“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” — Albus Dumbledore
I know, I know, it was only a matter of time before one of my posts related to Harry Potter; but, in my haze of painkillers and being bedridden due to my tonsillectomy, I decided that I wanted to write a post illustrating why this worldwide phenomenon means so much to so many people. Why does this story manage to touch not only children, but people older than the ones who grew up with it?
I remember reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in elementary school and immediately upon finishing it, I was hooked. My little, young mind was swimming with visions of animated, edible chocolate frogs, paintings that moved and talked, and giant stadiums where people were flying on broomsticks to play a sport that somehow felt oddly real. Not only that, but the magic that I had always pretended to possess while playing make-believe with my friends was suddenly within my reach. I was able to lose myself in a world that I had never dreamed would come to life for me. I found a strange sense of belonging in a world that both didn’t exist and entirely existed at the same time.
Now, I went to college majoring in English and was exposed to what are considered the best-written stories of all-time, and I don’t contest with any that I have read. But in my education, I’ve also learned what makes a good story, and I think that that’s why at the age of 25, I look back on this series and realize in an entirely different light how incredibly brilliant it truly is. I understand, at least logistically, why this series is now considered one of the best of all-time. I could sit here and spend hours talking about J.K. Rowling’s knack for details, double meanings, and creating a world that is unlike any that has ever been created before. I could talk about how she accurately connects the meanings of various characters’ names to their personalities. How she created detailed back stories and family trees for all of her characters. I could talk about how intricately woven the plot is, and how this magical world goes from being fantastical and wondrous to dark and dangerous in a matter of pages. But in all honesty, it’s more than logistics and clever writing that make a story truly great.
The truth of it is that J.K. Rowling created a home away from home. There are characters in this story that any person could connect with. Characters for the bookworms (Hermione and Neville), for the outcasted (Harry, Draco, and Luna), and for the goofy but loyal (Ron, Fred, and George). The famous trio became friends of my own, and I literally grew up alongside them as if we were in fact attending Hogwarts together. I was the around the same age as Harry is in The Sorcerer’s Stone the first time I picked it up, and for the years that followed, I caught up with the ones that were already released, patiently awaited the new ones to be released, and I evolved along with them.
I grew up with a vividly wild imagination, and I still possess it. I thought that the worlds created in my games of make-believe were exciting, that is, until I picked up a Harry Potter book. It was then that I was whisked away into a place that I finally felt I belonged. I’ve always been a bit of an odd bird, an old soul, a bit of a nerd. While I didn’t grow up with a difficult childhood and got along with everyone, being different than basically all of my friends meant that there was always an essence of loneliness at times. I mentioned in a previous blog post that even in high school, there was never one group at school that I felt I really “belonged” in, though the closest I got to that was with my theatre friends. But at Hogwarts, my eccentric and knowledge-seeking self felt right at home amongst the likes of Professor Trelawney and Luna Lovegood. There’s really no other way I can think to describe the experience of reading and experiencing these books other than “magical.” I clung to every word on each of those pages, and they made me feel something that in my pre-teens, I had not yet felt in life. The reality for me is that reading has forever been an escape; a place where I can live the life of someone else and forget my own for awhile, especially during times of hardship, heartbreak, or sorrow. It’s a place where I can wrap myself up in eloquent words and evocative scenes and lose myself completely. But this story…this story is why I find reading beautiful. This story is why I want my students to read. This story is what inspires me to play, imagine, and never lose my sense of childhood wonder. This story is what made me who I am.
I dressed up on a costume day at school in my full Hufflepuff garb — robe, tie, time turner and all. My students loved it!
I will never in my life forget the night I finished The Deathly Hallows. I had bought it the day before when it had been released and had read it from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep with it in my hands. I can still remember the ache in my neck and behind my eyes as I sat on my living room couch, with a single lamp on behind me, powering through how tired I was so that I could finish it. I remember finishing the chapter in which Snape’s true intentions are revealed, and my heart breaking into a million pieces for a man who I, like Harry, was blinded by hatred for. I remember thinking about everything that he had ever done in the series and it all finally clicking and making sense, and the knowledge that this revelation came too late had tears spilling in rivers onto my shirt. He was gone, and Harry would never be able to reconcile with him. I would never be able to reconcile with him and apologize for my blatant dislike of his character. It broke me. The deaths of Tonks, Lupin, and Fred broke me further afterwards. As I neared the final chapter somewhere around 2am, I remember feeling panic well in my chest. Is it really over? No, it can’t be over. There’s no way that it’s going to be over with the turn of a page. And then I got to those last words of the epilogue: “All was well.” It was as if the Hogwarts Express had crashed through my living room and run me over. I had already sobbed heavily at the deaths of so many of my favorite characters in the previous chapters, but the sobbing that commenced when I finally brought myself to close the back cover was a sorrow I had never felt for another book in my life. Though I knew they were still eternally alive within the many, many pages of the series and on the silver screen, I felt like a life that had been separate from my own had ended. Luckily for me, and for so many others, this story has lived far past the day that the final movie premiered, and for me, Hogwarts will always be home, and this story will never die.
