Reading Challenge Book 6: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I’ve fallen a bit off track with my reading challenge. After reading Deathly Hallows I took a pause, in part, because I was deep in reflection as a result of this reading challenge and also because I admittedly lost momentum and focus. However, I am determined to get back on track and follow through with my intention to read the books that have most impacted my life.

Back in 2011, J.K. Rowling gave poignant remarks at the London premiere of the final installment of the Harry Potter films. For even though her beloved Harry Potter series had come to an end, both in text and on the screen, she wanted to assure her followers, fans, and inspired admirers, that the world she built, that had reached and touched so many, would forever remain a resolute source of inspiration, hope, and comfort.

“Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

There are very few words that can cause such an instantaneous emotional reaction. Yet, every time I read or listen to this speech, I end up whimpering into a pillow or fluffy blanket, feeling into that initial spark I felt as a young girl wishing with all my might for my own Hogwarts letter.

I adore the Harry Potter series and am so grateful that I was part of the generation that grew up along the timeline of the book releases. For while magic wands, transfiguration spells, and Crookshanks are features of imagination, there is absolutely nothing imaginary about the bond J.K. Rowling created between her readers and her characters.

How fortunate, I think, my generation is to have grown up alongside Harry Potter and his peers, to have had Professor McGonagall as our teacher as much as the students of Hogwarts, and to learn the value of friendship through the dynamics of the Golden Trio as well as through the legacy of the Marauders.

There has been much commentary on millennials and our Harry Potter influenced upbringings, and it’s quite likely that nothing I say in this post will be unique. This is especially true, considering that 400 million copies have been sold worldwide in 68 different languages. However, I do know that while we’re all connected by our mutual love and J.K. Rowling admiration, these stories touched each of our unique hearts and I will attempt to explain here the unique handprint she has left upon me.

As part of my reading challenge, I knew Harry Potter had to make an appearance and chose Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as the series representative. Having just read A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, a novel that brought up a number of difficult familial memories, I thought a trip back to Hogwarts would be the pick-me-up I needed.

To my great surprise, it took me over a week to process and work through all the feelings re-reading Harry Potter stirred. To be frank, I somewhat expected that at nearly 28 years of age, Harry Potter might feel a bit youthful and that I would find that past connection frayed as I extend further into adulthood. The result was nearly the opposite.

What gets to me now, are, what I perceive to be, the ripple effects of a Harry Potter upbringing across an entire generation. That initial group of readers, who grew alongside those kaleidoscopic characters, are grown adults striving to create the world that they desire. Perhaps it is a stretch, but I like to believe, and think it is entirely possible, that this Harry Potter generation is building the world J.K. Rowling showed us was possible. A world where the deepest, most resilient darkness can be defeated (even if it takes a few attempts).

I fancy (and keep in mind I’m feeling super nostalgic) the notion that we are Dumbledore’s Army, a generation willing to bring light to that which is uncomfortable for the overall betterment of society. I see this at marches along the streets of Washington, DC as people across the world demand justice, decency, unity, and tolerance for all people. I see it in young students demanding leaders take action to protect our planet from further degradation. I hear it in the voices of immigrants who plead to their fellow man to help their children escape the inhabitable circumstances they’re fleeing so that they not only survive, but have the opportunity to live.

More and more I see people from all walks of life, all political spectrums, houses of faith, race, age, sex, nationalities, etc. demand leadership to uphold the pillars of decency and to lay more weight on the need to be supportive of one another, than the drive to compete and out rank each other.

Admittedly, I have done no research, have interviewed no others outside of myself on this matter, but I wonder if the influence of Harry Potter has not played its part – even if it is minimal – in teaching young people that they can fight back when they see injustices or inequalities forced upon themselves and/or others. I suspect I’m correct simply because of how far reaching this story is.

Harry Potter has born plays, musicals (A Very Potter Musical), millions upon millions of pieces of fan fiction, art work, university curriculums, spurred censorship debates, motivated political activity, inspired discussions of theology, and so on. It still surprises me – although it shouldn’t – how many adults I meet who can tell you which Hogwarts House they’ve been sorted into. Quidditch is now a real sport played at the college level. You can actually visit a place called Hogsmeade (ie. Orlando, Florida), get matched with a wand, and drink butterbeer.

