When I was younger, I considered myself an active reader. I learned to read at a young age, and my grandmother was a teacher. She always gave my sister and me signed Tomie dePaola books like Strega Nona and The Quilt Story. When I reached the third grade, the Wayside School series by Louis Sachar captivated me with the silly short stories of all the crazy things that happened in the 30-level-high elementary school. Each book that I read had a hint of challenging vocabulary, magic, and curiosity.
But it was when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published that reading changed for me. Reading became truly magical.
I was 8 years old when the first Harry Potter book was published in the United States. It was a story that I simply couldn’t put down. I was able to read about a kid who was just a little bit older than me who was thrown into this magical world that happened to coexist with our modern world. It existed! My neighbors could really be wizards and witches! It gave me that sense of wonder of what truly was out there. What secrets of our world did I not yet know?
The Harry Potter series opened my eyes to new cultures and places. Although most of the stories take place in Hogwarts and Diagon Alley, J.K. Rowling created this magical world within a world of our own: Earth.
Rowling didn’t take us to far-off lands, mystic moons, or into another galaxy. She brought us to other countries, exposed us to cultures, brought to life ancient myths, and pushed us to question reality. We were exposed to politics, law-making within the wizarding world, prisons and consequences. The Goblet of Fire demonstrated global collaboration between different countries.
As a fan of the series, I wanted to know where these places all were. I resorted to maps to track the locations. I wanted to know how realistic these locations were. How large was the lake at Hogwarts? How did Muggles not see the giant castle that was on a cliff (other than protective charms)? What did J.K. Rowling include from her own life and experiences into this world? (I later in life traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland where she wrote the stories and explored the cemetery where she found many of the names of her characters.)
Rowling brought us to King’s Cross Station in London to transfer to the Hogwarts Express. We were informed of wizarding schools around the world, such as Durmstrang, Beauxbatons, and Ilvermorny. In fact, a summer goal of mine next year is to hike Mount Greylock in western Massachusetts to analyze the location and see how Ilvermorny would thrive in its location.
Harry Potter found itself on the banned books list for highlighting a different religious viewpoint—the occult—and violence. But in order to be an active global citizen, aren’t we supposed to be exposed to different religious viewpoints? Although the story of Harry Potter is told through the eyes of a wizard, the themes of good vs. evil, friendship, love, community, and curiosity stand out.
The idea of being exposed to witchcraft or Satanism, or that these ideas are stressed in this book is lost when you focus on the larger picture. Good will always conquer evil. It may seem like the world is ending, or that your darkest days will never end. But as Albus Dumbledore reminds us, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
As silly as it may sound, Harry Potter changed my life. When I first visited the park in Universal Studios, I actually cried. To be immersed in a culture that was unlike my own was overwhelming. Although I knew that it was all artificial, I felt home.
Harry Potter had cast its spell on me, as it has on millions of people around the world.