As I write, it’s thirty-nine minutes late, but I’m a stickler for deadlines, even when I’ve already missed them.
As an avid Harry Potter fan for twelve years now, It is with a certain amount of embarrassment that I admit that it took some work convincing me to read those books. Yes, me, with the two half-edited fantasy novels and the Masters thesis in fantasy, but at the time I had no interest in reading fantasy, unless it had a lot to do with horses, then it was horse fiction and not fantasy. I’m really very thankful to J.K. Rowling for getting me out of that rut, because I had just turned twelve, and it was getting uncool. Other girls in school were putting sugar lumps in my locker!
I don’t need to provide a break-down of the books. Unless you’re a blind-deaf and have been living in a cave under the sea for the past decade and a half, you will know about the Harry Potter books. If you are blind and deaf and live under the sea, I sincerely apologise but, why are you reading a children’s literature blog anyway?
What was it about the books that hooked me? I didn’t like fantasy at the time did I? So it wasn’t really the magic, vivid and exciting as it was, or the humour… although my parents often did come into my room while I was reading to ask what on Earth was so funny that I needed to breathe in a paper bag?
Nor did it grab me from page one. Like those hapless publishers who turned down the Philosopher’s Stone, I didn’t really care enough about what was going on. It took some persistence before I got to know the characters, but once I did, nothing, not even a dead unicorn (horse fanatic, remember) was going to make me put them down.
You fall in love with them, those characters. They don’t leave you from the end page of book one to the closing of book seven and beyond. You love them, grow with them, and when you reach the end of page three thousand, four hundred and seven, they haunt you, both the still-living, and the dead.
I, like most of my friends, consider myself so lucky to have been of the generation who literally grew up with Harry Potter. I was always a more or less the same age as the trio when the books were released, which meant that my experiences, albeit being the experiences of a muggle teenager, ran parallel to those of the wizarding teens. There was my transition to secondary school (pretty unmagical) versus their journey to Hogwarts, state exams versus the infinitely more scary-sounding O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s.
Let’s not forget first kisses either (I think I got on a bit better than Harry there. Although I do remember that one of the reasons I broke up with the boy was because he spoiled the sixth books on me…).
Like Harry, I even cast spells on the school bullies (with less dramatic results). Granted, I never had to battle a dark wizard or risk my life to ensure the continuation of an equal and free society. But that does not mean that my meagre little muggle life did not present its own challenges: bullies, boys and exams aside, those books gave me a repertoire of values to strive to live by, such as loyalty to friends, appreciation of family (wherever you may find one), kindness, love, self sacrifice and perhaps most of all, courage in the face of injustice and oppression.
At the heart of every good fantasy book, I believe there is a story of rebellion. Good fantasy isn’t simply a battle between the forces of good and evil, but it can be pared down to a promise, on the part of the protagonist, to leave the world he or she inhabits in better shape than how they found it, no matter what the personal cost. If this is true, Harry Potter is not just a good fantasy, it’s an effing great one!
Even more significant is the fact that it is a children’s fantasy (though it was never intended to be). It is children who rush to the aid of adult characters and who ultimately succeed in overthrowing an genocidal dictator where their adult counterparts have failed, or even hindered them.
Not that I had to stand up to much oppression in fairness. I am white, female and Irish and attended a schools that were almost exclusively white, female and Irish. Mind you, they were Catholic, and it became clear by the age of fourteen that I wasn’t. And thank you Harry Potter, for earning me many an enemy in the staffroom for encouraging me to speak out, but my house was never in with a chance of winning the house cup anyway, because we didn’t have one. Nor did I mind that the confidence required to voice my sense of oppression (trivial as it often seems now) is something that, in this frequently unjust world, I want to invest in my pupils as a teacher, my readers as a writer and, maybe someday (in the distant, distant future), in my children as a mother. How will I do that? I’ll give them Harry Potter.