I fell in love with Harry Potter when I was in London doing research at the British Library. The library had just moved over by St. Pancras and King’s Cross stations.The area was depressed, with boarded up store fronts and a greasy youth hostel. The exchange rate with the dollar was terrible and all I could afford was a clean, but threadbare, tiny room at a hotel down an alley behind the Burger King across from King’s Cross. Every night there were fights in the alley and loud drunks mouthing off that scared this pregnant Midwestern girl. So I made sure I was “in” for the night before dark (I couldn’t afford entertainment anyway and was tired like a pregnant woman) and I read. It was the age just before everyone had wireless, so websurfing was out. I was surprised that the depressed little area had an internet cafe where I could check my email for an exhorbitant fee.
Because the exchange rate was so bad, I tried not to buy anything I didn’t need to eat, but I needed reading material, so, after researching one day, I went into the Library bookstore. The bestsellers were all hardcover and I couldn’t bring myself to read trashy romance, even British trashy romance. I looked at the young adult section and found a book that looked interesting, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. They had hardcover and a paperback copy, but paperback was cheaper, so I picked that up and went home. I read that book through until my eyes wouldn’t stay open. All of the next day I waited anxiously for the Library’s reading room to close so I could go back to the grim hotel room and find out what happened to Harry. I finished it that night and started it all over again. The next day I bought the second book and repeated the process. Those books went all over Europe with me in a suitcase where real estate was at a premium. I’ve never read and re-read any book as many times as those.
I followed Harry with the release of the subsequent books, read and re-read them, listened to them on audio and fell in love with the voice of Jim Dale. When the movies came out, I saw them all and took my kids to see them. Dvds, VHS at first, were purchased the day they were released. I know that literary critics have had their issues with the books, but to me these stories encapsulated all of life’s most important lessons and spoke a great deal about faith and humanity.
When I read that first book, I was pregnant with my oldest biological son. My older children were eight and six, just a little young for Harry, I thought. But now my youngest daughter is four and she’s watched and rewatched all of the movies and listened to nearly all of the books on audio. And Harry Potter has become part of her idiom. The full realization of this came the other day when she told me she’d had a dream about Harry, which isn’t too unusual after they’ve watched the movie. She brought me a drawing, four-year-old style, which she proceeded to explain was Harry in his crib, Lord Valdemort trying to kill him, Hedwig hovering over the crib, and Harry’s mom behind the crib. I asked if they’d watched the movie last night during their big brother/little sister sleepover and she said no. I was amazed because of the detail of the scene and her explanation of it. When I said, “wow, that’s a lot of detail from memory,” she said, “Mom, Harry is always with us.”
Harry is always with us. Now that may bother some of my more conservative Christian friends, but not me. C.S. Lewis wrote his Narnia Chronicles to introduce children to Christian concepts without having to hit them with all of the heavy Biblical stuff. To me, Harry Potter, whether based on Jesus or not,introduces the kinds of values I want my children to have–honesty, integrity, and compassion.
I could do much worse as a mother than to have my children proceed through childhood and the tough years of adolescence with the idea that Harry is always with them. I just hope he joins me for cocoa one morning, as he joined our four-year-old yesterday.