It may seem like I have been slacking with my reading goal but I haven’t I promise. I started re-reading the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. I can’t tell you how many times I have read this series or how much I adore it. I actually wrote a collage essay about it. (shown below) I love all the underlying themes, the characters, the plots, the creatures, the imagery, the message. I love that when I read it as a teenager I felt one way and now, reading as a mother I feel a completely different way. I love that each time I read it, I feel happy, sad, triumphant, and thoughtful. I love that I find new things each time and I love that no matter how many times I read it, it still leaves me wanting more.
There isn’t much to say about the series, most people have read it, watched the movies (please read the books too the movies do nothing for them), or have at least heard the general plot. If you are so inclined – read my essay about how I feel it should be a classic. If you haven’t read the series yet, I implore you do to so. It may not be for everyone, but I feel like this series is for most. If you enjoy fiction, fantasy, adventure, love, magic, interesting creatures, humor, good vs evil, family, friendship, mystery, and more, than I think you will love this series. My husband sometimes asks if I will continue reading this series year after year and I respond to him, Always.
Creating a classic
“This above all: to thine own self be true” (Shakespeare 22)
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” (Dickens 1)
“Not all those who wander are lost.” (Tolkien 170)
Famous words by some of the greatest masters in literature. Shakespeare, Dickens, and Tolkien, all masters in their craft. One could ask, why? Why after hundreds of years, do scholars seek out their pages, searching for wisdom? Why do educators continue to use them as teaching tools? And, is it possible for others to be added to this elite list? Is it possible that a new author can join the club and become as sought out as those before them. That is what I would I like to answer today. One author, I believe, has done just that. I also believe that this author’s works will live for hundreds of years, be searched for by scholars and used for teaching, if it hasn’t already. I am talking about J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter Series.
People can laugh that a children’s series has no place among great works like Macbeth or Lord of the Rings. What possible comparison could be made of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and a Tale of Two Cities? Some might even find it insulting to compare such books to the tomes of the past. However, I hope to prove that J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter Series deserve a place among them.
When people think of great works in literature, they think of authors such as the ones listed above, or others Jane Austin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Homer, Herman Melville and Mark Twain. Really the list goes on. Why do these stories stay with us long after the last page is turned? Why do we discuss them in dark coffee shops over herbal tea and expensive espresso? Why, when we reference something happening in our life do we compare it to them? I believe it is because the tales they tell are universal and fluid. No matter the age or time period people will always experience love, anguish, joy and discord. We will always feel some sort devotion whether to family or country or something else entirely. That is one of the main reasons these stories live on. As many times as you read something, you will always find something new. You are never the same when you read something a second, third or even the hundredth time. Each day brings new challenges, new experiences, new thoughts, dreams, etc. Some of the people, who started reading Harry Potter when they were children, are graduating college or starting families. Worlds away from where they were when they were first reading them. Characters that mean something to a person might change or evolve when you pick it up again years a later. Someone who might have wanted to be Harry’s friend may now side with Molly or Dumbledore.
