To kick off my 2017 Reading Challenge, I decided to begin with the Harry Potter series. It's only been a few years since I've read all seven books cover to cover, but it felt like a necessity to start 2017 off with my favorite wizard. We could all use a little extra magic and goodness in our lives right now. (Warning! There are mild spoilers in this post - proceed with caution if you've managed to get through the last decade without knowing how the series ends.)
Yet, I had a certain trepidation as I tossed myself back into the wizarding world. I wondered if, perhaps, the ever expanding Harry Potter-verse was beginning to shove me out, or if it was possible I was starting to outgrow it. At first, in the aftermath of the end of the series, I was thirsty for more. I wanted answers to all of my burning questions, and when JK Rowling doled out little tidbits, I was thrilled. I made it into the last cut of the beta testing for Pottermore (please love me because I'm a dork and not in spite of it), and was once again blown away by JK Rowling's imagination.
But I felt a hesitancy as I picked up Sorcerer's Stone. Would this be the time, at twenty-four years old, as I start to lose my grip on this fantasy world that raised me, that I would no longer find the magic in those pages? I've had to say goodbye to Harry Potter many times. First, during the summer of my freshman year of high school, when my mom and I devoured the final book in a flurry of laughs and tears. Then again, as my friends and I raised our makeshift straw wands into the air, whispering "mischief managed" as the final credits rolled on the eighth movie.
Over the last few years, I've felt a mixture of love and frustration with the heaping amounts of information JK Rowling has injected into my beloved series. I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child a few months ago, and was filled with those same warring emotions. On one hand, it was great to see a little bit of Harry's story continue. On the other, that book was weird as hell and I can't wrap my head around it being cannon. Nor, if I'm being honest, do I want to. As my interests and priorities have changed over the years, it's been hard to keep up with the fictitious world that seems to be expanding as quickly as the rate of the universe itself. It's been even harder to find my footing in this world as the next generation of potterheads lay claim to this new information as rabidly as I did the original series.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them surprised me - I didn't expect myself to love it, but I really did. The fact that it wasn't Harry's story anymore, but a new tale full of new characters, let me enjoy the movie for what it was. Yet, I audibly groaned when it was announced that they are planning to make this new series into five films. How much story can fit into this ballooning universe before it pops?
All of these things weighed on me as I starred down the first page, taking care not to crease the spine of my book.
But I still laughed at all of Ron's jokes. I still felt deeply connected to Hermione's bookish tendencies. Still felt my heart race as Hermione and Harry set off with the time-turner in Prisoner of Azkaban. I still felt my chest cramp up as Harry clung to Cedric's dead body. I still fell to pieces as Harry tore through Dumbledore's office after watching the death of yet another one of his parental figures. I still bawled my eyes out when Harry walked willing to his death in order to rid the world of Voldemort.
I still loved it all.
Yes, I felt my fears crop up from time to time. It's not easy to drown out the excess noise, to forget everything that I've learned since I closed the book on the epilogue ten years ago. But Harry Potter's story still resonates with my heart, and I needed to know that.
I love these characters like they are my own flesh and blood. Harry, Ron and Hermione. Serius, Lupin, McGonagall, Dumbledore. Snape (I stand by my opinion that Snape is a horrible human being, but an extraordinary character). Dumbledore and Harry's relationship remains, to me, the best part of the story. Watching Harry transform from a forlorn child to the person who has to sacrifice his life for the greater good is a testament to JK Rowling's writing. It really does boil down to a story of love, friendship, and families that reach beyond blood. It delves into prejudice and offers thousands of pages of hope that we can overcome even the most insurmountable hurdles.
Beyond the incredible story, I owe my love for reading to this series. It taught me, as a nine year old, not to be afraid of big books. It taught me that stories about witches and wizards aren't the only ones that contain magic in their pages. It gave me the platform to discover new worlds, new cultures, and new ideas all from the comforts of my bed. It showed me that - with a few exceptions - my heart belongs to the fantasy world. Harry Potter is the reason that my bookshelf is stuffed to the brim and why I can never pass up on the chance to wander aimlessly through a bookstore.
It turns out that Harry Potter also taught me that dreaming and writing are one in the same. It taught me to hold onto my imagination with every fiber of my being. I had no idea when I started on this journey with Harry that I would one day dare to breathe life into my own characters, but I'm not surprised. That's the power of good story-telling. That's the hope and courage that JK Rowling laid bare on those pages.
Thank you, Harry, for growing up beside me. Thank you for your friendship, your kindness, your courage and strength, your knack for getting into trouble. Thank you for the laughs and the tears and the wee hours of the night that I still find my nose buried in your story. Thank you for your sass and your ability to forgive. Thank you, most of all, for being as relevant to a twenty-four year old as you were to a nine year old. I saw your story end ten years ago, but the ones we love never truly leave us.
Whenever I'm asked about my favorite book, I never have to look far.
After all this time?