In exactly two weeks, I will be visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. Yay! In honor of this momentous, long-awaited event in my young(ish) life, I’ve decided we’ve gone too long on this blog without an entire post devoted to my favorite thing in life (besides my dog, who is not British and I can therefore not post about him).
So, what can I possibly say about the series that hasn’t been said already? Probably nothing. It’s all been said, argued, debated, and repeated by the millions of fans. The only truly individual, unique thing I can offer is my own story of how I came to love Harry Potter, and how it changed my life. So, that’s what I’m going to share. Feel free to skip this if you could care less, but I think it’s really important to look at how art (meaning visual arts, books, movies, music, etc.) changes our lives and ourselves on a grander scale than we realize most of the time. Plus, this blog wouldn’t exist without Harry Potter, as it was really the beginning of my anglophilia.
So, cut to my pre-HP life. I was living in Minneapolis, and was incredibly miserable. I had dropped out of university partially because of family reasons, and partially because of chronic depression. I was living with a boyfriend who cheated on me more than once, working two jobs and still not making enough to support myself (though I must admit that a lot of this was just bad money management on my part). Life was bleak. I had always been a reader when I was living at home, but once college started I only read for my assignments. After I left school, I didn’t read at all. I don’t know what I did for fun; it’s hard to remember. We didn’t have a computer; I can’t remember if we had a TV. I don’t think I even had books in the apartment. These are facts that are pretty scary to look back at, as they are so dissimilar to my life now.
So, I heard about Harry Potter for the first time on a morning show, when they were actually discussing the upcoming release of the first movie. Yes, I was that late to the party. The movies were starting to come out already. The first four books had already been released. So this would have been the fall of 2001, right after 9/11, and not a particularly pleasant time for the country or for me. I knew a couple of girls at work that had read the books, and I remember asking them ‘aren’t they kids books?’ Curious about all the hype, I dragged my (then) boyfriend to see the movie, just one day after it came out in theaters. I had no idea what it was about. In fact, I didn’t know Harry was a wizard until he found out himself. I think from that moment, when I realized that this was about a life and a world with fate and magic and fantastic elements, that I was absolutely enthralled. Needless to say, I loved the movie. From that moment, it was like my depression lifted, and I had something to love again. I could be excited again.
Unfortunately, 4 hardcover books were completely out of my budget at that time. They were really expensive. I worked at the Mall of America for one of my jobs, so every day during lunch, I skipped eating and went down to the Barnes & Noble children’s section to read them. I was too impatient to read the first book; I wanted to know what happened next! I started reading the Chamber of Secrets.
I didn’t get very far doing that, but it kept me going until Christmas when those four books were the only thing on my Christmas list. My grandma asked me if I wouldn’t rather wait until they came out in paperback as they were so big. No!!! So I got the books for Christmas and I think I finished them by about the first week of January. Then I read them again. And again.
I think there are a few reasons why Harry Potter was so meaningful for me.
1-There are certain elements of his life that mirror my own. My mother died when I was 15. My parents were divorced and I wasn’t very close to my dad, so I sort of thought of myself as an orphan. My mom didn’t really trust my dad that much, for whatever reason, so my official guardians were my aunt and uncle. And they were, from my perspective at least, absolutely awful to me. I never lived in the same house as them, so it isn’t exactly the same, but they made me feel the same. Useless and pointless and like a bad person who will just ruin things if given the chance. I’m not sure how much of this was them and how much of it was my sensitivity/mourning/depression, but I can definitely relate to the whole Dursley situation. I even spent some time off at boarding school. Sadly, no magic at my school, but the idea of escape from a family you weren’t really meant to be with is very familiar to me.
2-The idea of fate and magic. When my mom died–when anyone dies, really–the overwhelming feeling is one of pointlessness. At least, for me it was. The idea that the world could have meaning or that there might be some reason why things happen the way they do, abandoned me. With Harry Potter, it sort of allowed me to see a world where that could be true, and death could still have meaning, even if deep down I knew that it was only true in books. I’ve heard/read that depression makes you see the world more accurately, but that this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Being a little bit in denial about the pointlessness/randomness of life is necessary to our well-being. So, Harry Potter may have made me a little less in touch with reality for a while, in the sense that I would rather spend my time in a make-believe world than in my own, but it helped me survive better in the real world as well.
3-It got me reading again. I was about 20 when I started reading Harry Potter. Pretty old to get into children’s books, but very young in terms of my reading life. I had stopped reading at that point, as I’ve said. But after I had reread the series about 10 times, I wanted to read other things. I found something to be happy about in books again, something to be enthusiastic about. Here is a very short list of the books that have changed my life since then, that I don’t think I would have read without Harry Potter coming along: Pride and Prejudice, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Jane Eyre, Fahrenheit 451, Slaughterhouse 5, The Sense of an Ending, The Book Thief, On Beauty, Atonement, Lolita, The Bell Jar, Flowers for Algernon, the list could go on and on. But those books all changed my life, made little ripples in my consciousness that can never be un-rippled. Not that I would want them to. Except maybe Atonement, which fucked me up as it is very depressing. But I digress. I also know that without HP, I never would have gone back to school as an English major, never would have planned to go into publishing. I decided publishing was the career for me specifically because it would give me the opportunity to influence the world the way that HP had influenced my life.
4-Nerds! I think before Harry Potter, I was trying to be ‘a normal’ too much. I wasn’t indulging in anything that makes me me. And, let’s be honest, I am not a normal, everyday person with normal, everyday interests. And no wonder I wasn’t happy hanging out with people who didn’t share any of those interests. Not only did Harry Potter help me embrace my own individuality and learn to say fuck everyone else’s opinion, but it helped me meet other nerds and fans, who became my good friends. I still, 10 years later, use it as a gauge for future friends. Don’t like HP? Won’t read it because it’s for kids? We probably wouldn’t get along.
So, to make a loooong story short, it totally changed my life, introduced me to new ideas, new places, etc., lead me to go back to university and finish my degree, break up with my stupid boyfriend and get a better one, move to England (briefly, so far), start writing again, start reading again, the list goes on. Most importantly, it just let me be happy again. And the books still have that quality. When I am depressed, when life sucks or I’ve had a terrible day, I can still pick up a HP book, or put on an audiobook and life is just better after a few minutes immersed in that world.
So, enough of my own story, here’s a list!
Top 5 most devastating moments in the HP series:
5. The moment you finish the 7th book and you know that there isn’t any more to read. Ever.
No explanation necessary.
Dobby’s death and the ensuing scene with Harry digging his grave by hand. That shit will fuck up your life.
Fred was so much better than George. Injustice!
1. It seemed to take Sirius an age to fall. His body curved in a graceful arc as he sank backward through the ragged veil hanging from the arch….
And Harry saw the look of mingled fear and surprise on his godfather’s wasted, once-handsome face as he fell through the ancient doorway and disappeared behind the veil, which fluttered for a moment as though a high wind and then fell back into place.