Something remarkable is happening this month. The seventh Harry Potter movie is being released in two parts, and the first installment, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” hits theaters on November 19, and the second film will open next July. Why two films? Well, the hardcover edition, which I hold in my hands, is 759 pages and includes a wedding, a journey through time and a battle for the end of the world. Oh, and a fairytale with all the answers.
I am ashamed to admit that I had to read all seven books in the series before I truly got the story. When I closed the last page of “The Deathly Hallows,” long after midnight, huddled on my front porch swing, I had the sudden urge to fly to Scotland, fall at author J.K. Rowling’s feet and apologize. I wanted to say, “I’m sorry it took me so long to understand.”
My college roommate introduced me to Harry Potter. She was a true fan, joining in early online discussions that speculated about the series’ plot twists. When I thought that Rowling was simply deconstructing evil, my dear friend rolled her eyes. When I said that I hated Harry in the fifth book, she said, “Everyone hates Harry in the fifth book.” When I said that Rowling’s editors had obviously given her a free pass because the books were just too darn long, she told me to keep reading. And I did. I have since re-read the series, in opposite order, just for fun.
A few years later, I found myself recommending the books to another friend who was looking for a good series for her son. I asked if she’d tried Harry Potter. She said she had but didn’t care for it.
“It sets kids up as warriors, like they live in a world where they have to fight,” she complained. “I don’t like that.”
That’s when I realized that
I wasn’t just enjoying these books — I was learning something from them. I learned at least 31 things from Harry. Why 31? Because his birthday is July 31, of course.
I learned that you can take something awful and turn it into something wonderful.
In a 2006 interview with the Telegraph, Rowling said that she started writing Harry’s story the night her mother died at the age of 45 from multiple sclerosis. Rowling went through more difficult times before the first book was published, but the series has now sold more than 400 million copies and been translated into 67 languages.
I learned that I could benefit from some of the curiosities in the books, including a pensieve, a bowl into which we can pour our memories and re-examine them with fresher eyes. Also, I would find newspapers much more interesting if the people in the photos moved around, like they do in The Daily Prophet. And I’d like to own a clock that shows where your family members are at all times, including the setting for “mortal peril.” Did I mention that I have a teenager?
I learned that it pays to show kindness to everyone.You never know when an enemy like Kreacher may do you a good turn because you did a good turn for him.
I learned that no matter how exciting a book may be, it’s nothing without humor. The Weasley family is a motley crew of funny people, especially the twins, Fred & George, who open a wizard joke shop.
I learned that it’s important to choose your friends wisely. One of the most important friendships Harry makes is with Hagrid, the half-giant with a huge heart for dangerous creatures, which he lovingly raises. Hagrid and/or his creatures, save Harry, Ron and Hermione more than once.
I learned, before I experienced it, that those who have looked on death, like Harry and Luna Lovegood, can see things that other people can’t see.
I learned that sports really do make the world go ‘round. Shortly after the publication of “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” Sports Illustrated devoted a column to the fictional sport of Quidditch. This hybrid of soccer-cricket-hockey teaches Harry and his friends the kinds of lessons that can only be learned on a field (even if that field happens to be in the air).
I learned that studying Latin has more uses than helping you score highly on the SAT. It’s also useful for creating spells.
I learned that smart girls, like Hermione Granger, don’t finish last. Hermione is a total school nerd and insanely loyal, and you don’t want to face Voldemort without her. She also marries a decent chap who doesn’t take life quite as seriously as she does.
I learned how Santa makes it down all the chimneys of the world in one night: Floo powder.
I learned that a person’s patronus, an image of an animal that serves as a protector, reveals a lot about a person’s character. Harry has a stag. Sirius has a dog. I would like my patronus to be a crow, because they are survivors.
I learned that both villains and heroes often have sordid or painful backgrounds. The difference is how they respond to them.
