Growing Up with Harry Potter
– a reflection of my childhood –
Fiery spells, dragons, witches, wizards, one Dark Lord. The Boy Who Lived. Castles crafted from magic and stone, creatures kept secret from the Muggle world. All of these elements held us captive as we stepped, one foot at a time, through a literary portal into the world of Harry Potter.
I remember the first time I held one of the books in my hand. It was fourth grade and the first two books were out on shelves. I brought it home because it fascinated me, all my friends were reading them and I flew through good books like the Concorde. My parents met my interest in the books with uncertainty. The Christian reviewing world had not done the books any favors by panning them completely without giving them a fair chance. One example lies in this review from World Magazine of the first three books – even though you can’t view the whole article, the first paragraph is laughable; bad things happening for no reason, wrongly marked as the modern successors to Chronicles of Narnia… The same issue of inherent evil lies in both works. The bad is brought by greed, lust for power and no concern for the sanctity of life and love. According to the Christian community, these books were pure evil, bent on driving children to Wicca or some other such cult. Somehow, what Dungeons and Dragons hadn’t succeeded at for decades was suddenly deemed possible by a few innocent children’s books.
Despite all the warnings against these “monstrosities”, my mother read the first one before me and was completely entranced. Enchanted, you might say. The spell of Harry Potter had been cast.
I began to read through the books with my parent’s permission and encouragement. When I first set my fingers to opening these books, it was 2001. I was eleven and was walking hand in hand with children my age, I in this non-magical, non-textual world. They were learning at Hogwarts and I in Solon Schools. I felt no draw to the Dark Arts, but walked in step with my magical friends Harry, Ron and Hermione. Because of their shining and unmistakable fight for good, I looked to the light.
I watched as they learned their lessons and battled the difficulties in their young lives, and I in turn battled mine. We were both uncovering the most important lessons in life at the same pace – the importance of true friendship, the weight of unconditional love, and that revenge does not solve our problems. We fell in love together, we had heartbreak. We struggled through classes, they in Potions and me in math. As literary characters, they were written to be on a whole different plane of existence while still being able to relate to – and oh, how they were.
I finished and started new years in school and saw new birthdays, and Hogwart’s Key Three continued to grow and fight the impending evil in their fantastical world. When the Dark Lord returned, I felt the weight of darkness that Harry must be facing and an unavoidable sadness at the characters who were lost. I knew that this was not the purely feel-good series that I had known at first, but I kept reading. In a sense, I was growing up with these kids. I knew their pains, I knew their joys. It was experiencing a different culture – we have different expectations, gifts and experiences, but at the root of it, we understand each other. A child in Australia and a child in Solon, Ohio can both understand the frustration and awkwardness of puberty – Muggles and the Wizarding World are no different. J.K Rowling gave these characters, all of them, such spirit and such clarity in their emotions and their development. I knew their teenage angst, I felt their awkward social slips. Especially being a Christian who is always fighting against sin in her life, I could even relate to their struggle to ward off Evil. We shared all of this, and we shared sleepless nights as they pondered their quest and I read on.
My favorite pastime was preparing for and attending the new book releases with my friends like Adrianne and Rachel. It was like the fluttering anticipation of a new school year. I was going to be reunited with my friends, my heroes, and I was going to follow them on their continuing journey. They needed me and I needed them. We needed each other. We fell in love and bonded with new characters one at a time: Sirius Black, Lupin, Alistair Moody, Tonks. We even fell in love with some bad guys, but the bad guys I loved were not so bad in the end.
Cracking open the brand-new book on the night of its release, I would always enthusiastically dive into the prologue, catching up with Harry at Privet Drive, sharing his hatred of how poorly Dudley treated him, silently singing him Happy Birthday. But all was not well – darkness crept closer, and I stood by Harry as he faced it full on, making foolish mistakes in passion that I would have done as well. Run by his emotions and confused as to his purpose, he and I were linked in this lack of understanding ourselves, and we both figured through it. Piece by piece, our lives came together. I would never be in the position that Harry would face, but I could at least cheer him on and try to understand his ordeal.
