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Long ago, in a time when trendy books never quite reached the fevered mania that they do today, there was a book called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone in the UK). It came out, a LOT of people read it, and the world pretty much changed forever.
I was not one of those people. In fact, I rebelled against the books, hard. If you ask me why now, I couldn’t tell you. I just know that at the time, a book that popular annoyed me so much that I wanted nothing to do with it. Maybe it was sheer nerd snobbiness, or maybe it was ignorance. Regardless, I didn’t pick up a single Harry Potter book until the summer after I graduated college in 2007. Yes, that’s a full 10 years after the first book was published, and after half the movies were out. It was at that point, right before the release of the final book, that I decided it was time to “jump on the bandwagon” and see what all the fuss was about. I borrowed Sorcerer’s Stone from a friend and dug in.
It didn’t take long for me to realize what I’d been missing. Despite having seen some of the movies, I had no idea just how epic and groundbreaking the series really was. I devoured the first 3 books in a matter of days, and quickly moved on to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Here I slowed down a bit, and if you’ve read the book, you may be able to guess why. To put it bluntly, shit gets real.
Up until that point, things have been serious but somehow manageable for Harry. Despite his age, he’s handled everything pretty well. Then things take a very dark turn. Harry has already escaped death numerous times, only to get thrown into this competition that he’s not technically allowed to participate in. This turn of events culminates with him having to watch one of his classmates die (intense!) and the witnessing of his sworn enemy’s rebirth. To top it off, when he tries to tell people the guy is back, nobody believes him.
After struggling through Goblet of Fire, I somehow managed not to lose my momentum completely. I pushed on to Order of the Phoenix. From there I was able to take up my previous speed-reading and finished off the rest of the series. I already knew some of what was going to happen (an unfortunate consequence of being late to the game), but it didn’t deter me from feeling sad when bad things happened to good wizards. You would think my precognition would have prepared me to deal with the more tragic occurrences, but in retrospect, it probably made things worse. I read along in dread, knowing at any second something bad was going to happen, no matter how badly I didn’t want it to.
As soon I was done with Deathly Hallows, it struck me that I had a condition known to those in the Potter-verse as “Post-Potter Depression”. I realized how much I had grown attached to not just Harry, but the entire wizarding world. After resisting for so long, I had become a full-blown Potter-head. I have to admit it surprised me. I had totally given in, and I was just fine with that. I’m still waiting for my Hogwarts acceptance letter.
Having had a recently acquired English Literature degree, these books were unlike anything I had to read for any of my classes. Perhaps that helped me get so sucked in. I was no longer in the world of required reading (even though I did enjoy many of the things I was required to read) and instead found joy in more personal motivation. Even though it’s obviously not material that you would expect to read (unless it was for an awesome class about wizards, of which I had none), I found it to be just as deep and meaningful as a lot of the highly regarded work I read as part of my course material.
If you were to ask me, I would not designate them as merely “kids books”. I think many adults who read the books can’t even begin to imagine having to go through the things Harry and his friends had to deal with, all while trying to grow up and be normal (wizarding) teenagers. Younger readers might even be a bit shocked by the violence and overall darkness that slowly creeps into the series over time.
There is more to Harry Potter than meets the eye. Seeing the movies was a good start, but it didn’t begin to encompass the full spectrum of the books. The books transport you to a different realm, which fully engulfs you. Isn’t that basically the definition of a good book? It has to send you to somewhere “other” and away from your own current reality, in a way that draws you in and makes you never want to leave.
It’s going to sound cheesy, but Harry is, in my mind, the quintessential hero. He is young, troubled, self-effacing, loyal, and good. He is faced with unimaginable hardships. Through all of that, he never once loses sight of what is important, and that’s how Harry Potter stole my heart.