Today is Harry Potter’s birthday. I think it’s safe to say that my life (and the lives of many of my fellow millennials) would not be the same without Harry Potter. There’s a magic to the stories that is transformative and transportive—I have been transformed by the stories and they transported me to new worlds. Not to mention the magic within the stories that does all sorts of cool stuff.
As I was thinking about how HP has influenced my life, I recalled one of my earliest blog posts (almost three years ago…), in which I wrote: “Perhaps, I simply wish that the supernatural was more prevalent in our lives, so I could be a Jedi/wizard/mutant/superhero.” I was trying to tease out the tension between the pragmatic and the supernatural within Mormonism. I came to a neat conclusion, that I probably wouldn’t arrive at today (I’ve drifted towards more nuance and ambiguity over those three years—surprise!).
Yet, that sentence still strikes me. I still want to be a wizard, a Jedi, a mutant, and a superhero. I love the idea of magic (or other extraordinary powers) existing. But I simultaneously resist most experiences that others share that could be explained with magic. I feel caught between worlds.
At the least, the narrative power of these magical stories is worth exploring. I don’t know how to fully resolve the tension of the pragmatic and the supernatural, but I do know that believing in the magic of stories has changed me. So, here are some things I’ve learned from reading, living, and breathing the life and stories of Harry Potter.
- Choices trump abilities.
An idea from what may be the quote I quote most often: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” I think this powerfully captures the beauty of agency. That we are all given different skills and talents, but what matters and defines us is not any of those, but what we choose to do. As is said later in the series: “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” All of us are divided beings (we have our divine, eternal spirits and the natural man, to use some Mormon parlance).
- Love conquers all.
The power of love is a strong theme in the series with Harry having his mother’s love as a defense against Voldemort and love repeatedly being something that Voldy doesn’t understand and underestimates. Perhaps most succinctly illustrated in this exchange about Snape’s love for Lily: “’After all this time, Severus?’ ‘Always.’” Snape has love guiding his actions, even though it is frequently brought into conflict with other desires and feelings that he has resulting in complicated relationships with many characters, but ultimately being the emotion that defines his life.
- Family can be found.
Harry has no real family (parents killed and the Dursleys are, well, the Dursleys), yet he creates a family with his friends at Hogwarts. If we have no blood relatives, we can create a family—we can find and bind ourselves together with others filling our lives with the family that we lack.
- ALL people are valuable.
The series emphasizes the value of all different people, suggesting that the final victory over Voldemort is, in part, because of the unity and diversity of those that are fighting against him. There are other explicit campaigns and discussions for inter-species equality and those that hold bigoted views are demonized and punished (Umbridge, anyone?). The idea of bloodlines is quickly discredited, with Hermione being the most talented witch in their year and coming from Muggle parents. People are not less valuable because of their birth circumstances—we are all people and we all deserve to be treated as such. Even Draco, who is one of the main antagonists throughout much of the series, undergoes a change where I sympathized with him and he is humanized.
- Our thoughts and feelings are REAL.
The series validated thoughts and feelings and other aspects of a lived experience that may not be physically tangible. As Dumbledore says to Harry in the final book: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” Reality is far more complex than what can be empirically proven and denied around us—it includes the world inside our minds in all its richness and complexity (so I guess I can be a wizard, a Jedi, a mutant, and a superhero…).
- Words are powerful.
The existence of the books themselves show this. And within the narrative, words are powerful, they are after all the mechanism for most of the magic that occurs. As is written: “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” I have a strong belief in the power of words (hence studying literature and writing stuff like this). We have that magic at our fingertips and it is powerful.
- Happiness can always be found.
Throughout the series, goodness triumphs over evil and happiness surfaces even when it seems that all hope is lost. As the books say: “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” We can make the effort to find that happiness. We can choose to embrace the light, to turn it on and feel the happiness that is there, even when things are most grim.
I love Harry Potter. The stories are a piece of me that has changed me (who can say if for the better?) for good. I love the magic of and within the stories and hope to do what I can to make this world a bit more magical for those around me. To paraphrase Gandhi, “Be the magic you want to see in the world.” Whether that magic is words, love, friendship, validation, happiness, or something else, I’ll do my part to be that magic, after all, it is my choices that show who I truly am, far more than my abilities.