If you know me, even remotely, you are highly aware of my deeply rooted Harry Potter obsession: all three of my pets are named after HP characters (Kingsley, Minerva, & Nymphadora), my wifi is a hidden network called Room of Requirement (the password is Lemondrops), and my proposal was a HP-themed scavenger hunt (see here). I truly believe that I would be a different (and less magical) person without the influence of J.K. Rowling’s magnificent world, which she has kindly continued to show us through the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film franchise. As an homage to the past twenty years of friendship, love, loss, and family, I will attempt to give a not-even-close-to-covering-everything list of why I (and hopefully all of you!) love Harry Potter!
Disclaimer: While I have a great love for this series, I am not an expert. If you find any of my information to be lacking or inaccurate, please let me know, and I will do more thorough research.
As someone who occasionally dabbles in writing my own stories, I am aware that the most difficult part of writing fiction is world-building, especially when the story includes a magic system. As most avid Harry Potter fans know, there are some plot holes within Rowling’s magic system, most of them stemming from her use of time travel in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but this fact does not lessen the beauty of the Wizarding World. Jo created a magical realm that somehow fits perfectly into the world that we know. Her story is so relatable for us because the familiarity of the muggle world is juxtaposed with the surrealness of Hogwarts, the Ministry, and beyond. By giving us a London we recognize, our hearts are able to hope that the magic is real, too. While the movies, and later the theme parks, helped us to visualize our favorite fictional world, Rowling’s diction helps us to picture it just as easily. This passage from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (The Forest Again, pgs. 699-700) evokes such strong emotions for me:
They were neither ghost nor truly flesh, he could see that. They resembled most closely the Riddle that had escaped from the diary so long ago, and he had been memory made nearly solid. Less substantial than living bodies, but much more than ghosts, they moved toward him, and on each face, there was the same loving smile. James was exactly the same height as Harry. He was wearing the clothes in which he had died, and his hair was untidy and ruffled, and his glasses were a little lopsided, like Mr. Weasley’s. Sirius was tall and handsome, and younger by far than Harry had seen him in life. He loped with an easy grace, his hands in his pockets and a grin on his face. Lupin was younger too, and much less shabby, and his hair was thicker and darker. He looked happy to be back in this familiar place, scene of so many adolescent wanderings. Lily’s smile was widest of all. She pushed her long hair back as she drew close to him, and her green eyes, so like his, searched his face hungrily, as though she would never be able to look at him enough.
“You’ve been so brave.”
He could not speak. His eyes feasted on her, and he thought that he would like to stand and look at her forever, and that would be enough.
“You are nearly there,” said James. “Very close. We are . . . so proud of you.”
“Does it hurt?” The childish question had fallen from Harry’s lips before he could stop it.
“Dying? Not at all,” said Sirius. “Quicker and easier than falling asleep.”
“And he will want it to be quick. He wants it over,” said Lupin.
“I didn’t want you to die,” Harry said. These words came without his volition. “Any of you. I’m sorry —” He addressed Lupin more than any of them, beseeching him. “— right after you’d had your son . . . Remus, I’m sorry —”
“I am sorry too,” said Lupin. “Sorry I will never know him . . . but he will know why I died and I hope he will understand. I was trying to make a world in which he could live a happier life.”
A chilly breeze that seemed to emanate from the heart of the forest lifted the hair at Harry’s brow. He knew that they would not tell him to go, that it would have to be his decision.
“You’ll stay with me?”
“Until the very end,” said James.
“They won’t be able to see you?” asked Harry.
“We are part of you,” said Sirius. “Invisible to anyone else.”
Almost started crying again: Rowling truly has a gift.
When Rowling created her Hogwarts Houses–Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff–she truly created a place for people to belong. Even before the Pottermore sorting quiz became a reality, Muggles would speculate what House they belonged to based on the traits described within the books. At the House sorting in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the sorting hat sings this song:
Oh, you may not think I’m pretty,
But don’t judge on what you see,
I’ll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me.
