Today I want to talk about something that’s near and dear to my heart:
I had first read the Harry Potter series when I was around nine or ten years old, definitely before Deathly Hallows was published in 2010 because I have distinct memories of my mother pre-ordering the book for me and then waiting impatiently for it to arrive. I had seen the movies before then, of course, because it was almost impossible not to (though I do know of certain exceptions) but it wasn’t until I read the books that I became, and I’ll admit this, obsessed.
I’m not ashamed to admit this, though I probably should be. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Harry Potter (I frequently wonder what I could be and all the things I would be able to do if 30% of my brain wasn’t devoted to ‘useless Harry Potter trivia’). In the weeks leading up to the premiere of the sixth movie, Half-Blood Prince, I’d read the entire series non-stop. A week long cycle of “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much” to “All was well.” I must have read each book ten times that week, but I was twelve so I didn’t really have anything better to do.
I’ve seen the movies more times than I can count and every time I watch them I feel like it’s the first time. My friends and I won a Harry Potter trivia contest after three tie-breakers. I got a Pottermore account as soon as I could and was Sorted (and yes, I used a capital letter for that) into Ravenclaw, just as I knew I would even though I’m terrible at solving riddles.
But it was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who was obsessed. I wasn’t even the most obsessed. Fans have gone on to make three entire musicals, a puppet show, a convention, fan art, fan fiction, cosplay, and countless other things that I probably don’t know about, which is a level of devotion and commitment that kind of scares me, to be honest.
I loved Harry Potter when I was growing up and if you look at it from a certain perspective I’m still growing up, so I love Harry Potter with all my heart even now, when I haven’t had the time to read the Harry Potter books in an endless loop since I was about fifteen. The books were my childhood. They were an entire generation’s childhood. We grew up with them and it seemed the books grew up right along with us as we grew up with Harry. The later books in the series hit on some pretty dark themes, now that I look back on them now that I’m older. They touch on things like death, fascism, racism, war, sacrifice packaged up nearly in a story about wizards and magic. It strikes me now just how young everyone was. Lily and James Potter were only 21 when they died. Harry was 17 when he finally defeated Voldemort for good. I’m three years older than him and I can barely manage feed myself let alone save the world. When you’re nine or ten, 17 and 21 seem ancient, but not really.
I often wonder how Harry Potter grew to be so popular, the science of it, I guess. What exactly was it that caused Harry Potter to hit that thing in our brains that launched it into the cultural juggernaut that it is today (and will continue to be, she thinks hopefully).
Was it the writing? The part of me that finds hyper-analyzing every little aspect of my life incredibly fun wants to say yes. That the setting, the plot, the style, the tone, the dozens of literary terms that I could shove in this sentence but I won’t because sometimes I forget what the all mean were all so brilliant and well-crafted that they impelled Harry Potter to fame. And get me wrong, those things are definitely a part of it, but I’m not so besotted to say that the Harry Potter books are the best books ever written. Of all time. It’s a children’s book about wizards and not all well written books achieve this level of…I don’t even know what to call it. Impact? Adoration? Who knows.
Maybe it was a matter of right place, right time? It hit just at the right time for an entire generation to get hooked.
Maybe the magical world Rowling created hit just the right spot between fantasy and reality. “Harry Potter goes to school just like me but he learns magic. He gets to take classes on charms and how to turn goblets into ravens. They learn about spells and hexes and there are flying cars and talking spiders and dragons! Dragons! That’s so cool! I wish that was me!” I still wish that was me, to be honest.
Maybe it was a combination of both. Maybe it was a lot of other things. Maybe it was magic. Who knows?
But Harry Potter is not without its flaws. It’s been criticized for its LGBT and minority representation. Confirming that Dumbledore is gay in an interview is not the same as confirming it in the books. Rowling’s depiction of Native American culture in Pottermore was tone-deaf.
But nothing’s perfect and nothing has to be perfect (as long as, of course, you don’t try to pretend that it’s perfect in the first place. It’s important to be critical of the things you love.)
I love the Harry Potter books and will continue to do so for the rest of my life (probably). So I’ll read the supplemental material on Pottermore, I’ll read the play, I’ll watch the Fantastic Beasts movies, I’ll go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter someday, and do or buy whatever other thing corporate executives come up with to suck money from poor, innocent millennials who love Harry Potter.
I know it may seem weird to still be so obsessed, but isn’t it nice when a lot of people love something this much?