(Spoiler Alert for those that have not read or seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) We finally went to see the last Harry Potter movie last night. I had been putting it off because it is the last of the movies and a painful reminder that I have finished reading all seven books. (While I have read most of the books at least twice, I have read book three, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, at least five times). The movie was absolutely brilliant and very close to the book. Watching the movie made me reflect on an era I shall refer to as the Harry Potter times.
As an important part of my reflections, I am compelled to thank J.K. Rowling for getting an entire generation reading and engaged thinking about issues around social justice. My introduction to her wonderful books was as reluctant as I imagine it was for some young readers. We had just started a new century and a new millennium and my husband and I just bought our first house together. I was also in the process of helping to start a new school, The Atlanta Girls’ School (AGS). Lots of new starts and lots of hope in the air. My husband and three specific students of mine at AGS hounded — and I do mean hounded — me to start reading the Harry Potter Series! I protested for well over six months. “I’m not into fantasy,” I said. “It is just not my type of book,” I implored. Oy! Finally, I acquiesced just to placate my husband and the students, all of whom I love.
I was completely hooked by the time I finished the first book. Rowling had cast a spell upon me and catapulted me into a world where issues of social justice, racism, misogyny, discrimination, classicism, ageism, and homophobia would dictate a tumultuous and finally triumphant 11 year journey, a journey that in many ways reflected both the joys and heartbreaks of my life over the course of the past decade.
In book two, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, we see the issues of racism and classism addressed through the treatment of house elves. Our Hermione works to set up a quasi civil rights movement to free the house elves. To the reader’s great relief we see Dobby become a free elf. For those detractors of Rowling and her books, I say shame on you. Don’t we want children’s literature to be didactic in nature? Do we not want our children to learn right from wrong, about discrimination and oppression?
I remember reading book five, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, during some of the darkest days of the George W. Bush years. When no one was allowed to questions or criticize W. Questioning him resulted in being labeled “unpatriotic.” This was also the time when W. and Cheney started their vilification of the LGBT community, so as to take our focus off of the war in Iraq, or the start of the never-ending recession. It was a time when taxes were cut and W. sent checks to the American people and told us to spend our way out of the recession–so much for that brilliant idea. Reading about the Ministry of Magic and seeing our Dolores Umbridge as the Head of Hogwarts was such a mirror of what was happening in the political landscape in the United States. When Sirius Black dies at the end of book five, I mourned for Harry, but was also mourning for a country that was scaffolding the architecture of a nefarious government that was in practice a theocracy–a government that made Ronald Reagan look like a Marxist. Incidentally, I had to re-read book three after I finished book five.
Rowling’s moral compass inspires great courage, integrity, and a heart that recognizes the greater good for the greater cause in books six and seven. With the death of the patriarchal/matriarchal Dumbledore, we witness phenomenal courage and sacrifice in none other than Severus Snape. In the Harry Potter series, we see people banding together to help one another. While we see the dark side of humanity in Voldemort and his minions, we also see the humanity at its best in Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, Snape and the rest of the cast of characters who put aside their respective egos and work for the greater good.
Who will the next writer be that inspires millions of us to read and to be engaged in the world we live in; to inspire us to leave the world a better place than how we found it?