Six months ago, having worked slowly through all seven books over the course of a little more than a year, I finished reading the last book in the Harry Potter series for the first time. I laid down Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, my eyes a little crossed and blurry from having read half of the 750+ page book over the past three days. Then I went downstairs and flopped on the couch in our living room, moaning.
It was over. I’d spent over a year in the mind of Harry—growing up with him, fighting evil by his side and hanging out with Ron and Hermione. To have all of those experiences suddenly ripped from my fingertips as I turned the last page was unlike anything I’ve ever felt. All the journeys I’d taken with Harry, physically and emotionally, were over. Done.
But what’s truly amazing about the emotions I felt in finishing this series is that there was a time I’d told myself I’d never, ever read Harry Potter.
So, let’s backtrack a little bit. Growing up, series like The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, Divergent and especially Harry Potter were on everyone’s tongues. In middle school, these were the only books (it seemed) that kids my age were reading. But I didn’t read them. Having been raised in a conservative, homeschooling family, there were many aspects at work here. On the one hand, my tastes were different than my friends’. While they read these more fast-paced stories, I tended to read slower-paced stories. I read a lot of historical fiction and quite a few classics growing up. These were the books that interested me. On the other hand, while my parents never made an official list of the books we could or couldn’t read, they wanted us to be careful and discerning of the books we picked up. I think we were wary of Harry Potter as a family, not just as individuals. So I didn’t read it. Simple as that.
Then I turned eighteen and graduated from high school. One of my friends, who also loved historical fiction, could not stop raving about The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, both of which she’d read in her later teens. As an adult, my parents made it clear that I no longer needed their permission to read something. I could make the decision on my own. So I decided to give these more “popular” books a try. I read The Hunger Games first. You can check out my review on it to see what I have to say, but I’ll go ahead and give you a hint: I loved it. Next on my list was Harry Potter.
While my family in particular didn’t have a strong stance on Harry Potter in either direction, lots of people around me did. I heard both sides and honestly, I didn’t have a formal opinion. It didn’t seem like either side had it completely right. The only thing to do was to read it for myself and find out.
I was twenty when I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I wasn’t hooked right away, but I was intrigued. So I read the second book and enjoyed it more than the first, which had been pretty slow. Then I just kept reading and by the time I was on either the fourth or the fifth book, I was a fan. While reading book 6, I started buying the series, even though I hadn’t finished it yet. By book 7, I was changed. In more ways than one, Harry Potter changed me.
I think the biggest argument conservative Christians have is about the magic. Because the kids are witches and wizards and they have wands and use spells. I don’t want to belittle this argument because I think it does them credit to be concerned. It’s clear in the Bible that witchcraft is of the devil and there are people today who do mess with dark magic and it’s a very real, very scary thing. My big BUT is that in Harry Potter, the magic is not real. J.K. Rowling created a world, created its rules and spells, created its magic—it’s fictitious. I’m not an expert on this topic and I don’t pretend to be, but throughout the entire series, not only is it clear that this is a made-up world, it’s also clear that there’s good magic and bad magic. There are certain spells that only the bad witches and wizards use and the good witches and wizards would never use them (unless in a complicated situation). Ultimately, it is up to your own conscience whether you feel comfortable reading a book with witches and wizards and spells in it. All I can say is that my conscience was clear, so I had no qualms in reading this series. And because I was able to give Harry Potter a chance and read it with an open mind, I was able to discover some amazing themes within the books.
Friendship. “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
How do I begin? From whispering to each other during Potions, to Hermione doing their homework for Harry and Ron, to arguing over petty things, to writing letters to each other over the summers, to visiting Hagrid’s together, to defending each other from Draco, to fighting against Voldemort together; yet these instances only scratch the surface of all Harry, Hermione and Ron did with each other, for each other and meant to each other. Through thick and thin, through the good and the bad, their arms were linked, their futures connected. Maybe it’s just because I spent 3,363 pages with this trio, but I do believe these three friends have the strongest bond of any other group of friends I’ve ever read (with the possible exception of Lord of the Rings, but I think that’s a given).
