It is hard to imagine where my life would be if it weren’t for J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series. What is even more magical than Hogwarts is, I know for a fact that there are millions of us out there that can say that sentence with complete sincerity.
Let me take you back to my middle school.
It probably sounds a lot like your middle school, to be completely honest. It always seems like everyone has a similar story on that front. I was awkward and nerdy and had big glasses. I got in more than one fight with kids who made fun of me, and they never got in trouble for it. I still hear the teachers’ words echo in my mind sometimes,
“Stop being a tattle-tale!”
“But I’m bleeding!”
“Well go clean it up in the bathroom, I don’t want to see that.”
Ouch, right? And then shortly after my little brother was born, an awkward boy with big glasses who got beat up by his bully (a bully who never had consequences) came into my life along with a brilliant girl with wild frizzy hair like mine and an awkward redhead boy who’s family wasn’t like other families (a bit like mine).
Now growing up I never went without. By middle school we lived in a large nearly-100-year-old home on 16 acres but my classmates didn’t care because it wasn’t in their fancy new neighborhood that surrounded the school. They made it clear that they looked down on me for living in another town, and their mothers made it clear to my mother that they looked down on her for working full time. I was also the only military brat in my school. I felt so very alone during those years. When Harry Potter came along I was pulled in hook, line, and sinker…. and so was my mom.
For the next few years we bonded over the books. She worked night shift for awhile so she would read them at night, and then give them to me. I would zip through each book in under 24hours, and reread them every time a new one came out. When the movies started coming out, she and I would show up to the theatre early and I would pick the perfect seat in the middle of the theatre. As I got older I volunteered at a Science Museum that held a Harry Potter night where they did “Magic” tricks using chemistry and then we would all go to the midnight showing, followed by a sleep over in the museum afterwards.
There were, of course, nay sayers. A babysitter we had (that went to our church) told me that Harry Potter was for devil worshippers and scared me. I went to my pastor the next week and asked him what he thought. I’ll never forget his words,
“Do you know it’s fiction?”
“Then I don’t see the problem. Reading is good for you, and if it gets you reading and you know it’s not real, then there is nothing wrong with you reading it.”
The adults in my life who mattered chose not to censor my reading, and to read the books with me.
The books themselves helped me understand that bullying didn’t last, good triumphs over evil (even though sometimes it takes many many years) and censorship itself is bad. I also learned that writers could create their own worlds (I hadn’t read Tolkien yet), science IS magic, smart girls can save the day, and glasses don’t stop you from defeating evil. I’ve read Harry Potter books in 6 different states making fantastic memories and I’ve bonded with people I would have never met otherwise through the love of this one book series, and I can never thank J.K. Rowling enough for all these things.
When the last book was released I was on family vacation in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
It was a magical night in a magical town (If you don’t think Arkansas can be magical, you’ve never been to Eureka Springs) we had just toured the Haunted Crescent Hotel and spent the day seeing the sights and enjoying the shops. After dinner we wandered the cobble stone streets and the humored me by helping me find this tiny beautiful bookstore on one of the mainstreams, sandwiched between kitchy gift shops and art galleries. I waited till midnight and knocked on the door several times. Just when it seemed like they wouldn’t be opening for the book release, and my dad was suggesting we try again the next day, a woman who looked straight out of the wizarding world opened the door. No, she wasn’t wearing a costume. She did, however have wild curly hair, half-moon specs, baggy colorful bohemian clothes, and she wore necklaces with a crescent moon and crystals on them. She told us she hadn’t planned to open, but when she saw us outside her door she couldn’t turn us away. She simply asked that we not tell anyone else she opened for us, and when we agreed and she handed me my fresh, new copy of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. We went back to our hotel in the full moon light as I hugged that beautiful book. Once again, I read it in 24 hours.
That year Harry and I both turned 18 and became adults. I hadn’t thought Harry had anything else to teach me, but in the end he did (or perhaps I should say, J.K. Rowling did). She didn’t just tell me the end of the story, she taught me to forgive my bullies. I even became friends with a couple of them.
I still reread the books, and all the side books, Pottermore posts, and spin-offs. I loved Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and I have Harry Potter clothes and decor even as a nearly-30 year old adult.
It is a series that gave me hope, taught me what bravery and friendship meant, and helped me learn to forgive.
I may never stop learning from J.K. Rowling’s work, which is good, because I never want to.
Thank You J.K. Rowling for 20 Years of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Here’s to many many more.