Even those who have been able to resist fandom, who have never read a book or seen a film, have a decent knowledge of the story. Growing up, there was nearly no corner that Harry Potter hadn’t existed, which suggests that the lessons of those novels have been studied, learned, and adopted by its robust and devoted fan base.

For me, one of my favorite storylines has been Hermione’s determination to bring justice to house elves and to bring awareness to the institution that has made their slavery an unquestionable norm – even among families, like the Weasley’s, who lead the fight against discrimination of Muggles. While this story possibly stirred more giggles than reflection, J.K. Rowling cleverly showed that even the good guys can be ignorant of injustices and may need to have their eyes opened and their perspectives adjusted.

I certainly wasn’t thinking about fulfilling my Dumbledore’s Army duty when I began to work in climate and then later in immigration reform. But, as I re-read Deathly Hallows, I paused and considered if my love of Hermione had been a more influential power over my life choices than I ever speculated. Perhaps.

I believe that I am not alone in this type of influence made my characters and plotlines that made up the Harry Potter books. But I see this influence not only as a molder of our individual lives, but how we perceive history and take record of who we are and what we have done across time and nation lines.

Like others have noted, I see numerous issues and themes throughout the Harry Potter books that reflect the bleak realities of our past and present. For instance, there have been numerous comparisons of the story of Voldemort and the Death Eaters to Nazi Germany and the plight of Adolf Hitler’s pernicious dogmatic rule. We can also connect the contempt of Muggles to racism, anti-semitism, and all other forms of discrimination that have, and continue to, plague communities and nations worldwide.

Our histories are littered with trauma and circumstances that should never dim in importance. However, because of they are uncomfortable and probably draw shame, they lose their appeal to be studied. As time extends past such events and those who endured them, we lose grasp of the lessons we ought never forget. Simultaneously, history is often taught in the least captivating manor. As someone who has degree in history, I very often meet people who groan about how boring their history classes were and how they never learned anything “important”. This is a comment I find abysmal and not simply because it hurts my history-major-pride, but because I know history to be one of the most valuable mediums of retaining necessary lessons.

We are often uncomfortable with the immoral and inhumane acts carried out by past countrymen, members of our faith, and even relatives. As a result, individuals refuse to look upon the past due to the fear of shaming their heritage and disbelief that atrocities could transpire at the hands of someone not so different from themselves. It is an issue I’ve had to work through myself, and have found pride of family, nation, and self to be the greatest barriers in accepting past events as they truly transpired and their present residual consequences.

The Harry Potter books, in my opinion, create an opportunity for people to still learn those lessons, open up to the possibility of honest reflection, and develop an understanding of the realities endured by our fellow man. Unlike history books, people are willing to return, to revisit, and pass the Harry Potter books on as they are – unedited by the discomfort of reality – to the next generation.

The Odyssey is coming up in my reading list. A story that has survived millennia. I like to suspect that Harry Potter will not only continue to thrive throughout my lifetime and the lifetimes of the next generation, but onward in a trajectory like that ancient tale, that has no perceivable end. If any story of this age could endure, I think it may be this one.

In Deathly Hallows, Harry asks where the train will take him, to which Dumbledore responds, “On.”

And so is how I see the journey of Harry’s story. It will live on. #Always.

I think for many of us, we were Harry, filled with excitement and exhilaration upon entering this new magical world. But even amongst all the splendor and ease this world afforded, people were still people, war was still ignited, and injustices were still inflicted.

Escapism, as Harry learns, is not real and neither is it real for us. We can choose to turn a blind eye and ignore those things that make us uncomfortable, become a Death Eater and make circumstances worse, or join Dumbledore’s Army and use our gifts to dispel darkness with light.

It’s our turn to decide.

And should we need something to guide us, we can always return to these remarkable books, to these characters we love and mourn, to an author who has brought magic to a magic-less world.

After all: Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

The next novel on my list is Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, a story I was captivated by during my sophomore year of high school.

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