I have J.K. Rowling to thank for much of my literary upbringing. Without the Harry Potter series, I am not sure that I would have ever loved reading as much as I do now. I was in the third grade when I was introduced to the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My grandmother gave it to me as a gift, but I put it on the shelf and didn’t think much of it. Then, when a friend of mine brought in her copy for Sunday school show-and-tell and raved about it, I reconsidered. I went home and found Harry Potter sitting on my bookshelf, just where I had put it a few months before.
Looking at the cover (and since at age 8, every book I read was judged by its cover), I was skeptical. There was a goofy bespectacled kid on a broomstick — how could this possibly be good? But when I read the first sentence — “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much” — I knew that this book was not what I expected. Curious to learn more, I kept reading. And I didn’t put it down until I was finished, much to my parents’ chagrin. I read it at dinner, in the car, while the rest of my family was watching TV. I stayed up late until I reached the end.
I literally could not get enough of Harry Potter. I reread Sorcerer’s Stone at least three times before The Chamber of Secrets came out several months later. I gobbled up the second novel in the same way I did the first. I was utterly insatiable. As soon as I finished the second novel, I was itching for more. Lucky for me, I hardly had to wait for the third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban, to hit the shelves. By this time, I was engaged in full-on Pottermania. The series was no longer a slightly obscure story about an unfortunate boy whose life is changed by the discovery of his wizarding powers, but rather a smash-hit obsession amongst almost every kid I knew.
Finding somewhere to belong
My fourth grade best friend and I spent recess acting out our favorite episodes from the storyline. We even went so far as to convince ourselves that we were witches and wizards, spending our after-school play dates trying to perform spells in my attic. I would be lying if I said I didn’t spend my 11th birthday waiting for my letter to come from Hogwarts.
While I was engrossed in the stories, it wasn’t so much the plot that kept me yearning for more Potter. Having nowhere I felt I could really belong, I could relate to Harry Potter — he was an unusual boy in both the muggle world and the wizarding world. Being a weird kid with few friends, I wanted to actually live the world of Hogwarts. I wanted the friendship that Harry, Ron and Hermione had. I wanted to be amongst my own kind, to be recognized as special, but not in the way that made me such an outcast at school and on the playground. I wanted to be loved and respected for who I was, not rejected for it. With the Harry Potter books, I could escape into a different universe — one full of magic, danger and inspiration.
As I grew older, the books grew with me. Harry was no longer an innocent little orphan boy trying to navigate his way through the miserable life he knew and the enticing new life he was encountering at Hogwarts. He was full of angst, guilt and uncertainty. In other words, Harry was a normal teenager, with a very abnormal predicament — not just to learn to be a good wizard and pass his exams, but to defeat Voldemort, the most powerful, terrifying and wholly evil wizard the world had ever seen. As Harry struggled with what Dumbledore so aptly phrased, “the choice between what is right and what is easy,” I was doing the same.
The Potter finale
By the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final novel of the series, was released, I was the same age as the main characters in the book. As they entered their final year of school, so did I. There seemed to be so much ahead of me, with impending college applications, the prospect of leaving home, and essentially beginning a new stage of my life. I would be enrolling in my very own Hogwarts in a year, and I was eager to be in a place where I could truly be myself and not be shunned for it.
Now that Harry Potter is at its very end with the release of the final movie in just a few days, I can’t help but be wistfully nostalgic. The books did so much for me growing up. They gave me a place to go when my reality was often of isolation and unhappiness. But aside from being absorbed in a fantastical, fictional universe, it brought me together with other people. I made friends because we had something in common — a love for reading — thanks to Harry Potter. At the book and movie releases (which I of course went to at midnight when I was old enough) I could be a part of something that was larger than myself.
July 15, I will inevitably be going to the midnight showing of Deathly Hallows — Part 2. I will probably cry. The ending of the books wasn’t such a loss since I knew there were going to be three more movies. But now that this is the last — the ultimate finale — of Harry Potter, I can’t help but feel a bit heartbroken. I feel that the end of the series is almost marking the end of my childhood. Of course I can reread the books as I already have over and over again, but its not the same when you know how it all plays out, how it all ends. Even still, the story will continue. I know if and when I have kids, I will pass Harry Potter on to them, reading it to them before bed and hopefully endowing them with the same love of books that it gave to me.