Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

Wow. It’s Harry Potter’s (and J.K. Rowling’s) birthday again, and it just hit me for the first time that I’ve now had this blog for over a year. It’s amazing how much has happened since then in the Wizarding World. Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts, a patronus quiz on Pottermore, the 20th anniversary of Philosopher’s Stone, and the epilogue date quickly approaching … Harry Potter is always relevant to me, but it’s been a long time since Deathly Hallows, and this year it’s like someone opened the blinds and dusted away the cobwebs a bit.

That’s not to say everything this past year has been well-received. Cursed Child in particular – I personally enjoyed it, but yeah, Voldemort having a daughter is going a little too far. And I don’t think Newt and Tina will ever take Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s place in my heart, but they don’t have to. That’s not the point.

If nothing else, it’s nice to have an excuse for the nostalgia.

Happy birthday, Harry. And happy birthday, J.K. Rowling. Thank you for creating a world that means so much to me and to many, many others.

Twenty Years Later: Looking Back on a Childhood Shaped by Harry Potter

Twenty years. That’s hard to believe. Harry Potter been around almost my entire life. I was just starting school when kids were opening up the first book for the first time, and I don’t think any of us knew what all this would become. For so many people of my generation, childhood is synonymous with Hogwarts. We grew up reading the books, waiting impatiently for each one, and going to see the movies even though they could never do justice to the stories in our heads. Deathly Hallows marked the end of not just a book series, but a phase of life that we can never go back to, no matter how hard we try. And trust me, we’ve never stopped trying.

They say that in difficult times, you learn who your real friends are, and maybe that’s why it’s so easy to think of the Hogwarts kids as old friends. Middle school isn’t a fun time for anyone, but they were there beside me every step of the way. Simply by opening a book, I could practice spells with the DA, laugh at the Weasley twins’ jokes, fly on a broom next to Harry, and find my way to Ravenclaw Tower, where I was certain I’d belong. It’s always been so easy to imagine myself as a part of that world, even as a muggle who has never set foot in England, let alone Hogwarts.

I can’t credit Harry Potter with teaching me to love reading. I was an avid reader long before I got caught up in the Potter craze. But hearing so many stories from other kids who hated it before these books came along has taught me something just as important: that all it takes is one good book to change a child’s world. Now that I’m all grown up and working as a teacher, I’m constantly on the lookout for that book. And it warms my heart to know that for so many kids today, that book is still Harry Potter.

The series has brought me true friendships and memories worthy of fueling a patronus. I’ll never forget taking Harry Potter books to summer camp, knowing they’d be the perfect icebreaker, because I might not have known anyone there or had much else in common with them, but we all had a favorite character and a House we were sure we’d be sorted into. I’ll never forget when all the kids at school had an opinion about whether Dumbledore was really dead. I’ll never forget how I couldn’t stop smiling as I held Deathly Hallows in my hand and carefully turned the first page, savoring that feeling of starting a new Harry Potter book for the last time. I’ll never forget bonding with college classmates over Pottermore and Hogwarts houses and favorite characters. It was like being in middle school again, but without all the awkwardness and drama.

I don’t think I’ll ever be done with the wizarding world. There’s just so much there, and as I’ve grown up, the world has gained more and more complexity. I’ve asked questions about the ethics of Slytherin house, the symbolism of Quidditch, and everything in between. I’ve made artwork and written poetry inspired by the books. I’ve got a Pottermore wand that I love and an awful patronus that I’ve mostly made peace with. Even during the times in my life when other things have taken precedence, Hogwarts has been there in the background, slowly simmering like a potion, and I’ve known it would be all the better when I returned.

There may not really be a Hogwarts out there, or a Ministry of Magic, or a Grimmauld Place or a Burrow. But that’s okay. They exist in our collective imagination. The characters may not be living, breathing people, but they live in our hearts. They’re our friends and foes and mentors. As Dumbledore says, “Of course it is happening inside your head … but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” Likewise, no matter how far-fetched and fanciful the goings-on at Hogwarts are, we imagine them in our mind’s eye, we pour out our sympathy into these fictional characters as if they were people we knew, we escape again and again into their world. That’s what makes it all come to life. “It’s real for us”, and although it ended a long time ago, it’s not really over. I don’t think it ever will be.

Look what I found!

img_20161022_191614866

I found this at the grocery store yesterday, and of course, I just couldn’t resist. It’s actually pretty cool. Although I will say, I did find a big mistake in the section on magical creatures. They apparently didn’t think the green-skinned, fishlike mermaids from Goblet of Fire could possibly be mermaids, so they’ve got one labeled as a grindylow instead. I found the section on the actors really interesting, though, and there’s an article near the end about how Harry Potter has defined a generation, which I think is absolutely true.

Always

Earlier today, I saw a car with “Always” spelled out on the back window in Harry Potter symbols: the sign of the Deathly Hallows for the A, a magic wand for the l, and so on. It was very cool, and I was tempted to stop and take a picture, but taking pictures of a stranger’s car would have been too creepy.

It did make me think, though, about the way Harry Potter has become such an ingrained part of modern American culture. I get comments from fellow fans every time I go out in my Hogwarts t-shirt. I once made a friend at summer camp exclusively based on our shared love of Harry Potter, and I bonded with countless college classmates over the series, even though by that point the movies had all been made. I’ve even seen people with Harry Potter-themed tattoos.

“What’s your Hogwarts house?” is more than a fun question to think about. For my generation, it’s one of the ways we think about our personalities, just as much as formal personality types like Meyers-Briggs or Five-Factor or Enneagram. It certainly makes for a good way to break the ice and learn more about someone, but I think – certainly this has been the case for me – it’s also a source of self-reflection and a lens through which to understand myself. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

When I was in middle school, Harry Potter was a frequent topic of discussion, one of the few things almost everyone in my class had in common. What do you think will happen in book 7? Is Snape good or evil? Should Hermione end up with Ron or Harry? Do you think Harry will have to die? There are no more endings to be speculated on, but that doesn’t mean that aspect of near-universality has faded, especially with those of us who grew up with the series.

That is proven by just how common things like those “Always” stickers still are. I don’t think “always” is such a popular Harry Potter quote just because of Snape and Lily. I think it’s also a statement of how long we’ll love Harry Potter.

Cat Patronus

patronus

Here’s a picture I drew of my cat patronus. I’m actually getting pretty attached to it, because despite my allergies, it actually makes a lot of sense. I’ve also discovered that I’m probably not actually allergic to my patronus, because apparently sphynx cats are hypoallergenic. Yeah, it’s not worth the fact that they look like bald, oversized rats. Anyway, patronuses are glowing animal-shaped lights, not real animals. I’ve decided my patronus would be a regular short-haired cat. That, I think, makes for a nice compromise between what Pottermore thinks and what I can get myself to accept.

My Patronus, Part 3

You can read part 1 here and part 2 here

I dislike cats, but their symbolic associations are spot-on. But I would go further and say that a stranger would never guess those things about me. They’re not surface-level traits. To be perfectly honest, most of the cat symbolism that hit home isn’t an obvious part of my day-to-day life, but the way that I react when things go as badly as they can go. I withdraw. I seek out the people I love most. I find comfort in my own thoughts. I make myself a cup of tea, curl up on the couch, and lose myself in a book. I think. I pray. I take time to process things and decide what I’m going to do. I seek out privacy and alone time, which I need no matter what, but especially during a crisis.

In other words, I react like a cat.

I can think of a dozen animals I like better, but none of them does such a good job of reflecting that part of me I go back to when things don’t go how they should. And I guess that’s what a patronus is: the part of you that shows up to protect the person you normally are.