Harry’s sixth year was the middle of my time in high school. Love was in the air and I suffered my first heartbreak. Hermione and I shared furious tears and when Ginny and Harry finally figured out their feelings, I rejoiced. Amid the haze of love was a continuing pressing dark as Voldemort became stronger, and Harry and I began to learn together that life is not fair and that adulthood can spring on us far faster than we think we’re ready for it. But we learned that we have to grow into it, sometimes quickly. We learned that maturity must be understood before it can be implemented in our lives. We learned that people die, almost never when we expect and often too soon. We learned that the plan is much bigger than our understanding but that we all have some part to play. We learned that little tasks must be accomplished to get closer to achieving the grand goal. We learned that hardship does not let up to give us reprieve. It is not always present, but it does not run on our schedule. We learned that people, our heroes, are not above the grasp of death or failure or sin. Magic does not mean immortal.
Finally, we reached the final chapter of our time together. I was at camp and my magical friends were also about to embark for the wilderness. They were forbidden to be seen in the magical world and I had to put them away at camp. They were to remain in hiding in both worlds. Hunted by Voldemort and determined to crush him, the trio ran through the woods, forsaking their final year at Hogwarts. I ran through the woods chasing eleven year olds and prepared for my senior year of high school. It was a time of parting, sacrifice and sadness. But, over all of the shadows, it was also a time of happiness, of completion, of closure. So many truths came to light in their lives and mine. We said goodbye to friends and loved ones, some erased from our lives and others left behind. We felt physical and emotional pains and were crippled by the unexpected. I read by flashlight on a hill and raced with them through their adventure and felt the sting of loss and the global sigh of relief at their victory. We cried and we laughed and we missed the lost. We said much we didn’t mean. We buried the dead and clarified the mysteries and forgave the mistakes of the past.
And even when it was all over, we still had the upcoming movies to finish us out.
I grew up with those versions of our characters too. We all grew together and now we all have to part. Watching the final movie with my mother, a part of me felt my heart break as I watched this whole decade come to life on screen. I watched and followed these kids as they grew up, embodying the souls I’d come to bond with and love over the years. Christopher Columbus made no mistake in those casting choices – it is him that I thank for his wonderful casting. He gave Harry Potter life. He gave them heart. And when it all came to a close, I cried. I sobbed at the unrealized love of Severus Snape, at the falling of so many beloved people, at how far we all had come, at the realization that this was it. A chapter of my life has been closed, and now it is time, in a sense, to move on.
It takes a great author to write great characters. It takes great readers to love these characters as their own friends. It also takes a great reader to be able to know when something has come to and end. Rather than mourn the ending of one of the best adolescent series to ever be written, I rejoice that I got to be a part of this Harry Potter generation. I aged and matured and learned with these characters, one step at a time. I watched as Neville blossomed from awkward, ridiculed, bumbling child to a brave and fearless man, destroyer of the final Horcrux. I hated and pitied Draco Malfoy as he fought himself and the true state of his heart to decide whether he was to follow duty or morality. I mourned the deaths of Dumbledore, of Snape, of Lupin and Tonks and George and Dobby and Hedwig and Moody and Sirius. I rejoiced at the death of the Dark Lord. As I said, it takes a great author to craft such wonderful,believable characters, good and evil, who will remain immortal in those pages. J.K Rowling, thank you.
Thank you for allowing me to grow up with these characters – my friends.
Thank you for helping me discover who I was through them.
Thank you for a childhood filled with joy, fear and magical wonder.
Thank you for giving me a world that I can and will pass on to my children in the years to come.
And to my friends in the world of Harry Potter,
to Harry and Hermione and Ron and all the rest,
I will not grieve the end of a childhood and the end of your adventure. I am starting and continuing my own life adventures, many of which I started while spending time with you. I am gazing at the horizon of my life and I can’t wait to reach it like you have.
I will not grieve the end. In a sense, this will never be the end.
Every time I read those books, we shall meet again.
Posted on July 22, 2011, in Reflection and Observation and tagged books, childhood, decade, growing up, Harry Potter, hogwarts, j.k rowling, love, maturity, novels, reading, snape, voldemort, world magazine. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.