Because of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, I am forever changed and forever grateful. I am forever a proud Hufflepuff whose favorite professor was killed in the Battle of Hogwarts. I am forever that little girl who picked up a book with a boy wearing round glasses and a lightning scar on the cover and had her life changed for the better.
Trying to sum up why other people love this story was difficult because there are so many different facets to cover, and it put this blog post on hold for a week as I typed and deleted, typed and deleted. Suddenly, an idea spawned in my head: what better way to help explain this than with the help of others? I decided that I wanted to reach out to fellow Potterheads of mine and ask them why this story meant so much to them. You have read my own account, and the responses I received from my friends do not disappoint. The glorious and heartwarming truth of it is that this story means something to each person for his or her own unique reason. Here is what my fellow Potterheads had to say:
Jen P. — age 37:
“Harry Potter was the story I looked for as a kid. It’s what I wished for when I was little, but had to settle for as an adult.”
**Jen would have written more, but when I contacted her, she was in the deep north woods with horrendous service on her cell phone. She is one of the most dedicated HP fans I have ever known, and she got to be in the wand-choosing ceremony at Universal Studios, which I will forever be jealous about.**
Samantha T. — age 26:
“Well, my reason is much more sentimental than most. My dad was reading the series while he was sick and dying. He died before the seventh book was released, so he himself never got to finish. So, I set out to finish what he started. [What made me fall in love with it was] the message of life and death and good vs. evil. Harry was surrounded by loss but he persevered and pushed through to defeat the source of darkness that took so many he loved from him. It’s relatable, really, more than anything.”
Samantha’s tattoo on her side; the quote from the book is in honor of her dad. This is one of my favorite Deathly Hallows symbol tattoos that I’ve ever seen.
Tyler B. — age 22:
“Harry Potter is far more than a book or film series; it’s what saved my life and a part of who I am now. I first started reading it when my parents were getting a divorce and used it as an escape from all the fighting and stress that a divorce causes […] It helped me compartmentalize what was happening to my family and showed me that things can be bad and good at the same time […] Pretty much, it taught me more than all the child counselors I was seeing at the time taught me. I always go back to The Order of the Phoenix as the book to give me answers when I need them […] In OOTP, all [Harry’s] friends and all the people in the world that brought him happiness suddenly leave him and make him alone again. And that feeling of the people you care about, and who care about you, all of a sudden leaving you and crushing you hit me so hard. Even though I was making friends, I always felt like I was alone because certain parts of my life weren’t complete, like my family. We didn’t have all the money or luxuries as some of my classmates, we still fought and yelled at each other and didn’t show enough love […] So reading about [Harry’s] loneliness and reading about how his friends all thought ignoring him was best for him made me feel like my loneliness was meant to be better for me. But, it wasn’t until the Department of Mysteries scene where the whole crew came with Harry regardless of if he wanted them there or not that it dawned on me that I was pushing people away as much as I was thinking they were leaving me. I struggle with constantly feeling alone and reading Harry Potter always reminds me that I’m not alone […] I use the books to work through my problems because there are so many things Harry or other characters go through that teach you [something…] The ease with which I was able to connect with Harry and most of the characters allowed me to feel a part of something when I felt like I was attached to nothing. And that’s also what the Harry Potter community does for me too […] It makes me feel surrounded by people who like me and want me around just because of the fact we all like Harry Potter […] Most of this community goes unspoken and that’s what a lot of my problems have been like: existing without being talked about. But this community has also healed me without being talked about and that’s what’s so great about it. I’m alone, but not really alone. I’m able to be a part of something bigger but still work through my own problems how I see fit.”
Tyler’s tattoos: on his arm, the symbol of the Deathly Hallows (I have a smaller version on my arm), and on his hand, the script that Professor Umbridge forced into Harry’s hand in The Order of the Phoenix (this is probably one of my favorite HP tattoos that I’ve ever seen); on his middle finger is the Elder Wand; on his index finger is the sword of Gryffindor. I love that both are “piercing” him underneath his knuckles.
