I am now a firm believer that it is indeed, the wand that chooses the wizard. The book has to find you. So, not reading the series as a teen or a tween, was perhaps, not a coincidence. I have been forever skeptical about the madness that surrounds Harry Potter. But it is only after reading Harry Potter did I realize that the insanity is justified because reading Harry Potter is like running a fever. You cannot sleep and you cannot stay awake. The only thing for you to do is to wait for the fever to break. For weeks, the story consumed me completely. For weeks, it controlled my life, my emotions, my thoughts, my actions. But I have returned stronger and with a clearer understanding of my inner world. I could not have gained this insight or understanding of the series had I read it as a teenager or young adult.
Being a child and a teenager
As a child, I remember going with my mother to the bank once and being in awe of the many nooks and corners and staircases leading to the underground vault. When Harry visits Gringotts for the first time, it was like a jolt from the past! I felt like some part of my imagination had thought of this world when I was a child.
Who wouldn’t want to be in a school which is a castle filled with secrets and mysteries? A castle where rooms magically appear, stairwells constantly change, portraits move around and talk to each other, and ghosts of past residents throw pranks at you and in more than one occasion, help you get out of sticky situations? Who wouldn’t want to live next to the Forbidden Forest where magical (and sometimes dangerous) creatures reside? Speaking of creatures, let’s not even get started on pets!! What an absolutely brilliant idea to have an owl for a pet!! And who can ever forget the Hogwarts dinners and breakfasts? Evidently, some have stated that there are not many healthy options on the Hogwarts menu! Seriously, who cares when you are 11 or 17?
Hogwarts is like a Time Machine. It takes you to the time when you were a child fascinated with secret passages and then as a teenager, leads you down corridors where you experienced agonies of your first crush. You can feel Harry’s pain when everyone thinks he is a liar. You remember the helplessness you experienced as a teenager trying to grapple with the changes inside as well as in the world around you. You recognize his need to belong as well as his desire to carve out his own identity. As a teenager, you remember how you wanted the adults to give you direction but at the same time, you felt the angst to break out and do things on your own. You can relate to him at a very personal level because you have been there, done that. But not quite in the way that he does it. And that’s where the magic lies.
Experiencing the pain of loss
When I was Harry’s age, I was fortunate not to have experienced the loss of a loved one. But since then, I have felt how the world feels cold, bleak, and dark; like your soul is being sucked out of you in despair, like a Dementor’s kiss. I have struggled with the pain of loss like Harry; and watched helplessly like Hermione and Ron while my loved ones struggled to keep their wits about them in the face of pain. I have wished I had spent more time with those people who have left because Death always comes suddenly. I have wondered, like Harry, what it would have been like if things had been different. I have wondered if it has all been a roll of the dice or whether it was destiny. So when Harry constantly seeks a connection with his parents and his past in a mirror, in a friend, and even possibly in darkness, you understand the desperation in his soul to reach out to something outside of him.
Being a parent
Being a parent makes reading Harry Potter all the more difficult because you constantly think, ‘what would my child feel if I died?’ You lie sleepless at night wondering how they would cope. Along with this anguish, comes the hope that your child possesses some of the qualities that not only Harry, but so many other wonderful and memorable characters in the series have. As a parent, you want to protect him at all costs while also knowing that you have to let go and let him follow or make his own destiny. As a parent, I have stood alongside the Weasleys at the Kings Cross platform praying for Harry’s safety. I remember being impatient with Harry’s resistance to learning Occlumency because it seemed the most reasonable thing to do. I remember being frustrated with the obvious mistakes that he was about to make. I wished I could reach inside and tell him to pay attention to something or ignore something else. But the most overpowering emotion you feel is that of the deepest tenderness for this boy who is facing all kinds of odds not only to avenge his parents’ death but also for the greater good. As a parent, I constantly wanted to enfold him in my arms like I do my child, and tell him– ‘I’m here with you. You can stop fighting now’.
Valuing the richness of language
As a mature reader, I have come to appreciate the beauty and richness of Rowling’s language. She has created this world of magic with such effortless beauty and simplicity that it is like the gentle sound of a gurgling stream. You never tire of watching the water flowing over the tiny pebbles. Her writing has moved me to tears, made me laugh out loud (to the consternation of others in the room), and made me keep reading while pacing up and down the room because sitting down was torture. Her writing has made me wake up in the wee hours of the morning to get some extra reading time. I have engaged with her writing at such a deep psychological level that there was a time when I just could not figure out what was wrong with me and was considering visiting a shrink. It was when the story reached a turning point and my mental fog lifted and I could feel some light filtering in; that I knew that Harry Potter had reached a much deeper level of my psyche. Rowling has woven themes of feminism, equality, and discrimination with such finesse within the story, that you are left spent after trying to unravel all the underlying meanings and hidden messages. She has masterfully mixed all the elements of style, grammar, syntax, plot, character, situation, nuances, imagery, wordplay, allusions (to name a few) into a cauldron of honest intention and created a magic potion more potent and powerful than anything you have ever experienced. Every page of every book in the series is like soaking in a lake of this magic potion of the English language.
Finding magic in simple things
Who wouldn’t want to wave a wand and mutter “Reparo” when a treasured possession shatters into pieces before their eyes? We all yearn for magic in our everyday life. Mrs. Weasley’s use of magic in her household is nothing short of orgasmic for a woman because let’s face it, how much do men contribute to household chores, anyway? However, there are no free dinners in Rowling’s world. Exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration (as mentioned in Deathly Hallows) states that food is one of five exceptions that one cannot simply conjure out of thin air or change from something else. Very practical, don’t you think? This is just one of the ways where the muggle world and wizarding world collide.
I see the muggle world and the wizarding world collide every day when the sun rises at dawn. I see magic in simple acts of kindness, in friendship, in unconditional love. I see magic in perseverance and determination. Harry Potter simply reminds you that there is magic everywhere and one need not be born into a wizarding family to be able to do magic. You willingly suspend your disbelief because you would rather escape into the world of magic where everything seems a little more exciting.
Reading Harry Potter gives a fresh new perspective on things, especially since I am at a stage of life when objects in the mirror appear closer than they are. Last night I finished the seventh book and I can firmly say that I now categorize my life into pre-Harry Potter and post-Harry Potter days. I am not a re-reader but Harry Potter has converted me. I look forward to my next meeting with him, maybe when I am 50?