I learned that inanimate objects do have power, even if they aren’t horcruxes. I recently inherited my grandmother’s Desert Rose china. There is something magical about using her plates and bowls, something that connects me to her, even though she has been gone 24 years.
I learned that evil cannot be defeated solo. You need Dumbledore’s Army on the inside and the Order of the Phoenix on the outside to make headway.
I learned that life is unfair. I can’t get through either the book or the movie version of “The Goblet of Fire” and Cedric Diggory’s death without sobbing. It’s so wrong.
I wish innocent people weren’t killed, but they are, every day, in some part of the world.
I learned that it pays to read Greek mythology because those creatures keep coming up in all sorts of stories. You need to know the legend of the phoenix or you’ll miss the power of this and other frequently-used literary allusions.
I learned that chocolate is a bona fide defense against despair, whether psychological in nature or the result of a dementor attack. That is why I keep dark chocolate in my refrigerator at all times.
I learned that even someone as quirky as Neville Longbottom has a role to play in saving the world. In the books, he excels in herbology, or what we might call horticulture. Beware of Master Gardeners! They have special knowledge that those of us who use Miracle-Gro lack.
I learned that all natural and political disasters are actually evidence that something is amiss in the mystic plane. I find it comforting to think that things like terrorism might have some spiritual parallel.
I learned that it’s important to call evil by name. It is Harry who insists on calling Voldemort by his name, not his monikers, You-Know-Who and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. As the series unfolds, Harry gets to know Voldemort’s true identity, Tom Riddle. Think this isn’t relative to real life? Anyone remember a fellow named Vernon Howell? That’s because he preferred to be called David Koresh.
I learned that prejudice is real and deadly, no matter what world you live in. Draco Malfoy’s hatred of Muggles (those who lack magical powers) opens him up to an alliance with some bad dudes.I learned that sometimes you need to be brave enough to bend the rules, especially when authority is corrupt. In such a situation, it helps to have a Marauder’s Map.
I learned that those experiences we have during our school years, experiences such as James’ bullying of Snape and Snape’s love for Lily, stay with us long after those experiences would seem to have lost their power.
I learned that British authors write the best children’s literature. Rowling joins Roald Dahl, Kenneth Grahame, C.S. Lewis, A. A. Milne, Beatrix Potter and others who wrote stories that endure.
the Harry Potter series is certainly not without controversy. Some people think the books are inherently wicked because they are about wizards and witches. Some people were offended when Rowling announced that Dumbledore is gay, even though his sexuality is never mentioned in the books. In fact, there’s nothing racier than a little “snogging” (that’s British for kissing) between Hogwarts students.
Setting aside the controversies that inevitably arise from only the best books, these seven stories have been inspirational to children everywhere who have known dark times. Perhaps my friend who wanted to shield her son from books in which children need to defend themselves has a nice, safe, tragedy-free life. Let’s hope so. I have another friend who was forced to move in order to save her daughter from an abusive situation. This 6-year-old girl has a long road ahead of her, but she’s already doing much better. As she learns to read, she’ll have Harry to comfort her.
“The Deathly Hallows” is the only book in the Harry Potter series with an epigram, a quotation that introduces the story. Rowling quotes “The Liberation Bearers” by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus: “Bless the children, give them triumph now.” I wish Harry had been around when I was a child, during my sad days, but he’s been there for me since 1997, when the first book was released. Harry is also there for anyone who loves a good story, and I don’t just mean a captivating tale. I mean a story of goodness.
What I learned from Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and Lucy Pevensie and Meg Murry and other fantasy/science fiction heroes of children’s books is that the most effective weapons are love and sacrifice. Love dies. That’s how you know it’s love. And a sacrificial death cannot be overcome by any weapon or magic ever conceived in any universe.
The Boy Who Lived will live on, even after the movies cease and the printing presses stop rolling. The last sentence of “The Deathly Hallows” is, “All was well.” Can anyone ask for a happier ending?