As I’ve been watching the hoopla (well-deserved hoopla, I might add) surrounding the release of the final Harry Potter movie, I’ve been thinking a lot about that franchise and what it means to me.
Like many of you, I was introduced to the Harry Potter books by some children I know, in my case my fifth grade students when I was teaching at a small private school in Chatsworth, California. My students carried the books around with them everywhere they went, read them in class whenever they could spare a minute, and at Halloween that year, boys and girls dressed as Harry with their round glasses, black gowns, and striped Hogwarts scarves. I hadn’t read the books yet, but any series that could get children interested in reading got a huge thumbs up from me. And, being the conscientious teacher I am, I wanted to know what my students were so excited about, so I started reading the books too. I was immediately hooked. Before I go on, I should explain that I had never been into the fantasy genre. I had very classic, very Dickens, very old literary tastes, and the idea of reading a book about some kids at a magic boarding school wouldn’t have appealed to me on its own. But seeing my students read the books and listening to them rave made me reconsider.
What a wonderful, magical, yet real world J. K. Rowling creates. I won’t bore you by singing praises to a series of books that have been praised by words more eloquent than mine. All I can say is that I was swept away into Harry’s world just as many of you have been. These aren’t just black-word characters on white pages. These are real, living people to me, and I bet to you too. Like many readers, I related most to Harry, acted mainly like Ron, though I always wished to be Hermione. When the new books came out, I bought and devoured them. And what a joy as a teacher seeing my students devour them as well. Children reading books? And enjoying them? Why, that doesn’t happen anymore.
But that’s simply not the case. I’ve lost track of how many times students have told me that Harry Potter helped them learn to love to read. A few years ago I was teaching middle school in Boise, Idaho, and one of my students, an intelligent, thoughtful young man who was an ace at science, told me point-blank that he never touched a book before Harry Potter but now he reads every Harry book as it comes out and he reads it three times. Not only that, but he also reads every other wizard/magic/fantasy book he can find. For J.K. Rowling to create a magical world that is as appealing to young readers as it is to adults is nothing short of a miracle, if you ask me.
Beyond the obvious joy of bonding with my students over a shared love for all things Harry, those stories helped me as a writer by showing me that thoughtful, intelligent, meaningful stories can be written about anything, even something as seemingly outlandish as a boarding school for wizards. Part of my distaste for the fantasy (or paranormal) world prior to Harry was my belief that those genres didn’t talk about what was real and I wanted to write stories that were real because how can you touch people if what you’re describing isn’t real? But I realized that Harry is real, to me and millions of others. Hogwarts is real. I can see it in my mind’s eye as clearly as I’m seeing the computer I’m writing this on. As a writer, the most important thing I learned from the Harry Potter books was that if the characters and the stories and the setting are real to me as the author, then I can make them real for my reader and my reader will be whisked away into a world that could have only come from me. That was my goal was I was writing Her Dear & Loving Husband. Though I was writing about vampires and ghosts and witches (and one werewolf), they were (and remain) real to me. I could see their faces and their gestures, hear their voices when they spoke, see the Salem, Massachusetts setting as if it were all right in front of me and all I had to do was take dictation for my readers to see and hear it all too.
I will be at the movies this weekend, ticket in hand, to see the last installment of the Harry Potter series. On the one hand it’s sad because it’s the end of an era, though it’s been a positive era, one that brought younger and older readers together in that sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, entirely real world of Harry Potter. But I’m looking forward. The e-books will be available on the Pottermore website at the end of the month. I’ll download them onto my Kindle, and then I’ll experience the magic of Harry Potter all over again.