I believe in Harry Potter.
I became a fan of the Harry Potter series late in the game. When the first book came out my daughters were old enough to read it on their own. And when other adults would recommend the books to me, I politely thanked them and ignored them. It wasn’t until I was couch-bound with the flu that I decided to give the series a try. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone turned out to be the only book in the house that held my feverish attention. And before my temperature was back to normal, I was hooked. Besides just being a really good story, the series has some powerful lessons for its readers.
First of all, there’s resiliency. Harry grows up living under the stairs raised by people who don’t love him, don’t appreciate him and don’t treat him very well. Despite all of this, in the end he’s the one who defeats Voldemort. The way our lives start out or the obstacles we encounter don’t necessarily determine who we become. It’s a useful lesson for children and grownups alike. I witnessed this time and again in my social work practice when some optimistic patients would tell me that except for being on dialysis their health was really good. I’ve experienced resiliency in my own life as I’ve come through difficult times with flying colors.
Then there’s the lesson from Harry Potter about family. Petunia may be Harry’s aunt, but it’s the people he encounters at Hogwarts who are his real family. Blood is not necessarily thicker than water, and some of our closest “family” may be chosen rather than predetermined. I’m lucky to have both kinds of family, but I realize that’s not the case for everyone.
When Harry learns the Riddikulus Spell in his third year we also learn an invaluable lesson about coping with our fears. With this charm, the students at Hogwarts turn something horrifying into something ridiculous and laughable. I’ve been using this spell myself almost continuously since the election to help deal with the news from the outside world. It may not be magic, but it certainly is a healthy coping mechanism.
And, finally, Harry Potter reminds us about the joy of reading. In 2007 I attended the release party for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I went to Barnes & Noble early in the day to get a wristband, just like you would for a rock concert. When I returned that evening, I spent several hours hobnobbing with Dumbledores and Hermoines and Hagrids of all ages and sizes. And then, as midnight approached, everyone quieted down in anticipation. When the bell rang at 12:01, a loud roar went up throughout the store. People were cheering because they could buy a book. If you love books like I do, and nothing else convinces you to believe in Harry Potter, this should do it.
I’m planning to read the series over again, starting from the beginning. Who knows what I’ll learn this time.
I believe in Harry Potter.
Helen Dempsey lives in State College. She served as a social worker for almost 40 years and has been a member of the No Name Book Group for almost 20 years.
This essay originally aired on January 5, 2017.