Autumn has arrived and that means every day that passes brings us one step nearer to the first installment of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows. In a way, I am almost dreading it, because waiting for the film permits me to love it just a little bit longer. Once the last two movies are out, the franchise comes to a graceful and much beloved end. Many of you, as I did, probably grew up on the books (I actually didn’t, in that sense… I came into the franchise nine years ago and in my mid teens) — and so you understand my mingled emotions. Happiness at knowing what transpires in the final chapters and a bit of sadness in the knowledge that soon, we must bid farewell to memorable figures and walk with Harry that last mile into the woods where he will finish his destiny.

I saw a promotional image from the film in which Hogwarts is ablaze as the sun sinks into the horizon, its reflection cast eerily across the waves of the lake. I admit it… I teared up. The last two films are going to be an emotional experience for me on multiple levels and no matter how much I might complain about the changes and “screw ups” made to earlier installments, a corner of my heart will always love the movies for reflecting the barest attributes of the books. No, almost none of the actors match what I imagine the characters to look like, but they put voices and expressions to the figures inscribed on the page, and allow me for just a few hours here and there to escape reality and see with more than my imagination what Hogwarts really is like.

Whatever your impression of the series is, one thing does stand out when thinking about it… Harry Potter is a story of good and evil locked in combat, in which individuals must sacrifice themselves for a greater cause. It starts in simple ways, as innocent as Ron and Hermione remaining behind in the first story, because Harry “must go on.” Each of them continually sacrifice themselves for Harry, which causes Harry in the last book to turn around and sacrifice himself for his friends — like Christ, he walks into his enemy’s presence and allows himself to be killed. In doing so, he is given a second chance and this time is able to defeat Voldemort. For non-Christians, that ending may have come as something of a surprise, but it was evident to me from the start. Under all its trappings, memorable incidents, and tremendously imaginative characters and situations, the series is really just another reflection of Christ, yet another interpretation that points us to the True Story.

The stories that have deep inner meaning seem to stick around longer than those that do not. In that regard, Harry Potter may become a beloved classic book series that is not often spoken of, but frequently read for generations to come — and remembered. I think some things are “fads” with a short shelf life but others are meant to endure. But it is important to understand what the author is trying to tell us. Rowling has outlined death in ways that children can understand, building up to a moment in which we really do lose beloved individuals — she is helping us to comprehend that life is going to be difficult, but that what is right and good is worth fighting and even dying for. Her characters inspire courage and honor and forgiveness, with underlining principles of redemption. She addresses themes of prejudice and emphasizes that everything in our lives, all of our actions, lead to choices that transform us into who we become. Harry is the hero because he chooses good even when darkness tempts him, while Voldemort chooses to pursue evil and eventually loses his soul. No one is perfect. Harry sometimes loses his temper. Ron struggles with jealousy. Hermione can be a know-it-all. The “greatest wizard who ever lived,” Dumbledore even struggled with increasing darkness, and made foolish mistakes. And let us not forget Snape — caustic and cruel to a fault, but ultimately redeemed. (Goodness, just remembering his fate makes me tear up.)

When you have been touched by something profound — and yes, I think these messages are profound — it changes you forever. I do not look at young adult fiction the same way I did prior to nine years ago. Every series is measured against this one and many of them fall short, because their authors do not understand what life is all about. Life is about hardship and struggles. It is about loss and love and happiness and sadness. It is about temptation and choices and sacrifices and consequences. It is about morals and honor and virtue. Rowling understands that — and so do I, as a Christian. I have a gift for seeing it in the most unexpected of places, glimmers of truth that point us in the direction of the Almighty who inspires all of us, whether or not we belong to Him.

Such tales mean something to me and bring a tear to my eye, because they have reached into my heart and stirred my faith. So when November comes and on my Friday off, I am sitting in a darkened theater — I will cry. For Harry and all the rest. But also because I just can’t help it inside.