Today, the Internet exploded when JK Rowling made this announcement on Twitter:
And she demonstrated to all of us Muggles, that despite the beloved series having ended 8 years ago on page, and almost 4 years ago on screen, that she still calls the shots when it comes to our emotional stability. No matter how long it has been, with every post, Tumblr theory, meme, and even spoof, the story continues to wreck us in the best possible way.
Today, watching the outpouring of love and excitement over the mere announcement that one of Harry’s children is beginning his first year at Hogwarts, I was reminded again about the power of story. I picked up my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and returned to the place that was still, clearly, so near and dear to the hearts of many.
I remember vividly when the Deathly Hallows came out. I was on a mission trip in New Orleans and as we were driving home, the last night of the journey, the book was released. When we arrived back at the church, I got to my car, bleary-eyed and exhausted from the drive and found, sitting in my front seat, the book my parents had waited in line at midnight for, along with a poster and silicon bracelets bearing the symbol of the different houses. Despite having spent all night on the bus, I locked myself in my room for 15 hours, took a brief hour power nap, and then continued with Harry on his last great adventure.
Today, I looked again over the pages that so many people had cried over in their own copies, and it reminded me of the beautiful connection that can come with just a piece of literature. To know that two people who have never spoken, who maybe go to the same school but never noticed each other, may have both cried when Dobby made his last brave stand on behalf of his beloved Harry.
I glanced again on those familiar bits of dialogue that are plastered on posters, FB walls, and even as tattoos for those more ardent fans (yes, I’m looking at you Jessie Long with your 3 Harry Potter themed tattoos).
I open at the close.
I’m about to die.
Don’t pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living. And, above all, those who live without love.
And so many more, from so many books.
And I am once again reminded why I love stories. Why I love this story. Stories connect people, they make worlds possible which are entirely impossible, they make us love people that are completely different then us, they can reveal our deepest capacities to love, hate, and identify with others. We cheer, and weep, and laugh, and fear with those who do not even exist in the same time and place that we do.
Rowling has done something uniquely beautiful by creating a story that has us caring for the characters long after the story is finished. She has joined with her fans in this magical world where we engage with the imagined. Even with the best stories I have read, the ones that I love deeply, the ones where I feel emotionally drained after having read them because I care so deeply for the characters, it ends. Perhaps there is a movie adaptation, but there is still that strong divide. I feel that is over.
In another popular piece of fiction, The Fault in Our Stars, there is a scene where an embittered author tells the protagonist who longs to know what happened after the book ends that “nothing” happens, it’s over, they cease to exist. And, for most stories, this is probably true.
But the magic of Harry Potter is that today, fans, educated, sane, stable, working adults, heard that James Severus Potter was going to Hogwarts, and we wished him well.
Because there is something special about this story.
There is something special about literally grown up with a character, to experience a new stage of life with a different year at Hogwarts. I remember how much it meant to me that the last book came out the summer after graduating high school. And I felt the pain and joy of one chapter in my life ending while reading a book that had been with me from the time I was 8 years old. The final movie came out the summer after graduating from college, and with all the bitter sweetness, I bid farewell to another part of my life.
It has stayed with us because so many people can see places of heartbreak, love, loss, joy and sadness for Harry, and identify with it in their own lives. Of course you’ll get the condescending Willy Wonka types who will say: “Oh you see yourself in Harry Potter? Tell me more about the time Voldemort hit you with an unforgivable curse but you survived.”
But that’s not really this point is it?
We needed a book like this. Because so many times we have to choose between sickening optimism or crippling cynicism. Stories that sugar coat everything or the ones that make you feel like no one is good, everything sucks, and we all just live and die and that’s the end of it.
But not here. Anyone who has read the book knows that the cost of good is extremely high, that hate is strong, that the fight against evil is not won without casualties, that innocence can be a fragile thing, that families can be broken and destroyed, that the world can chip away at your humanity until there is nothing left, children can be left orphans, and that sometimes, loving someone, can cost you everything.
But anyone who has read the book also knows that even the smallest spark of good in someone can be fanned into something heroic, that hope is not a foolish a thing, that who we decide to be is so much more important than who we are expected to be, that friendship can, and will, save your life, that love, even in the smallest places, can make a coward brave and redeem a heart, and, these beautiful words from Albus Dumbledore:
“His knowledge remained woefully incomplete, Harry! That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.” Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, pg 710
And maybe this is one of the most valuable lessons that Rowling taught us by giving us this world.
That we will never be too old for children’s tales…
That we will never be to mature, or too smart for the imaginary.
That we will never need to be ashamed of returning to those pages and finding comfort in them once again.
That we will never be too good for those simple themes of love and friendship, and, in fact, as we grow up, we may need to return to those over and over again to remind us.
So, happy sorting James; try making friends with a Slytherin, stay away from the Whomping Willow, watch out for the stairs, they tend to move and remember, your father casts a big shadow, don’t bother trying to get out of it…. Sorry!