Hedwig’s Theme, Opening Notes
On July 31st, 1991, Harry Potter turned 11. It was on that day, 27 years ago today, when Hagrid presented Harry with his Hogwarts’ letter. The same day Harry received his letter, his life – and the lives of nearly an entire generation of children – was forever changed.
I was introduced to the Harry Potter franchise when my daughter was in first grade. It was Halloween, and there was a parade at her elementary school. Children and teachers alike wore costumes – pirates, Power Puff Girls, Ninja Turtles, and more. Most memorable, however, was the school principal’s costume, which was a long black hooded robe, round glasses, a wand and a hand-drawn lightning-bolt scar on her forehead. I confess, I had to ask her who she was supposed to be. She looked at me, dumbfounded, and said, “Well…Harry Potter, of course!”
But of course.
“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” ―Albus Dumbledore
Immediately after that, I introduced my daughter to the books, and then to the movies. And that was when we became a Harry Potter family. We watched in awe and wonder as Harry, Ron, Hermione – and all the rest – grew from wide-eyed wizards studying potions and wand-work, to young adults bravely fighting demons so fierce, so cruel, even the elders among them doubted their chance for success.
“The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.” ―Sirius Black
As adults, we often teach our children that the world is not black and white, that our foes are sketched in as many shades of gray as our friends. Yet, I wonder whether we teach that lesson in word only, rather than by example. And I wonder, too, whether our children are wiser than we might expect and see those shades of gray all on their own.
“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” ―Sirius Black
As we read the books and watched the movies, Harry, his friends, and even Draco, grew into young adults with a healthy skepticism of those around them. They had a keen awareness of a complacent media unwilling to address the first hints of danger. They also harbored a healthy rebelliousness against language and ideas that were divisive, bitter, and cruel, even when that language and those ideas came from authority figures.
We watched young Harry become a man as he learned that while those who chose to be Death Eaters were one form of evil, so too were those who willingly ignored the slow and steady rise of evil in favor of personal gain. We even watched as Draco came into his own as he learned, too late, that ‘otherness’, which was so passionately loathed by the elders he idolized, was not, in fact a “crime” at all, nor was it an offense worthy of death.
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” ―Albus Dumbledore
I wish our kids the same fortitude displayed by Harry and the gang as they face the challenges this world presents. I wish them stamina, foresight, and trust in themselves – no matter what others say – to know they have the ability to change the world. To turn on the lights when times are dark. To see the value in friends, family, and strangers – both familiar and unique. And I wish them the wisdom to know that, while they each have those abilities within themselves, we are all so much stronger together.
“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” ―Albus Dumbledore
Happy Birthday, Harry… or perhaps I should say “Happee Birthdae, Harry”, as Hagrid did that magical day so long ago. And thank you.
More than a decade ago, an entire generation was introduced to the magical, wondrous world of Harry Potter.
It was a world full of friendships, hard lessons and evil.
Harry’s innocence, though it fought valiantly to hang on, was lost very early. The tragic attack on his world, his family and others, left him scarred – physically and emotionally.
A decade ago, another scar, a real scar in the real world, was left on American soil and in the hearts of many around the world. 9/11 changed the perception of adults. It changed our sense of security. The collective sense of insecurity became pervasive, and could not be hidden from our children.
Years ago – a generation ago – adults worked to absorb and hide concern and fear so children wouldn’t have to know about danger in the world. Children could be children – innocent, naïve, oblivious. Happy and free from worry, free from the burdens of adulthood, of evil.
But, 9/11 brought that evil into focus. There was no hiding it. Our children felt every breath of it. And while they could not ignore it, many of them were too young to process it, to understand it.
With Harry Potter books and movies running along the same time as al Qaeda gained steam, the children were able to give fear a home. They saw Voldemort as evil while we saw bin Laden as evil. They watched this fictitious evil grow stronger, be fought, grow stronger yet again. And they watched Harry, and all the other ‘good’ people, as they struggled to counter the terrorist acts of Voldemort and the Death Eaters. It was much the same as the West struggled to beat back, contain and defeat bin Laden and al Qaeda. While this real-life process will take a lot more than a wave of a wand or a spoken Latin phrase, the connection is clear.
Now, a decade later, Bin laden is dead, killed on May 2nd. Voldemort has been obliterated (his last breath ALSO on May 2nd). And while the destruction, pain and devastation remain, so does hope. Our children have grown. They’re no longer wide-eyed and innocent. They are now street smart and educated. They’re young adults coming into their own, recognizing good and evil. Understanding where each rests in society, and feeling confident that they can overcome it. They can fight back. They witnessed the most horrific act of terrorism in US history. They witnessed the destruction of the fictitious world they love. And they witnessed, “19 Years Later” as it says in the book, how even through horror, even through death and destruction, life goes on.
There is no line between winning and losing. That area is blurred and wide. Winning is measured by love, friendship and integrity, while loss occurs when there is no hope.
Harry Potter will forever be a force in the minds of an entire generation. It thrilled. It frightened. It stirred. I will miss hearing about the newest book coming out and the newest film being released. I will miss the excitement in my daughter’s young eyes as she discussed the symbolism she saw in the stories. I will miss the years of toy wands, wizard-cape costumes and witch’s brooms. A lifetime – my child’s lifetime – was shared with Harry Potter. I watched her grow and mature along with the characters. The actors.
I am sad to see it end, but I am happy we had it at the time we did. Besides giving children a fantasy to explore, it gave them books to read and ideas to debate and exchange. In the dark shadow of 9/11, Harry Potter offered hope, and for that, I am forever grateful.
Thank you Harry, Hermione, Ron and all the others. Most especially, thank you J.K. Rowling.