You can keep your bowlers black,
Your top hats sleek and tall,
For I’m the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can top them all.
There’s nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can’t see,
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you’ve a steady mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends.
So put me on! Don’t be afraid!
And don’t get in a flap!
You’re in safe hands (though I have none)
For I’m a Thinking Cap!
At each sorting described in the series (described in books 1, 4, & 5 only, for various reasons), the Sorting Hat regales the crowd with the traits of each house. The most interesting thing about House placement is seen when studying the main characters’ personality traits. We are all familiar with Harry’s wish to not be placed in Slytherin, but the Sorting Hat tells him that he would do very well in Slytherin. This possibility for Harry highlights something important: possessing certain characteristics does not guarantee specific placement. It is also apparent that Hermione, the brightest witch of her age, could have easily fit in with Ravenclaw. Jo makes it clear that anyone can possess traits fitting of multiple Houses, but as the Sorting Hat proves, we also have a choice in which House we become a part of based on with which we most strongly identify. For modern day Muggles, that aspect of sorting sometimes causes us to declare ourselves as part of more than one House (Ravenpuff speaking) and as a result, many Muggles take pride in their House(s): it has truly become a part of one’s identity. I believe that this has caused such strong attachment because, often times, people don’t feel like they belong anywhere. The ability to identify one’s self as belonging to one or more of the four Houses has led to relationships in the real world and continues to give fans a place of security and belonging. Honestly, this phenomenon is beyond my understanding, but I have seen its power and impact, and I know that it truly brings people together.
Love & Relationships
There is one aspect of the book that can bring people together or tear them apart: who should have ended up with whom? Admittedly, I am one of those people who believe that Harry and Hermione should have ended up together. When I was younger, before the third book was released, I stumbled upon a discussion forum about the potential relationships between the three main characters. I remember reading something about Rowling’s plan to bring Harry and Hermione together in the future, so as I continued to read the books, I expected this to happen. When Ron and Hermione were obviously interested in each other, I was so upset. To this day, I will not accept that Ron was the best partner for her (please don’t try to persuade me otherwise, I have heard the arguments against Harry & Hermione many times, but the heart wants what it wants). I think because I relate to Hermione a lot, and I thought I was the type to like a Harry-type person, I couldn’t accept Ron for her (me). Now, I would say my husband is more of a Ron-type (book Ron, not movie Ron), so I have a bit more understanding about it, but still hold onto that childhood expectation. While I kinda sorta accept Romione, I still don’t really get the whole Harry/Ginny deal. Someone explain it to me, please (I mean, it seems like mutual love of Quidditch and Harry’s desire to be Ron’s brother are the only motivations here?). Anyway, despite the debate about who should have ended up together, the Harry Potter series included some of the best couples of all time: Remus and Tonks, James and Lily, Arthur and Molly, etc. We can all agree that these books truly teach us about selfless love for our significant other, our friends, and our family. While my heart aches whenever I think about Teddy Lupin growing up without the world’s coolest parents, I think we can all admire those who have died for the sake of the people they loved, both fictional and in real life.
For me, one of the best parts of the Harry Potter universe is all of the amazing creatures!! I happen to be the type to get overly emotional over cute animals and protective of all animals. I’m the kind of person who wanted to be a vet but couldn’t stand the idea of putting precious animals to sleep. As expected, I went gaga over the fantastic beasts we got to see in the newest movie, and I have always loved the creativity in the creatures Rowling brought to life. My personal favorite would have to be Buckbeak with Hedwig at a close second. Again, Rowling juxtaposed the real with the fanciful. Especially through Hagrid’s character, Rowling highlighted the close bonds that we can have with the animals in our lives. She even showed us some creatures that scared us, but we still wanted the best for them (example, Aragog: Ron is not the only one with arachnophobia, but I was still sad when he died). With the extension of the Wizarding World through Fantastic Beasts, we have even more creatures to love! I particularly enjoy the greedy little niffler.
