My story begins before I was born in 1997. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had just been released, and quickly began gaining popularity. My dad worked at a public school and the teacher that taught grade six across the hall had watched a segment on 20/20 about this new book that was blowing up. The teacher had read it, loved it, and recommended it to my dad. In turn, my dad read it, and decided to read it to his grade eight class for English.
He has read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to his class every other year without fault. Each of these years he says a third or more of the students continue to read the saga on their own. Because my dad loved the book so much, my mom asked to read it as she needed something to read. “I have not stopped reading,” she always says, “I never, ever read before bed or for leisure and now, because of Harry Potter, I absolutely love it.”
My first memory of Harry Potter is from when I was in grade two and was first introduced to the first film. This was in 2004, the year Prisoner of Azkaban was released in theatres. My parents, in preparation, were watching Stone and Chamber on DVD, and allowed my brother and myself to sit in. Looking back, I am surprised I was not traumatized by the Basilisk scene in Chamber. Instead, I became instantly obsessed. I desperately wanted to see the third one with my family in theatres, but they gave me a much better alternative: they gave me the first book.
Shortly later, I got in trouble for sneaking downstairs to exchange the Chamber for Prisoner at midnight one night. I was actually quite proud of myself, but my parents had different opinions on the matter. I quickly progressed through Prisoner, Goblet, and Order before grade three. Except I wasn’t allowed to read Prince until later because of “mature themes.” That only meant loads of re-reading and re-watching what I was allowed to. In my grade three class, we had grade six reading buddies, with whom we would, well… read… (there is literally no other way I could have put this I am so sorry) and watch each others’ book reports. I was sitting in the grade six classroom with my own reading buddy beside her desk neighbour who was about to present on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I said something along the lines of how much I loved that book. He scoffed, telling me there was no way I had read it. I looked him dead in the eye and told him the plot of the book, Sirius’ death and all. I was a shy kid but if there was one thing I was truly passionate about, it was Harry Potter and my extensive knowledge of it.
Fast-forward to grade five when I was FINALLY allowed to read the Half-Blood Prince. After three years of deprivation, I was absolutely starved for more Potter. I think I finished it in two days. I know for a fact that I read right through my classes and did not sleep much. I also remember being furious that my parents had kept such great literature from me for three entire years.
Then, finally, the Deathly Hallows hit bookstores in 2007. My mom claimed dibs on reading it first, and I was infuriated. We were also on a camping trip, which obnoxiously took up a great deal of time away from my mother finishing the book so I could get to it. Once she finished, I glued myself to a lawn chair at the campsite and refused to leave it for anything.
I never really gave it much thought as to exactly why I loved the series so much as a kid. Looking back on it, however, it’s really quite obvious: Harry Potter promotes love and friendship above all else. Lily and James’ love saved Harry and defeated the Dark Lord. The love, compassion, loyalty, and friendship Harry had with Hermione and Ron carried them through each of their adventures and victories. Ron befriended Harry not because of his fame or his fortune, but because he sat with him on the train, and later willingly put himself in harm’s way so that Harry could acquire the Philosopher’s Stone. Harry helped Dobby become a free elf, and Dobby repaid Harry with his life. Hermione was willing to risk her own life and career to save both Buckbeak and Sirius because it was the right thing to do. Dumbledore’s Army risked their academic careers every day, and then later their own lives to save Harry’s godfather. Dumbledore gave his life to delay Voldemort. Harry himself, in the end, was willing to die for his friends. Every character made sacrifices, big and small, all out of love. The love was infectious. Jo Rowling created a world where I loved to escape to, where magic was real but was not the most powerful force someone could wield.
Harry Potter is a story of three outcasts that found each other, and, because of it, they found themselves. In my time at my elementary school I never found myself in the “popular” kids group (this isn’t a pity party for Heather, it’s just a fact). Instead, I had the Golden Trio, saving the world time and time again despite all odds. They taught me how to fully cherish the few friendships I had, and I did to the best of my ability.
Love conquers all. That is what Jo Rowling preaches with the Potter saga. No other book series has been so devoted to that central theme. I cannot imagine a life without the Harry Potter books and movies as such concrete aspects of my childhood. I have grown with the trio, with the series, with the franchise. I can quote the first movie line for line; I can (and have) debated relentlessly over fan theories; I dominate at trivia. Harry Potter has become a part of my identity — I am a proud Ravenclaw and Thunderbird, and will seamlessly continue to be the huge Potter nerd I have been since that day my parents introduced me to the first book.
Thank you, Jo, for giving me and millions of other readers a magical, wonderful, beautiful world to escape to. I feel so blessed and lucky to be alive at the same time as the Harry Potter series.