrilled that I got to be a part of it and I’m excited to share my stories of that phenomenon with my children, but I’ve spent over a third of my life anticipating or enjoying something Harry Potter related and I don’t have that anymore so there is definitely some sadness!

      • Jenn

        This is a disguting article on many levels.
        Shame on EW and on this clueless writer.

      • Shadowlands

        Troll! Troll…on the messageboards. Just thought you should know (passes out)

      • B

        OMG. Thanks for that classic Quirrel reference, Shadowlands.

      • B

        Oops, I meant “Quirrell”.

      • miss k

        LOL!! Good one.

    • Mocha

      I think it’s bittersweet. As Amanda said, Harry Potter was really a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it. But at the same time, I turned 18 a few weeks ago and for me, watching the final movie felt like the conclusion of a significant part of my childhood. I know I haven’t lost Harry Potter, and I can reread the books whenever I want, but I grew up with this series and it’s sad to accept that it’s over.

  • alex

    no.. just keep re-reading them or listening to the audio books when you miss them. i listen to the audios on my commute/on the subway. it’s wondeful!

    • Stacie from Ravenclaw

      Jo says that Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you back.

  • Dash

    Why does EW act like Harry Potter will just disappear off the face of the planet?! Sheesh, Harry will always be around as long as I live I will cherish my Harry Potter books and make sure that all of my descendants do the same.

    • chris

      Precisely. I am currently reading Half-blood Prince for my HP-fanatic of an eight-year-old. It’ll be quite a while before harry and his friends fade away from our lives.

      • SaraS

        Let her read it herself!!

      • chris

        She is actually going to – she’s getting the first two books on as school-start gifts. I read for her, because it’s a parent-daughter bonding for us and she couldn’t read when I first read for her. ;-)

      • Meg

        Don’t let her read it herself–keep reading it with her/him. It means a lot to your child, whether you know it or not, that you take the time out of your day to read with her. My dad did with me up until I was 10 (granted he was reading to my little brother, but I was there too). Best part of growing up.

      • chris

        @Meg: Oh, I am going to read all the books for her. ;-) She loves it – here in Denmark, reading at least fifteen minutes with/for your child each day is recommended.

  • Swarles Barkley

    If it truly means that much to you it will always be with you. That is the lesson of the Resurrection Stone in the Forest. Harry will always be with me.

  • Nikki

    I totally can relate to Leah Wynalek. When the train left King’s Cross station, I realized that I can fully let my childhood go. I am ready to embrace being grown-up now.

    • s.

      I felt exactly the same. My childhood has officially ended when that train left. We’re all going “on”.

  • Ellie

    I HATE that the series is ending — not like an addict, but like the majority of people who have hugely enjoyed it and think the quality has been sky-high. I wish Rowling and company would consider spinoff books and films about secondary characters. Maybe Harry’s great story has been told, but I swear you could get people to a movie about Neville and Luna. A book about the Marauders would be awesome. Or how about the Dumbledore/Grindelwald story that’s waiting to be told? (Graphic novel, perhaps?) I think there would be a big audience for any or all of these.

    • Liz Lemon

      I would love a story about the next generation: Albus Severus, Lily Luna, James Sirius, Hugo, Rose, Scorpius, Teddy Lupin, Victoire Weasley, etc.

      • Amanda

        I would love a more in-depth story of the previous generation! Dumbledore and Grindewald! James, Sirius, Lupin and Petigrew! James and Lily! Snape and Lily! What wonderful “pre-quels” they would be!

      • Doctor Who Fan

        me too and sure a whole lot of other people .. still waiting for the tv series “Howarts” come on the have to holding of until they make the most money out the current new movie . . .wait for it! If it doesn’t happen is because JK put the brakes on it based on pricipal. If so then someone hit her with a broom!

      • Mocha

        I’m probably in the minority about this but I don’t really want to read any sequels–I liked that Harry and co got their happy ending, and I’m satisfied to leave it at that. I definitely would like to read prequels though–the 800-word mini-prequel JK wrote for charity was very fun, and I’d love to read more about the Marauders’ Hogwarts days, as well as their first struggle against Voldemort.

  • Suzy

    I want to cry, Harry Potter is so Awesome, no other book series come close.

    • SaraS

      I love that Emma Watson cried at the last premiere. What a sweetheart.

  • Amy

    Wow, this is disturbing that I can completely identify with this article. I most definitely went through a greiving period after reading the last book. Even though it is fiction, you develop a bond with the characters especially after all those years. When it was over, it was hard to accept. It felt so final. I enjoyed the movie, but there was no real sense of loss. I had already dealt with that. As Rowling said herself at the premiere, the story is never really over as long as there are fans to carry on the story. I can’t wait to share it with my children when they are old enough, and hopefully I will be able to keep them from the ridiculous attachment that I had. It is a testament to Rowling’s writing that you can care so deeply for these characters.

  • Lola

    I have that, whatever it is they just described, I have, it feels so empty, like a friend died, haven’t gotten over it.

  • Liz Lemon

    I’m still feeling it. I’ve seen the movie 3 times and it’s just so SAD when it ends.
    It’s hard knowing there’s not another book or film to look forward to.
    I’m hoping Pottermore will fill that void in some way.

  • LaDeeDawn

    It would be really nice if they told the story (maybe another 7 books) about Harry/Ginny’s and Ron/Hermione’s children at Hogwarts. I would love to go back to Hogwarts and have more adventures. Plus this way we could still see what was going on in Harry/Ginny/Ron/Hermione’s lives through their children. PPLLEEAASSEE make it happen!

  • Hilaryy

    I started crying in the theater right when the opening began because I knew this was the last time. I think the depression will sink in even more come a years time when there isnt something new coming out. I dont think my brain will fully grasp its over til then.

  • ps in seattle

    The study above could have been written about me, scary! For the past five years I have been sharing my love of the Potterverse with children in my community by providing Potter-related activities for the Parks Department annual Halloween party. Everyone loves to color, so I provide two tables of coloring pages depicting scenes from the first five movies. I also bring some of my personal props and decorations to create Platform 9-3/4, along with HP costumes and accessories (scarves, wands, glasses, Hedwig, a Firebolt, Quidditch goggles, the Monster Book of Monsters, the Triwizard cup, etc.), many of which are from area thrift stores. The children can dress like their favorite wizard and have their picture taken on the Platform. This has been very popular with the kids, and often their parents want to dress up too! It has been a really fun way to keep the magic alive, and gives me the opportunity to continue to geek out at least once a year.

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