Hands up: who remembers the last Harry Potter book coming out? Keep your hands up if you can’t believe it’s been seven years since those midnight release parties; the heartrending moments when one of your favorite characters died (and then another, and another …); and the first time you read the final words, and knew that it was finally over.
And then, of course, J.K. Rowling’s words of comfort a few years later, at the premiere of the final movie: “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
Many of us have made that return journey, some for sentimental reasons, some to pick up on what we missed the first four times… but there’s another reason, too, and that, I think, is best summed up in this quote, from that same speech:
“No story lives unless someone wants to listen.”
The books shaped us, whether we were aware of it at the time or not. J.K. Rowling made things like dealing with bullies more than an after-school special: Harry faced one bully after another, from Dudley Dursley to Draco Malfoy to Dolores Umbridge, and even his father, the man he idolized, had taken great pleasure in humiliating Severus Snape. As Harry and his friends dealt with struggle after struggle, some on a small scale and others literally life or death, we watched and learned, and we grew right along with them.
Those memories of the years when Harry Potter fervor was alive and well are delicious, but they’re memories, and we can only live in them so long. We are not perfect creations. We can learn but we need reminders. The books we read are one of the biggest contributors to why we act the way we do, because reading lets us play out scenarios and explore perspectives we might never have considered otherwise.
Why should we bother going back to Harry Potter, though, when there are so many other good books out there?
New series have captured reader attention in recent years, and while they have their merits, I have yet to see one usurp Harry Potter when it comes to relatability and enjoyment for readers across such a broad spectrum of age, gender, and nationality. It’s still one of the best series to return to, time and again, both for enjoyment and a reminder of what’s good and right in the world.
Why this one? Partly because J.K. Rowling is an immensely talented writer, but really, I think it’s because we still need the little boy with a scar on his forehead and stubborn hair, and the man he becomes.
The issues Harry dealt with throughout his adolescence are as relevant today as they were when the series first came out. Minorities are still being persecuted, terror attacks are still a daily threat, and we desperately need to embody qualities like loyalty and bravery and tolerance in the face of sizable odds. While there are so many good things about the world, it can also be a dark, intimidating place, and being able to find the light in the dark, believing that there is still goodness to be found, is a daunting task.
We’ve all grown up since the Harry Potter books first came out, and experienced that loss of innocence that accompanies adulthood (and adolescence, in some cases).
We may no longer look for the owl to come with our long-delayed Hogwarts acceptance letter, but we can still learn from things like Hermione’s crusade to get better working conditions for house-elves; Luna’s resolve to be true to herself; Neville’s determination to improve even when little comes easily; and Harry’s journey to becoming the self-sacrificing hero the wizarding world needs him to be, while maintaining both his humanity (he became known for using a disarming spell when others would have killed instead) and humility.
I wish I could believe there will come a day in our lifetimes where we no longer need the lessons Harry Potter teaches us. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
For now, I love knowing that if I need a dose of comfort, a reminder that light and darkness coexist, that we can forge a path surrounded by those who love and care for us, I can curl up in a chair with Harry Potter and remember exactly that.