It’s not uncommon for me to spend summers catching up on reading the backlog of magazines I subscribe to or reading various books that I don’t have time to read during the school year. This summer has fairly typical in that sense, but my reading selection this year has been…magical.
Twenty years ago this summer, I was relaxing and preparing for my second year at the University of Texas. At around the same time, a then unknown author released a book about a young wizard named Harry. Once the Harry Potter books became the sensation they still are two decades later, I convinced myself I was too old to read them, and I could live the rest of my life just fine without ever reading them. I’ve never been much into wizards and magic and that kind of fantasy stuff so they really didn’t appeal to me anyway. Besides, they’re children’s books. I still watch cartoons even when my kids aren’t around, but I don’t normally read children’s books unless I’m reading to my own kids. Basically, I was content without having ever read any Harry Potter books, and quite honestly, I thought the whole phenomenon was a little silly. A few months ago my son checked out the third Harry Potter book from his school library. That one innocent step on his part changed things for me.
My son and I don’t always share the same tastes in books. He’s only nine years old, so that has a lot to do with our differing tastes. Even though he picked a book from a series I had shunned to that point, at least he was reading. The problem was that I knew he should probably start with the first book in the series, not the third. We checked three different libraries before we finally found The Sorcerer’s Stone. Before he was able to finish it, my mom let our son borrow her set of Harry Potter books, and then for Christmas this past year, my mother-in-law bought him his own set. The books are a little longer than he typically reads (especially since he gets distracted easily), but he made it through the first book eventually, and by the time summer started, he was most of the way through the second book. He seemed to be enjoying them.
My son knows how much I enjoy reading, and he asked me at the beginning of summer break if I wanted to read Harry Potter too. I smiled and said I might one of these days. He kept asking when I was going to start reading them, and I kept saying soon, without actually having much intention of ever doing so. Taking a page out of my book, so to speak, he finally quit asking me. Instead, he brought the first book to me and said, “Here. Read it.” I’m sure he didn’t realize this at the time, but he handed me The Sorcerer’s Stone the day after the twentieth anniversary of its release (as The Philosopher’s Stone) in the UK. So I read it…and three weeks later was finished with all 7 books in the series. Come to find out, I finished the seventh book two days before the tenth anniversary of its release in the UK.
Now that I’ve read them all, I understand the appeal of Harry Potter. For me, it’s not really about the magic, even though that obviously plays a huge role in the books. As fictional as he is, Harry Potter is also very real. He’s someone that everyone can find something to relate to. Throughout the series, you feel what Harry feels through a range of emotions. He often has to deal with things that you hope no other person would have to deal with, much less a teenage orphan living with an extended family who can’t accept what he is. There is the loss of family early in life, and gaining of family-like friendships later on in life. He has to deal with death, while at the same time accepting responsibility for so many other’s lives. He feels anger and hatred towards his enemies, but he also gets that funny feeling in the pit of his stomach when his crush walks into the room. He breaks the rules repeatedly, but it is nearly always to benefit someone else. And on, and on it goes.
Most important to me as a parent, Harry eventually figures out that his ultimate weapon against all of the negatives and evil that he is facing is love. There is love from and for family and friends. There are love and acceptance for those who are different from him. There is love from and for his supporters, many of whom he doesn’t even know. Love becomes the unbreakable charm. It’s a message that more kids should get while they are growing up, not just from books, but if that is the only place they hear it, at least it’s something.
And for this reason, I will actively encourage my son (and when she’s a little older, my daughter) to finish all seven books (even that fifth one that seemed like it would never end) so that he (and she) can experience the world of Harry Potter too. There will probably be questions about some of the darker issues that come up in the books, and I look forward to those conversations with my kids.
Harry Potter didn’t change my opinion of wizards and magic and that kind of fantasy stuff though. That’s probably because I’m just a silly muggle.