It’s really hard to talk about Harry Potter without acknowledging the problematic things we know about the unnamed author now. Those of us who have committed ourselves to a lifetime pledge of eradicating bigotry are actively wrestling with whether or not we talk about a series that meant so much to us and was foundational, I would argue, in helping us make love and acceptance a core element of our moral values. My husband and I have decided to embark on a “Sacred Text” practice, thanks to the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, a truly wonderful, inclusive space. The Harry Potter books are in our rotation now, and we have been reading a chapter each day to think about spiritual themes. So I’ll be thinking about a lot of things, including what drew me into the books and why the fandom still means so much to me.
On this re-read, I realized, thanks to my years of teaching mythology, that the Harry Potter novels are not especially groundbreaking from a plot or conflict standpoint. If you’ve read up on Campbell’s Heroes (much to the disgust of a student who thought it was too elementary to be discussing in Greek mythology and thought we should have spent time on alchemy and magick, but I DIGRESS), you know what happens. Hero, call to action, gift of goddess, mentor, Underworld, blah blah blah. It’s all there. So, why, you may ask, did it grab hold of an entire generation?
For me, it was all about wonder. I devoured the first four books my freshman year in college, in the spring of 2004. At this point in my life, I was away from home and figuring out who I was as a young adult, away from the people who knew me at my most painfully awkward in high school. The wonder I felt at new freedoms and new worlds was matched by Harry’s wonder at experiencing magic for the first time by its name. Things that never seemed to fit suddenly make sense. And knowing there are others like you is a comfort somehow. So one reason I still read the books is that I discovered a community of fellow readers like me. It is possible to look at something in all its complexity, admit its problems, and still find something that rings true. And that’s still true of this flawed children’s books with some rich nuggets of insight still tucked within its pages.