July 31st is the feast day of St Ignatius of Loyola, the birthday of my late friend Liam and the birthday of Harry Potter, so it seemed fitting that we would keep July’s installment of The Serpentine Perspective for today. As usual, you can read Rory’s view on the same question at According to Rory.
This month’s topic has a number of ways in which it can be seen. We’re both in our 30s, so you might think we are beyond the age of enjoying children’s literature, but also, in the past few months, J.K. Rowlings herself has come to be seen by many fans as pretty much Voldemort because of her political opinions. In a funny twist of events, the very people who were once burning her books for being about wizards with bad Latin spells, are now flocking to her defense. In my post, I will mostly focus on the first part of the question, but the second one is also relevant regardless of my opinion of her opinions. She created a world that has grown beyond her own imagination into something of which fans took ownership, and not just because of how much ink has been wasted on fanfiction over the years.
While, legally, she owns the copyright to everything and she enforces it ruthlessly, generations of children came of age alongside our heroes, and our anti-heroes in the case of Rory and myself and fellow Slytherins. We dreamed of our place in this universe, finding ourselves in the process. We may not have wands that cast spells or brooms that fly on a Quidditch field, but we have our imaginations and our hearts and our desire for adventures. We also had the very problems they had: jealousies in the family, jealousy of more popular friends, insecurities, being bullied, first crushes, first loves, hardships of various kinds, homework. I even had a professor who hated me as much as Snape seems to hate Harry Potter, although she never managed to be objective in spite of that.
Some of us were grown up already when Pottermore came along and gave us the much-wanted information about ourselves: which house we belonged to. I guess it may seem puerile and inconsequential, but it came as a vindication of what we felt growing up, and confirmed the belonging to something that united us with other people. We had made friends pouring on the pages of those books…in fact, I even shared them with my mother and to this day she doesn’t know I have read the 7th book in English before she could read the translation and I fear she’d cut me out of her will if she knew. Probably not the best idea to put it out on the Internet, but it shows you just what an important role it played in our home.
What J.K. Rowlings created was a universe, and we carved our space in it: in my opinion, she disappears behind all that even when, at times, her biases clearly appeared in the writing (which, admittedly, was not really the best). The Harry Potter world went beyond the novels, and not just because of how much it has been monetised in recent years. So, for me, it doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree with something that the author believes in her private capacity. A bit like a deistic view of a cosmic intelligence creating a world with rules to govern it that then goes on to be its own thing independent of it, what she created has stopped being hers the moment the first sold copy was open by a reader, and the words “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much” entered their mind.
As for why we still love it as grown-ups, I guess part of it might be nostalgia, or the sort of feeling of something that has become a part of you that you cherish because of that rather than the thing itself, but my mother read all the books as an adult so I don’t think there is much of that in why I still love them either. I probably enjoy things targeted at younger audiences as escapism anyway, but this is also more than just that. There are few things over the years that brought me together with other people as sharing the love for this series, and most of them revolve around a fantasy universe of some kind. I enjoy a lot of things without ending up bonding with people over them, partly because I don’t have people to bond with, and partly because I don’t feel the need to bond with people over literally everything (that’s what long-suffering husbands are for). Growing up, the same books that appeared to me to give one message have become different every time I read them again, at a later age, with different experiences and even state of mind at the time of reading. That’s something I really value about the power of literature.
I don’t have children yet, and may not have any ever, but if God was to entrust one or more in my care I will love the chance to bring them into this world and yes, bond with them over it. I may even accept them being sorted into Gryffindor. Reading widely has expanded the capacity of my imagination, and playing with the worlds that I explored on the page made use of it in a fun way. Now I mostly play Hogwarts Mystery and the boardgames held at the Ludoquist, but children would bring back the good old fashioned playacting as well, and the world of Harry Potter would grow bigger because of the joy of those little minds. Still, even without children, I enjoy holding onto this little world of the imagination and giving myself permission to be a child again.