The Reading Life

Why I’m rereading Harry Potter, again

The Harry Potter's world reminds me of the power of choice - that I can choose joy, beauty, and love even when the world feels very dark.I’ve mentioned before that I first discovered the Harry Potter series when I was looking for a children’s book to read in Greek. This is because reading children’s books is one way I maintain my language skills (or try to, anyway).

The book engaged me so much that I ended up consuming it in one giant gulp, in English, before returning to work my way slowly through the Greek version, dictionary in hand. But it wasn’t until reading the third book, the Prisoner of Azkaban, that I well and truly fell in love with the series. That was when I began to see it as an allegory about growing up and becoming a grown-up, which has to do with taking responsibility for your life and choices, especially when they’re imperfect and undesirable.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
The first Harry Potter book I bought

Do we ever reconcile ourselves with this unpleasant condition of living – that it doesn’t always (or even often) work out the way we wish it would? That ideal outcomes rarely offer themselves up as options, and we’re left to sift through the least unpleasant choices? I’m sure I haven’t.

What I don’t want is for this reality of inevitable imperfection, disappointment, let down, etc. to drain the joy out of the beautiful moments that make life worth living. They may be small moments in and of themselves – a hearty laugh with a dear friend, a perfectly crafted iced cappuccino, the smell of autumn leaves, birdsong, the sound of waves. But these moments – they’re bigger than the sum of their parts, when I remember to see them that way. Harry’s world shows me how to do this. He experiences profound loss and suffering but are also transcendent moments of beauty and delight and connection.

Recently on this blog, my friend Alysa (click on her name to visit her wonderful blog!) marveled at how much Harry Potter rereading I’m doing this year. You know, it’s funny, but I hadn’t really intended it. It’s true, though. I’ve read and listened to several of the books (and I’m currently listening to Goblet of Fire, along with my friend Jessica who is reading it for the first time).

Why now? I couldn’t say for certain. But this exchange between Dumbledore and Harry in the Half-Blood Prince neatly summarizes what pulls me back to this series:

“‘It is essential you understand this!’ said Dumbledore […]. ‘By attempting to kill you, Voldemort himself singled out the remarkable person who sits here in front of me, and gave him the tools for the job! It is Voldemort’s fault that you were able to see into his thoughts, his ambitions, that you even understand the snakelike language in which he gives order, and yet, Harry, despite your privileged insight into Voldemort’s world […], you have never been seduced by the Dark Arts […].’

‘Of course I haven’t!’ said Harry indignantly. ‘He killed my mum and dad!’

‘You are protected, in short, by your ability to love!’ said Dumbledore loudly. ‘[…] In spite of all the temptation you have endured, all the suffering, you remain pure of heart […].”’

What this exchange brings into my foreground is that I can choose who I want to be in this life. In the face of so many things I can’t control in and about the world, I can still choose how I respond to the world. I can choose empathy, and I can choose beauty. I can choose remorse, forgiveness, and love. It’s hard work sometimes – quite hard indeed – but still, I can choose.

I know the Harry Potter series isn’t the only one to illuminate this. What are your favorite books for illustrating the power of choice in the face of suffering? I’ve recently begun a “want to read” list for the future, and I’m ready to begin populating it!

2 thoughts on “Why I’m rereading Harry Potter, again

  1. I’ve been wanting to read a post like this by you for a while, and this did not disappoint (and not just because of your kind mention of me and link to my blog. 🙂 ).

    This sentence: “What I don’t want is for this reality of inevitable imperfection, disappointment, let down, etc. to drain the joy out of the beautiful moments that make life worth living.” and the paragraph that follows it are so beautiful and made me better understand what you see in a series that I merely find delightful.

    I love it when I hear or read about someone finding that perfect imaginary world that gives them bliss. I can feel some of that hope and kindness in Harry Potter – and interestingly enough, I’ve often felt it’s close to Dickens, in a way, and I know you love reading him, too. But neither one of those authors are the ones who make me the most hopeful, I guess.

    I think the book that makes me feel like life is worth living and that you can triumph over hardship and darkness is “A Little Princess”, just this kind, powerful fight against evil and cruelty and even lack of imagination (as you well know, I know).

    Other books that I can think of that show triumph over suffering come to mind, but there are so many, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. I think one that just fills me with joy, and is maybe MY world to escape to, now that I think of it, is “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.” But of course, the suffering there is from not feeling special or not feeling like there’s enough wonder in the world, I suppose. So not like a huge tragedy, like many of the things Harry and his friends and foes face.

    Hmm…thanks for giving me something to think about (yet again!). And thanks especially for sharing your thoughts on Harry Potter.

    1. Thank you, Alysa! As always, you’ve given ME so much to think about! You know A Little Princess is one of my formative reads, and I loved it just as deeply when I first reread it as an adult, for the very reasons you state. From the Mixed-Up Files is another favorite. It’s not a large-scale tragedy, what Claudia experiences, but I see it as just as powerful in that if we walk around feeling the way Claudia did, the accumulation of so much individual suffering becomes a bigger and more potent beast, you know what I mean? I love how you put it: “feeling like there’s not enough wonder in the world.” Hope and kindness – what could be more crucial?

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