Each of the Harry Potter books has its own theme, its own life so to speak. That has all the elements of the classics from the past. In The Philosopher’s Stone, you see a boy that has been abused his whole life to find out that he is in fact a wizard. A giant man comes and tells him of his true identity, of another world that he is a part of. Harry walks through the door of a run-down shack in the middle of the ocean, trusting this stranger more than he trusts the people he has lived with for 10 years. He walks through that door and into his future adventures much the same way the Bilbo Baggins walked through his hobbit hole door and followed Gandalf on their grand adventure. In the Chamber of Secrets, Harry and his friends discover a part of the castle that had been searched for by many. In this story, we see Harry risk his life for his best friend’s sister. We see Harry who, despite being abused and mistreated in his early life, has amazing compassion, empathy and love. He would throw his life down for a little girl and never think twice about it. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is ever so briefly offered a better life than the one he has experienced so far. He could live with his father’s best friend, only to have that taken away from him. Yet again though, we see Harry’s resilience and compassion. As the books go on we see darker themes emerge. Death of school mates, death of loved ones, and the rise of an evil villain who seems to only care about the destruction of Harry. Harry, thinking that he will be taught or shown some particular way of destroying this monster for good, is told that they only thing he possesses that Voldemort doesn’t, is love. It takes Harry until the final book to realize that love is a lot more powerful than hate. Love is something you die for, something you live for, something you sacrifice for. Love is everything while hate is nothing. Harry goes and meets his death for his friends, his loved ones, and all the people who died before him. It is in that moment that as a reader, we realize that love and the human condition are really driving themes of this series. Love showed Harry the way in the mirror of erised, love was prevalent in the chamber of secrets when Harry sacrificed himself for Ginny. Love was finding a new link to his parents in Prisoner of Azkaban. Love was risking his life to bring a classmate home after Voldemort killed him in Goblet of Fire. Love forced Harry to again risk his life to save a loved one in Order of the Phoenix. Love was Harry avenging the death of mentor in Half-Blood Prince and love was what almost destroyed him in Deathly Hallows.
If you look even deeper into the series you will see that it isn’t all about Harry and his compassion and his ability to love either. J.K. Rowling shows us the complexity of humanity in multiple characters. How love could make Hermione erase her parent’s memories so they would be safe. Hermione also showed us amazing strength of character, her fierceness, her heart, and her strength in the face of all that she faces in this series. Love destroyed Snape, turning him into the villain we loved to hate, until we knew the depth of his suffering. Snape’s character is one of the more complex in the entire series. How unrequited love can literally destroy a person, turning them into a shadow of who they were. Love, compassion and a decent sense of humor drives the Weasley family in so many ways. Each character could really get their own paper because each one has a story to tell.
In an article from the Wall Street Journal Oona Eisenstaedt’s has this to say about why Harry Potter was a classic, “Insight into the human condition” ( De Visa, Daniel), and that is exactly why I think Harry Potter deserves its place among the great works of literature. It shares that common theme that Romeo and Juliet had, that Great Expectations and Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn were famous for. Insight into the human condition. A theme that never grows old.
If the content of the books wasn’t enough, I believe the fans of Harry Potter have turned it into a classic. A story that, because of their devotion will be passed down for generations and generations. Even if the books themselves don’t get the prestige of “classic”. There have been stories about Harry Potter saving people’s lives, people finding strength they didn’t know they had because of Harry or another character in the series. The series deals with some heavy stuff; bigotry, bullying, love, hatred, revenge, death, and acceptance; each of these are things children and teens experience. They identify with Harry and the rest of the characters, find comfort and strength and the will to keep going. If one needs evidence of how deeply the Harry Potter series has touched its fans, I ask you to read an article written in the Telegraph shortly after the awful tragedy that happened in an Orlando nightclub. One of the kids that was murdered worked at Harry Potter World. A eulogy was held and fans turned out to pay their respects. They raised their wands like the wizards did after Dumbledore died, until the dark mark was no longer visible. A quote from Dumbledore was repeated there and in twitter and Instagram feeds that covered it: “”Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” (Alice Vincent) Another testament to the fans devotion came upon the news of Alan Rickman’s death, the man who played the iconic Professor Snape; fans all over the world raised their “wands” to pay tribute. (Megan McCluskey)
Whether it is the stories themselves, or the way the people who read them relate to them, there is really no denying that Harry Potter has truly become a classic of its age. The reoccurring themes of all manner of human emotions is evident in all the classics from the past. From love destroying Romeo and Juliet, to compassion saving an old man in A Christmas Carol or simply finding friendships in the oddest of place like in Lord of the Rings. The Harry Potter Series possesses all those qualities and more importantly, insight into the human condition. That is why I believe it deserves to sit with great works from the past.