Rachel M. — age 19:
“There are 1,084,170 words in the Harry Potter series, yet I am having the hardest time using just a few to describe my immense appreciation for it. It’s almost funny to think that I am the person I am today because of books, but it’s very true. I was blessed enough to get my paws on The Sorcerer’s Stone during a very pivotal time in my life. Right before I was introduced to Harry and the gang, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. As the wise Professor Dumbledore once said, ‘Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.’ Escaping to Hogwarts, if only for a short period of time, was my light. It gave me the hope and courage I needed to get through the day. I picked up the first book nine years ago, and I have yet to leave Hogwarts. It’s my home…And I will always be grateful for the seven books that got me there.”
Rachel, channeling her inner Draco Malfoy. I made this Slytherin scarf for her as a graduation present.
Lauren D. — age 25:
“The Harry Potter series has always been immensely important to me. I began reading them when they were first published, and I was instantly swept into the Wizarding World. These books took my love of reading to new heights as I absorbed every word written on the page, and anxiously awaited for the next book to be released. It was as if I, too, was partaking in the adventures and facing the dangers along with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The depths of J.K. Rowling’s writing created a world in which I could not help but be fully drawn into. It was as if Hogwarts itself rose out of the paragraphs and filled my bedroom with magic. I truly felt connected to the characters and became invested in their well-being. I found pieces of myself in each of the characters that I had never found in any other book. I have never been considered popular, and growing up, much less so. I was the smallest in my grade, I loved school, and I was very shy. I found myself connecting the most to Harry, Ron, and Hermione because at one time or another, they were seen as outcasts. Harry was ignored by the Dursleys, as was I by my classmates. Hermione valued education, and her intelligence was one of her greatest assets. Similarly, I have used my love of learning to propel myself further in my career. Ron was good for a quick joke, but often exiled by other Purebloods because he did not fit their mold as a proper Pureblood. As with Ron, I found myself not given a chance by my peers due to preconceived notions. For one reason or another, I didn’t have any true friends, but I always felt as though I did when I opened a Harry Potter book. Looking closely at the saga, important life lessons are integrated seamlessly into the plot. These life lessons are not exclusive to a world with magic, and easily transfer to one without (but sorely in need of it). Through the Harry Potter series, readers are taught about character, love, and sacrifice. They’re told that what matters is what a person makes of their life, not the family or status they were born into; how to treat others, especially those who are depicted as lower class; true love is not always romantic, but it can always conquer all; sometimes we feel too much is being asked of us, but we must rise to the occasion to the best of our ability. However, I believe the most important lesson that can be acted on is that discrimination and hatred of a particular group is detrimental to society. Those that use innocent groups of people as scapegoats have their hearts full of hatred. This hatred must be overcome by society joining together to stand up and show that hatred has no place.”
Lauren R. — age 24:
“I always say that I grew up in the Harry Potter Generation. Friends and family my age, and even those younger and older than me became enchanted by the Harry Potter books. It was a way for many to not only lose themselves and their worries in the pages of great books, but also a way to connect with people you may not have otherwise connected with. For me, reading and watching Harry Potter brought me into a world where magic was real and great friendship and loyalty mattered most. What makes Harry Potter important to me above all other reasons is the bond it created between my family. My mom, siblings, cousins, and even some of my aunts are all huge Harry Potter fans. We were always close, and frankly didn’t need to find a reason to get even closer, but Harry Potter managed to bring us together even more. Some of my cousins would even wait at the midnight release of the next book at Borders, then go straight home and start reading it together in one room, nearly finishing it in one sitting. I can’t think of any other series that had this kind of effect on my loved ones. Growing up, my siblings and I would always watch the latest Harry Potter movie at the theater with my cousins, sometimes holding hands through the intense action scenes. We would then go home and talk about the movie and how it did or did not match the book. We would make predictions and be excited about the next book release, then movie release. When the final Harry Potter movie was in theaters in July of 2011, our grandpa passed away. He was sick for awhile, and his suffering had finally come to an end. My parents, grandmother, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins all stood in his hospital room in the ICU as his breathing and his heartbeat stopped. That moment and then next few days were very emotional for all of us, and we stayed close. At our grandfather’s wake, my cousins and I all decided to buy tickets online to see the last Harry Potter together in theaters that night. As always, Harry Potter brought us comfort, it eased our worries and pain from the outside world. It distracted us for a little while from the sad and painful events of that week and it brought us together. The way I see it, two big parts of my life came to an end of sorts at the same time. Both my grandpa and Harry Potter ended their stories in July 2011. Myself and others will always keep their spirits alive, but their original existence came to an end. July 2011 was a very emotional month for me and I now connect my love for my grandpa to my love for Harry Potter. Each reminds me of the other because of what took place. Now, Harry Potter is what I read and/or watch on a rainy day, when I’m sick, when I’m sad, when I’m happy, when I need encouragement, and when I’m trying to fall asleep. It is my ultimate comfort and brings back memories of my childhood, the bond with my family, my grandpa, and now even my wedding, because my husband and I were nerdy enough to have a Harry Potter themed wedding.”