Classes that We Actually Want to Take
Let’s be real: Care of Magical Creatures and Transfiguration sound like the most fascinating classes in the world. Defense Against the Dark Arts doesn’t have the best reputation, but I would have been thrilled to take it with Lupin (Lockhart would’ve been the absolute worst though). The kids always seemed to have ridiculous amounts of homework (two rolls of parchment on werewolves? come on, Snape), but I was always a little bit jealous of how fun it sounded (nerd alert). Even Arithmancy sounds so much more exciting than algebra, right? Even for those like Ron who don’t really like to learn, the plus side of a Hogwarts education is that you got to learn cool tricks to help you be more lazy (accio is the best spell ever if you ask me). If you don’t think taking divination taught by a centaur isn’t the coolest thing you could ever do, we can’t be friends.
As I’m reading the books, I sometimes wonder why Rowling allowed Harry to suffer so much loss: his parents died before he had the chance to know them, his godfather died in front of his eyes, his mentor was killed by his professor, his beloved owl was unceremoniously shot down, his protector was killed with a knife thrown by his enemy, and the Battle of Hogwarts claimed so many of his loved ones. I think most people would have crumbled under the weight of so much grief, but Rowling shows us that it is possible to live a happy life even when it feels like the world is against us. No matter what, Harry always had someone to support him and love him, especially when someone he loved deeply had passed. She has taught me to rely on those around me for support in my trying days and to never give up on life. Most of the reasons to enjoy Harry Potter are lighthearted and fun, it’s nice to give credit to the deeper impact, too.
I believe you would be hard pressed to find a true Harry Potter fan who doesn’t adore all of the Weasleys–except maybe Percy, but even he has his redemption in the end. For someone who grew up without any siblings, I always envied the thought of a house full of chaos. When I married Harris, I think I finally started to understand what it would be like to be a Weasley, and it’s a fantastic feeling! Don’t get me wrong, this bookworm definitely enjoyed her quiet time alone with her family, but it’s also fun to be a part of the crazy energy. I can just imagine how much love the Weasley family got to experience, and I think that’s why Draco teased them so mercilessly. The Weasleys may have been poor, but at least they were a big family who showed affection to one another (I realize Lucius and Narcissa loved Draco, but they just don’t look like the kind of family to show it). With such a large family, it’s easy to lose individuality, but I think Rowling does a wonderful job of showing all of their unique personalities and passions. Who doesn’t think Arthur’s love of Muggle artifacts is just the cutest?
The World’s Coolest Boarding School
It might just be me, but I think the idea of a boarding school is awesome. As a kid, I loved learning and I didn’t really like Florida, so I always thought some boarding school in the mountains of Colorado would be really amazing. I loved the freedom and confidence I felt when going away to summer camp in North Carolina so boarding school seemed like it would be even better. While that never happened (I didn’t even go to a college out of state), I was able to live vicariously through the Golden Trio. While Harry, Ron, and Hermione had a lot more to worry about than making sure your homework is completed and getting to class on time, I think the overall idea of sending kids to a boarding school helps them to become more independent. I mean, Harry had to learn how to juggle Quidditch practice with covert Dumbledore’s Army meetings and run-ins with Death Eaters. While it seemed like the trio had to sneak out of the school a bit too often, I think they also had some awesome opportunities to explore and learn without hovering parents like many kids do today. Boarding school seems like a pretty incredible learning experience to me, especially when there’s the constant risk of being eaten by a three-headed dog or nabbed by Mrs. Norris for sneaking out after curfew.
It Will Never End
If this celebration of 20 years since the release of the first Harry Potter book proves anything, it proves that the story will never end. Fans will continue to visit the theme parks, listen to the soundtracks, create fan art, come up with interesting theories, watch the movies, and read the books. We will pass it to our children, and the magic will never die. For that, I am very grateful.