It took me a while to figure out how to even begin this. But then I could hear a Captain Obvious-like voice inside my head saying, “at the beginning.”
I’ve mentioned the story of how I got into the Harry Potter series in the post called My Leading Ladies. Since grade four, I’ve always looked forward to a new book or a new movie. It was like that until the summer before my third year of university when Deathly Hallows Part II was released.
You never truly realize just how much something or someone has impacted your life until it’s close to the end and you know that they will leave you. It’s common for people my age (20s) to admit that the Harry Potter series has helped to shape their lives for the better. There are even studies on how the series makes us better people: specifically, it makes us more empathetic and aware of sociopolitical issues, which makes increases our likelihood of civic engagement. There’s even a book called Harry Potter and the Millennials: Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation. There are countless ways I could talk about Harry Potter, but I’ll take a page out of JK Rowling’s book(s) and keep it to seven.
Harry Potter was my gateway into fantasy. Yes, I’d watched Disney movies and watched anime beforehand, but actually reading about another world was, well, magical. It was so cool to imagine hidden neighbourhoods, sending letters via owls, waving wands to transform pretty much anything, and living in a friggin’ castle. I was enthralled. Not to the point where I cried over not getting a letter at age 11, but enough to always hold onto the belief that you can find magic anywhere.
Imagination and empathy actually go together. In order to be an empathetic person, you need to have to identify with them, or put yourselves in their place in order to understand what they’re feeling. Harry Potter has allowed me to gain more empathy for others. Dobby’s plight as an enslaved House Elf (and how others react, reject, or accept it) reflects slavery in real life; Sirius Black being sent to prison without a trial is a reality in many parts of the world; Harry being forced to stay in the closet because of who he is can represent the struggles of the LGBT* community. JK Rowling had actually worked for Amnesty International, and much of what she had witnessed at this job was revealed throughout the series.
Learning about atrocities and human awfulness can really affect your worldview. Thankfully, I’ve learned that there is so much goodness and love in the world that it can drive out evil and hatred. And we don’t need to look further than the mirror to realize how we can bring about such goodness.
“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”
– From JK Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard University, 2008
Being able to tell a story really well is a gift. I learned from reading the Harry Potter series that you don’t need pretentious language and complex imagery in order to move people with your words. Harry Potter isn’t an impossible read; in fact, I think it’s pretty accessible. However, it’s not that simple or elementary. I gained a larger vocabulary, an understanding of plot devices – the amount of hints and foreshadowing was riddikulus, and a deeper appreciation of just how much effort authors put into their writing. And I actually enjoyed learning about all of that.
The books have inspired me to share my own story and become a better writer. I’m not quite up to the Rowling standard, but I’m always learning and practising my craft. And it’s become a part of who I am.
4. Personal Growth
Since I started reading the books at age 9, I had to patiently wait for the new ones to come out. Along the way, I was growing up and learning how to be a decent human being despite all of the pressures that come before, during, and after puberty. Once you hit double digits, it’s like a switch goes off and caring about things is no longer cool. Apathy is cool. Not giving a shit reigns supreme.
I thought that I was weird or different for caring about my grades, about what my peers and parents and teachers thought, about what was happening in the world. I thought that reality TV and celebrity gossip was the norm for conversation topics. I thought that having a boyfriend and going to parties were what you had to do to be not just popular, but relevant. But, as I kept reading about Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s journey through adolescence and becoming heroes of the wizarding world, I thought to myself, “Now that’s cool. That’s what I want to be.” And I began to align myself with these characters, and realize that I wasn’t weird for wanting to do good.
Like I’d said before, I really identified with Hermione (big hair, big teeth, big bookworm). I thought that she was The Girl I could look up to and eventually become. And I thought that I was well on my way to becoming Hermione: I learned more about human rights, I loved being in the library, I loved being right and getting good grades, and I became the person in high school asking people to sign petitions. The problem, though, was that I was not and am not Hermione. I didn’t really have a rude awakening or anything like that, but I gained a subtle confidence in who I really was. I have to say that a lot of this confidence came from within, and I had to fight hard for it. I had to really reflect on what made me me. However, I would not have this confidence without the love and support of family, friends, teachers, and peers.
I am not exaggerating when I say this: Harry Potter fans are among the nicest people on the planet. I’m sirius; every single person I’ve met who even remotely likes the books – or even just the movies – has turned out to be a kind, funny, and awesome person. I’ve made really good, lifelong friends; friends who reference the books and movies, who can manage to slip in a quote at the most opportune and inappropriate time, who just get it.
7. Fan Activism
A few years ago, I learned about an organization called The Harry Potter Alliance. I was blown away that an actual non-profit is using a story that I love so much and using it as a way to make the world a better place. It’s a real life Dumbledore’s Army! It was like I finally found my tribe: honest to goodness nerds who want to make a difference and have fun doing it. I’ve been with them ever since.
If you’re currently scoffing at fan activism and require a scholarly approach, here’s a great read by Henry Jenkins about cultural acupuncture. If you’re still scoffing, might I suggest that you Disapparate out of here?