I had the honor of photographing Lauren’s Harry Potter themed wedding, and oh my Lord, was it amazing. I wish I could post all of the photos of the centerpieces without making this post super long. Lauren made all of the centerpieces herself, the Monster Book of Monsters included. I was a kid in a candy store. All of the people who attended the wedding had been sorted, and their houses were printed on their placement cards. Lauren walked down the aisle to music from the movie. All of the bridesmaids and groomsmen had house scarves. It was absolutely incredible.
Cori S. — age 35:
“I was introduced to Harry Potter as a college freshman, back in 1999. A friend handed me a paperback copy of The Sorcerer’s Stone and said, ‘Just read it.’ In other words, ‘Yeah, it’s a story with a kid and magic and wizards, sounds crazy, but you’ll love it.’ So, I read it. I fell in love. I then read The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban, and anxiously awaited the midnight release of The Goblet of Fire. I was 18 in 1999, and thus 25 (nearly 26) at the release of The Deathly Hallows. The height of my Harry Potter consumption (1999 to 2007) was during late adolescence/early adulthood. One of the coolest things about Harry Potter fandom is the shared cultural experience. I attended midnight release parties with my friends and introduced the series to my then-boyfriend (now husband). After the release of The Deathly Hallows, knowing it would be the last in the series, my friends and I set limits to the number of chapters we would read, meeting at regular intervals to discuss the book. Love for Harry Potter transcends age groups. I have been teaching since 2006, and I have had the pleasure of introducing Harry Potter to elementary students, talking about the books with my first few classes of middle school students, and bonding over the near-obsession with high school students. My high school Book Club is full of students who cite Harry Potter as the origin of their love of reading. Over the past 15 years or so, I have heard many book series declared “The next Harry Potter.” In my opinion, no series given this declaration has ever come close to achieving the beloved status of Harry Potter. The influence of the Boy Who Lived has been present in my life for the past 18 years, and I will certainly continue to share and discuss the series for years to come.”
Cori received the above picture as a gift from the same friend who encouraged her to read Harry Potter in the first place.
Christina B. — age 31
“So, I struggled a little to figure out why specifically Harry Potter resonated with me. Part of it is the age I was when I started reading them — I was in middle school, and in a lot of ways kind of grew up with Harry Potter and his friends. Part of it is that I really do enjoy fantasy novels. What I decided in the end that it comes down to, though, is that I love Harry Potter because it’s real. I know that sounds weird to say about a series of books with magic and wizards, and of course I don’t mean the magic and the wizards are real. What I mean is, the characters are real. They have strengths, but also weaknesses. They doubt themselves, make mistakes, and sometimes fight with each other. They endure sometimes overwhelming setbacks and obstacles and risks. Despite that, though, many of them make the choice to keep going and to persevere. This refers, yes, to Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but also to characters that, in many other novels, tend to get overlooked or portrayed as two-dimensional. I love that Neville, who so many people completely write off as being helpless or useless, contributes to saving the day in the end. I love that the character you spend the first couple of books hating ends up being one of the most selfless. I love that Luna, who initially just seems weird, ends up being strong and brave (without losing her weirdness!). I guess it comes down to the idea that everyone is capable, if they so choose, of contributing something of value to the world.”
Thomas M. — age 26:
“So, I think what started my love for the Harry Potter series was how it allowed me to immerse myself in a different world. A world of magic and adventure, love and friendship, adversity and the strength to overcome it. I was ten years old when I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was the first thing I woke up to on my birthday, wrapped and sticking halfway out from under my pillow. I couldn’t put it down! So, naturally, I finished it in three days. That’s when my obsession began. My mom brought me home the second that weekend. It was finished by the following Friday, and the third book the Friday after that. These books were a distraction from the chaos that had been my life at the time. My parents were freshly divorced and I was the second youngest of five to a newly single mother. These books gave me my own little escape from the hard times we were facing. In that, I found a new passion I never had before: to READ! Harry Potter made me realize early that the true gift of a good story can bring you to a different world with endless possibilities.”
As I received each of these testimonies, I found one common thread between all of them: this world is real for us, not because of the magic or wizardry, but because we all saw and still see so much of ourselves and our own struggles within the pages. While our choices for reading the story may be different, the truth remains that this story and community brings people together. It heals us, it comforts us, and it lets us escape, and that is why it’s beautiful.
As J.K. Rowling said at the final movie premiere in London, “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” This story has become home for so many people, and I will always open the front door with open arms to others that wish to live here with us.
Have your own story to share about how you came to find this beloved series? Share in the comments below! I would love to know your stories!