LOL jk (rowling)
But I did. When I first read The Philosopher’s Stone I couldn’t suspend reality enough to enjoy it. Specifically, I couldn’t suspend the reality that I was an adult reading a book that was written for children. The first Harry Potter book was written for adolescents and, as such, is a little simplistic. I was also late to the party. I was reading it based on the numerous recommendations that had come from kids and adults alike and, to me, it failed to live up to the hype. I thought the concept was cool and I liked the inclusion of mythological creatures but I was bored by the writing style.
I wish now that I’d listened to people’s suggestions to read The Chamber of Secrets despite my first impressions. If I had picked up the second book then I would have realised my hesitations were unfounded earlier and I could have been swept up in the euphoria of each new book/movie release. Instead, I waited until I was in my late 30s and have had to settle for the diminished fanfare that escorted the release of the scripts of The Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Ultimately, it was daughter who got me to give Harry Potter a second chance. She’s an avid reader but, at seven years of age, most of the books written for her year level don’t offer enough of a challenge so I gave her my old copy of The Philosopher’s Stone. I’d ask questions after each chapter to see if she was grasping what was happening (while I skim read chapter summaries online to remind myself what happened). When she finished the book we watched the movie – which got her younger brother hooked. Well, that and the Lego Harry Potter games on the Playstation. From there our house became a second Hogwarts with witches and wizards becoming key characters of their role playing games.
I knew that my daughter would want to continue reading the series so I picked up The Chamber of Secrets and began reading so we could continue to bond over the events therein. Then, when I finished that book I went out and bought the next one and the next one and the next one and so on. I was hooked. More than that, I am overjoyed by the fact my daughter is hooked too. Thus far she’s read the first four books but we’ve asked her to hold off on the next one until the next school holidays. As a family, we’ve also watched the first five films – I’m sure we’ll see the others soon.
What makes the books so engaging? Why am I excited to have my kids engaged in that world? There are a number of reasons. Here are three of them:
- Girl power
The protagonist, his best mate, the headmaster, the tormenting teacher, the nurturing gameskeeper, the villain and a slew of other important characters are all male but it is the supporting cast of females that steal the show.
- Minerva McGonagall is a sass queen and a total bad-ass while also being a fair and nurturing mentor for the students at Hogwarts.
- Hermione Granger is intelligent, fierce compassionate, independent yet loyal, and is possibly the only reason Harry and Ron ever lived long enough to graduate.
- Luna Lovegood is kooky and off-beat but she is one of the most observant and empathetic characters in the whole series. Yes, she can often be tactless, but she is a loyal and true friend to Harry and his crew.
- Bellatrix Lestrange is cruel and unpredictable. She is supremely talented, amazingly powerful and downright scary.
- Ginny Weasley is a force to be reckoned with despite her age and stature. Like many women who grew up in a house full of brothers, she definitely knows how to take care of herself.
- Nymphadora Tonks brings light and laughter into dark and dire situations. She is unconventional and damn proud of it.
In each of these women is something for my daughter to aspire to (yes, even in Bellatrix) and something for my son to respect, admire and love.
- Oh… What a world, what a world!
In Harry Potter’s London, both the muggle and the magical world are incredibly detailed. Such is the beauty of Rowling’s descriptions that it is easy to imagine what each setting looks like. But when I talk about ‘the world’ in the books I mean more than just the locations. The planning that has gone in to each book and the hidden details that hint at later events that you don’t notice until you return to the ones you’ve already read make the series that much more enjoyable. Here are some of my favourite foreshadowed moments and subtle clues:
- Remus Lupin’s name is a dead giveaway. “Remus” comes from the Roman tale of Romulus and Remus who were raised by a wolf and “Lupin” comes from the Latin word for wolf. Other characters also have names that hint at their nature.
- When Arthur Weasley takes Harry to the Ministry of Magic the secret entrance is a phone-booth in which Arthur dials 62442. If you were ‘lucky’ enough to grow up in a time when letters and numbers shared the same keys on your phone, you’d realise this spells out the word “MAGIC.”
- The Vanishing Cabinet (so important late in the series) first appeared in The Chamber of Secrets, Sirius Black is first mentioned at the start of The Philosopher’s Stone, in the same book Snape’s mind-reading abilities (revealed in Book 5) are alluded to, and the relationships between Bill and Fleur, Hermione and Ron, and Harry and Ginny are all hinted at much earlier than you might first think.
- The Marauder’s Map is signed by Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs who die in the exact reverse order of when their name is listed.
- Shaun of the Dead fans know that the whole plot of the film is encapsulated in a conversation at the start of the movie. Well… The Goblet of Fire does this too. Harry’s made up prediction that “on Monday I will be in danger of, er, burns… Tuesday, I’ll… erm… lose a treasured possession” coupled with Ron’s addition of “Why don’t you get stabbed in the back by someone you thought was a friend?” mirrors the events of the Tri-Wizard tournament.
- 3s – 3 Deathly Hallows, 3 Unforgiveable Curses, 3 friends (Ron, Harry, Hermione), 3 bullies (Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle).
- Harry is a horcux – hinted at by Dumbledore in The Chamber of Secrets and Trelawny in The Prisoner of Azkaban.
- In The Prisoner Of Azkaban, Trelawney refused to sit at the table where she would be the thirteenth person sitting as she believed that the first person to stand up from that table would be cursed and die which eventually happens to both Sirius and Lupin.
But enough of the spoilers. The point is, Peter Pettigrew sized plot holes aside, J.K. Rowling is a genius.
- Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
I have always loved Greek, Roman and Norse mythologies; the tales of their heroes and the fantastic beasts they fought. As such, the Harry Potter universe is an absolute delight with all the allusions to these myths and creatures. There are a number of other parallels that can be drawn too – Voldemort is Hitler, Dementors are depression and the effect mental illness has on a person, Hermione and S.P.E.W. represent various human rights movements, muggles/wizards/goblins/house-elves/giants and so on represent different races, Hogwarts (with its bullies, exams, homework, tormenting teachers, nurturing teachers, relationships, etc.) represents the typical school experience.
Naturally, with all of this real-world reference, there is also real-world relevance. The Harry Potter series teaches us so much about what it means to be a good person and about what it takes to survive in this cruel world of ours. Don’t believe me? Check out this link.