Rediscovering Harry Potter
I have never been a huge fan of epic fantasy stories. The largeness of it all—different worlds, fantastical creatures, created languages—has never appealed to me.
But this summer, I reread Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was a requirement. I was doing a Harry Potter camp, and I didn’t have a camp director . . . so I was going to have to be the camp director—yikes! I knew I couldn’t just rely on second-hand knowledge of all things Hogwarts; I would have to read the book again myself.
I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1998, a year after it was first published. I read the first book aloud to my boys (actually my husband and I took turns reading it aloud—I was not completely committed). My kids loved it, but they loved a lot of books we read aloud. I absolutely saw the value of it as a piece of literature, but, still, it didn’t speak to me. Again, epic fantasy is just too big for me. I also read the last book in the series for a class assignment. Just for fun, try that some time—reading the first book and the last book in a series! You pretty much feel like you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and don’t know where you are or who is your friend or your enemy.
So, this summer, when I decided to reread the book again, I was dedicated but not very enthusiastic.
And then I started reading.
Oh, poor Harry. Living with relatives who were mean and manipulative; knowing he was different but not knowing why. Then, he learns he has been accepted to Hogwarts, a boarding school for wizards, and the action really starts to pick up. My respect for J.K. Rowling started to grow when I read about how students get to Hogwarts—from Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station. How creative is that?! Seeing the amalgamation of the magical world and the Muggle world was truly (to use the British term) brilliant.
My respect grew even more as I entered Hogwarts. This is where Rowling’s world-building is at its best. Moving staircases, invisibility cloaks, wand creation (and how the wand finds its wizard, not the wizard his wand), creative candies, familiar sports with a new twist. It truly was magical for me to imagine this world (with a little help from the movie previews and Universal Studios commercials) in my mind. And it totally makes sense that if you are going to be good at something, like being a wizard, you would have to go to school to study it!
Knowing that Ron and Hermione would become friends of Harry, I watched the process of their friendship develop, just as real friendships do. Sometimes they are natural; sometimes they have rocky starts.
I finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 3 days. I saw the complexity in the characters and the world. I admired how the finished story was the beginning of an epic tale. As my camp students and I created potions, invented spells, and made wands, we also looked at the deepening friendships and character development of a shy boy to a confident, brave student. We discussed the battle between good and evil, and they gave examples from the first and other books in the series. We talked about what a hero is.
No, fantasy is still not my favorite genre. I do not plan to read all of the books, but I do feel like I can carry on a conversation now and ask kids the good, probing questions that will get them thinking about this epic story. When my school students are reading Riordan’s Lightning Thief, I can’t wait to ask them about the world-building, as well as the relationships between the characters and the growth of the protagonist.
I will never be a passionate Potterhead, but I definitely have grown to love what this story is. So, if you haven’t picked up your dusty Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in a few years, give it another go, or put it into the hands of a child who needs some magic.