Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone turned 20 recently. It’s hard to imagine that I was 10 when the first book came out! I didn’t read any of the books until I was in college, almost a decade later. My parents thought they were evil, filled with demonic energy, and a sure-fire path to the corruption of my soul.
They were…not wrong from their perspective, I suppose.
The books changed my life. I see it as a change for the better; they probably see it as exactly what they would have expected.
There were so many lessons I learned from Harry’s adventures. In honor of the birthday of the series, I wanted to share some of them with you this week in celebration of this incredible series.
Harry Potter taught me that standing up to injustice is something that anyone can do, even an ordinary school child who isn’t that talented and doesn’t quite fit in. From Harry to Ron to Neville, there was a consistent theme of “ordinary” people (as ordinary as wizards get among other wizards) doing extraordinarily brave things that have both small and large effects on the lives of others. These books are a consistent reminder that I matter—that my actions (or inactions) matter.
Harry Potter taught me that it’s possible to find a loving family through the relationships built with friends. He didn’t have a loving family. He technically lived with his uncle and aunt, an orphan grieving the parents he never knew. Even though my parents weren’t dead, I too had to go through a period of mourning the archetypal, good parents that I didn’t have.
Yet, the books provided more than a glimpse into the pain that can accompany something you never knew. In contrast to his biological guardians who try to control Harry because they can’t manage their own anxiety about his gifts, Harry and his friends and mentors display friendships that are close but not fused—that are supportive but not smothering. He models building a chosen family based on love rather than biology.
Harry Potter taught me to give people a chance. Whether it was Dumbledore’s insistence on trying to save Draco from going down the path of his father or the development of Neville from a bumbling annoyance into one of the most important people in the defeat of Voldemort, these books illustrate how people are not defined by their family history, awkward childhoods, or odd beliefs (Hi Luna!).
They are defined “by their choices” as Dumbledore so eloquently puts it. We each have the influence of our genetics, environment, and desires…but we do not have fates mapped out for us over which we have no control. Rather, our fates emerge out of our choices, and there is always the opportunity to choose differently, e.g. Regulus Black.
Harry Potter taught me that sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t necessarily mean obeying the rules. This is one of the most important lessons throughout the books, and can be seen in different ways.
On the one hand, there are times when genuinely good people are in power, and the rules are there for a seemingly good reason. But Harry still understands that sometimes he needs to break the rules in order to do what is truly right. In this way, Harry modeled advanced moral reasoning and critical thinking, something I wasn’t really exposed to in any other way within the cult.
But then there are times when people are abusing their power even though they might be occupying a position that has previously been “good” (i.e. Dolores Umbridge at Hogwarts or Voldemort after he corrupts the Ministry of Magic), and Harry, along with many others, understands that it is imperative to resist that power, demonstrating in a different way that blind obedience isn’t the highest good. The Order of the Phoenix, in particular, was responsible for planting the seeds of rebellion that eventually led me out of the cult, sprouting into my current commitment to justice and activism today.
On the other hand, Harry Potter also taught me that you have to be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions. Not every time he went against the rules or advice of his elders did it turn out well. He has to live with the knowledge that he led his godfather to his death because he failed to heed warnings that Voldemort might try to manipulate him.
He also doesn’t always use his power for good. He nearly murders Draco by shouting out an unknown curse in anger, and he attempts the cruciatus curse on Bellatrix out of rageful grief.
Part of his coming of age is working through the consequences of his choices and learning that he is neither invincible nor infallible. He has to learn that he needs others to temper his impulsivity and help him learn to compensate for where he is vulnerable. He also has to guard against becoming like those he fights against. What good is it to defeat Voldemort if he becomes as bad as Voldemort?
I’ll go ahead and wrap up now because this post is already getting long. These are just a handful of the lessons I learned from this remarkable collection of books. They guide me in some way every day, whether in my relationships, my activism, or my professional life.
I’m curious now, in what ways has the Harry Potter series influenced you?