Usually, I don’t tend to write on a topic as soon as the idea strikes me. Well, most ideas seem like million-dollar ones when you have them, but they quickly turn into third-rate recycled garbage within a couple of days! And yet, here I am, writing on a topic that I just thought of fifteen minutes ago, because it’s special.
During our planned ‘informal’ office hours, a colleague presented a summary of the Harry Potter franchise, coupled with a few thoughts on why she likes it so much.
I probably lost her somewhere around the midway mark, when I went down a rabbit hole, trying to dig up my opinions on the topic. But that’s just me, ignoring colleagues while on video, and living life on the edge by writing about it later!
But the truth is that I had never considered to ask myself this question when I read the series as a kid, because… well, I was a kid! I was just happy to read SOMETHING that was not related to the process of photosynthesis or the merits of the Harappan civilization or the hundred other things that we read about as kids, only to forget them later.
So, what’s so special about Harry Potter, eh? It’s a neat little fantasy series that has some clean writing, a few interesting characters, and an engaging story arc with a couple of interesting twists and turns. But so does any other fictional novel that goes on to sell at least a million copies worldwide!
For instance, consider the LOTR trilogy. There are so many similarities between the two series that many fantasy fiction aficionados constantly debate over the originality of the HP franchise and the themes that it explores. Case in point, here are some of the things that the two series have in common –
Magic? – check
A weak lead character fighting against an unsurmountable evil? – check
Elves, beasts, and evil wizards? – check
Old dude with a silver beard and long robes? – check
You get the point!
The actual reason that Harry Potter occupies a special place in my heart is the coming of age experience that binds me to it. And I know that people very casually and frequently use ‘coming of age’ as a way to cop out of strenuous explanations, but I intend to dive a few feet deeper.
I have recurringly drawn on my experiences in school as an inspiration for my writing, so it won’t come as a surprise to you that my first connection to Harry Potter is Hogwarts! The entire series of seven books were published while I was still graduating what we in India call ‘secondary school’. It was like reading the third-party account of another student who was experiencing the same events and emotions that I was at that time.
And to the people who say Hogwarts is only a fraction of the series, I say this – are you kidding me?
Hogwarts was Harry’s true home. Hogwarts was where he met his friends. It was where he shared his first kiss, and also the place where he felt wanted. His story began with a letter from Hogwarts and ended with a happy memory of seeing his kids off on the Hogwarts Express. The school of witchcraft and wizardry was mesmerizing, but the sheer fact that it was a school made it ever so relatable.
The four houses, boring lectures, practical laboratory sessions, homework, sports, exams, and graduation – these were all real-life things that I lived through year after year, as did Harry. On the other hand, boarding at the school, living in a dormitory, enjoying scrumptious feasts for lunch and dinner, and studying in a castle were a few experiences that I envied Harry for.
But it was fine. Harry and I had an unspoken understanding. The understanding was that as long as he continued to share nail-biting stories from within the castle, I’d continue to safeguard his secret in the Muggle world. It was unspoken because… well he was fictional!
An additional reason that I was so drawn to this series was the constant hope that Rowling dangled in front of my hopelessly gullible eyes! The fact that her fantasy co-existed with our world meant that there was the teeny-tiniest possibility of discovering a secret entrance to Diagon Alley in the parking lot of a McDonald’s perhaps! Or maybe… just MAYBE my parents did receive a letter from Dumbledore but decided to raise me as a Muggle anyway! I still have my doubts.
Either way, given my Indian citizenship and residence, I had no hope of walking through the barrier at King’s Cross as a kid. Perhaps I’ll push my kid through the barrier, a few years down the line… when the wizarding world decides to reveal itself, and when I actually HAVE a kid!
Another undeniable excuse for loving this series is my growth alongside the lead protagonist. While I aged from 11 to 17, so did Harry! He did manage to accomplish a lot more than just cacking a few exams, but I just blame that on the opportunity! If someone would have given ME a scar on my forehead, and a cool name, I’d have done ‘great’ things too!
Well, I do have a scar from a bicycle spill, and the event was definitely less gruesome than the Godric’s Hollow incident in Harry Potter. But my scar is NOT shaped like a lightning bolt, and sadly the only connection that it ever gave me was a visit to the paediatrician’s office and a week-long course of painkillers.
Nevertheless, growing alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione meant that I was vested in their lives. I cared about their troubles and I cried over their losses. I partook in their jubilations and revelled in their adventures! More than anything else, I could not wait to turn the pages of the newest book that Rowling sent my way.
I remember the day when The Order of Phoenix was released in India. Because my exams were up in a week, my mother agreed to buy the book on the condition that I read it only after my exams. How is that a reasonable ask?
I am not exactly proud of what followed, but Harry and the gang had to be rescued from Umbridge. So, I’d sneak into my mom’s room every day, retrieve the book from her ‘hiding’ place, read a few chapters deliriously, and then stash it back as I had found it. It took me four days to finish the book but it was worth it! And that was the last time I was ever so invested in anything at all!
Lord of the Rings would probably come a close second, but hey, this one’s about Harry Potter, so let him take the win!
But so far, I’ve spoken about some of the more intangible aspects of the series that appealed to me back then. But, all said and done, it is a fine series. The language is simple to follow, but engaging enough to binge on. The characters are lovable and more nuanced than the usual fantasies out there!
Don’t even get me started on Snape. He probably deserves another post of his own. Respect.
The books are paced well and sprinkled with just enough humourous and romantic undertones. The story starts light and cheerful but then progresses onto more sinister chapters. The text gets denser, darker and intricate with every book, as do the characters. There is an escalation to this series that never really disappoints, and the finale (both of them) is only the icing on the cake.
“That wand’s more trouble than it’s worth,” said Harry. “And quite honestly,” he turned away from the painted portraits, thinking now only of the four-poster bed lying waiting for him in Gryffindor Tower, and wondering whether Kreacher might bring him a sandwich there, “I’ve had enough trouble for a lifetime.”and nineteen years later,“The scar had not pained Harry for 19 years. All was well.”
So to sum it up, here’s the answer to my self-raised question. J.K.Rowling was struck by lightning on that journey from Manchester to London. She nurtured that lightning into a global thunderstorm over the next five years of her life. A couple of years later, I was struck by that storm for the very first time. And fifteen years post that, I still haven’t recovered from it. That’s the magic of Harry Potter – undying.
Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus.
… and i mean it. So be nice in the comments.