“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
~J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Another of these posts is long overdue and what better time to salute J.K. Rowling’s fantastic series than today when many are heralding as the end of an era? Although I would point out that the book series actually came to a close a while back and much as I like the movies, the books really are where it’s at. As usual.
So, why was – is – Harry Potter important?
First of all, structure. It’s a series that ages as the reader does and subtly introduces what I think are important shifts in thinking along the way. I read the first book at 11, the same age as HP at the time, and even though I devoured it in a day (and the following books much in the same time frame), the idea of being misunderstood and different and special resonated with me. Like every other pre-teen on the planet. The series’ themes deepened, and yes, darkened as it went on, at a matched pace (I think) for the children (and some adults) reading it. In other words, it’s plain good reading that advances as you read it instead of staying at one level. Good for the brain!
And talking of which! The Harry Potter series draws from many mythologies that I think are important to understanding history and culture. Many of my friends were introduced to Greek mythology, alchemy, folklore, and the very of idea of the “mythic” for the first time in their lives by reading HP! And I think that the mythic is important for expanding imagination from the mundane to the previously impossible.
Hermione Granger single-handedly turned clever girls into heroines instead of minor antagonists in a book series. She was hardly the first to do so, but I think her impact will be lasting. I know I felt better for spending my free period in the school library knowing that someday my knowledge of history trivia would save the world! Perhaps this is reaching a bit, but my generation seems to be much less inclined to view things like courage for convictions, intelligence, and even geeky-ness as a negative or tease worthy thing. This may not be HP’s fault, but I like to think it is.
Key for me, as the series progressed more was required of the triumvirate of main characters than just going to school and brushing their teeth. They grew up, with all the messy, hilarious, and sad teenage-into-adult shifts that entails, with the added stress of having to save a world. Being special or different comes with a cost and you must be willing to sacrifice, make decisions, be loyal to both friends and ideals, and fight for good. High minded, yes. Preachy, no.
I grew up reading, my parents limited television and filled our house with books from well before I was born. But I know I am lucky for that and not everyone did grow up with mums who would fork out for every single book fair and monthly book order magazine! Not everyone had a dad that would read to them practically every day (Sesame Street and Dr. Suess Books at first, all the way up to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, theology, and history later). I know many, many people whose first real reading experience was the Harry Potter series, and who have never looked back since that first dive into a library.
And for these reasons, Harry Potter is required reading. Any book that can literally open new worlds, while expanding the readers own, needs to be on the shelf.