Dumbledore. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry lost his parents when he was only one year old. And while Lupin and Sirius each attempt to fill this hole in Harry’s life in their own ways, I think the real father figure to Harry is Dumbledore. From day one, Dumbledore takes Harry under his wing, gives him advice, helps him grow up, challenges him and finally, let’s Harry come alongside him in the final battles. Harry has great respect for this unpredictable, wise and compassionate man and hates to disappoint him. While Harry just wants to be a normal boy, Dumbledore sees his potential for more. And while Dumbledore acts like he’s just talking to Harry as a professor would to a student, they both know that Dumbledore couldn’t have loved Harry more if he was his father. Their relationship was one of my favorites to watch unfold.
Voldemort. “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.” – Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
At first, Voldemort was just the reason Harry is called the Boy Who Lived. Slowly, as the books progress and we learn about his past, his motivations, his desires, not only does he seem more interesting, he becomes more and more threatening and terrifying. There are so many parallels to Voldemort’s life and actions and Harry’s life and actions. There’s something so similar and yet so strikingly different about them. And ultimately, it is love, in all its diversities, that separates them. Harry, alive because of love and living for love, and Voldemort, not valuing life because of his complete lack of understanding of love.
Harry. “It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.” … “I have known, for some time now, that you are the better man.” -Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
As cliché as it might sound, Harry is my favorite character in the series. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got mad love for Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, Mrs. Weasley, Ginny, Lupin, Sirius…you get the idea. But Harry truly is my favorite. Why? If you’ve read even one of my book reviews, you know I have a thing for character development. Now, the thing with Harry is that he starts the series at 11 and finishes at 17, so there is a natural growing up we get to watch happen. We watch him go from ignorant little boy to angsty teenager to a young man grappling with serious events and their consequences. And yet, as similar as Harry and Ron might be in their manner of jokes and interests, Harry didn’t have a normal childhood like Ron did. He’s different. Having been orphaned at one, he was raised by an aunt and uncle who verbally abused him and treated him like trash. Even in the last book, there was a moment where I realized that Harry, though 17, is still just an orphan who wants a family—a real, loving family—more than anything in the world. But at the same time, he’s used to being alone. And having encountered Voldemort at 11 and again and again throughout his years at Hogwarts, he’s also used to being in danger. Therefore, while Ron and Hermione would do anything for him, at the end of the seventh book, Harry must face Voldemort alone. He knows what’s at stake. He knows it began with him and Voldemort and that’s where it will end, even if he doesn’t know exactly how. And it’s then, all on his own, that he must decide what the point of this life is.
Throughout his short life, what has Harry learned matters—really matters?
Family. Friends. Life. Love. In the end, he decided that all these things were more important than even himself. Something Voldemort would never—could never—understand.
“You’ll stay with me?”
“Until the very end.” – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
All the reasons I gave above for loving Harry Potter describes only some of what I felt when I turned the last page six months ago. So, going back to what I mentioned earlier, how has Harry Potter changed me? I think the main answer to that question is this: I wouldn’t have rooted for Harry, bonded with him, Ron and Hermione, been horrified at Voldemort’s actions, or been moved by the love and sacrifices of so many different characters if I hadn’t read this series. Because I realized I had signed off this series because of what other people were saying instead of picking it up and deciding for myself. I very well could have strongly disliked this series. It could have been everything people were saying it was and if so, that would have disturbed me to the point of not finishing it, I’m sure.
But this distorted view people have of Harry Potter isn’t real. I know because I once held that view in some mild way as well. Well, I don’t anymore.
As a conservative Christian, Harry Potter only reminded me of how much love there still is in the world, how light will always shine in the darkness and how good will always conquer evil. And how some things—some people—are more important than oneself. This—this is why I love Harry Potter.