I did not begin to read the Harry Potter series until after the third book had been placed on the shelves. It seemed that everywhere I turned, adults and children alike were running to book stores in search of hardcover editions of this revolutionary septology, anxious to find out what might happen next to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Finally, I gave in to pop culture pressure and purchased the first three additions, curious to see what all the hype was about.
Reserving my opinions for the very last page, I devoured The Sorcerer’s Stone in record time, pausing only to go to work and to sleep. I was fascinated by the descriptions set forth by J.K. Rowling, and deviously lured into the world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Certainly, it was a book written for children, but I found myself inspired on an adult level, and conscious of themes not immediately evident to readers under the age of twelve.
The battle between good and evil is an essential element in any good story, especially one written with children in mind. Readers thrive on the triumph of the “good guy” and on the imminent destruction of the evil mastermind. Harry and his friends are the obvious protagonists, young scholars on their way to magical enlightenment, while Lord Voldemort and his followers rival their benevolence in an attempt to thwart the decent magical community and gain power over the world. Harry is guided by Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of the school and one of the most powerful wizards to ever grace the planet, but in the end, the young teen must always survive on his own.
While these obvious and essential elements are important to the story, there is more than meets the eye. Children identify with Harrry Potter because he is very much like them – scared, lonely, afraid of rejection, unsure of himself, and uncomfortable with his own abilities and shortcomings in life. Harry has assumed the role of “Superhero” in these books, known far and wide as “the Boy Who Lived” and renowned for his survival as an infant. He has no parents or supportive familial structure, and he is all alone in the world, save for his friends at Hogwarts.
Beyond Harry’s personal character, obvious philisophical issues are presented within the Harry Potter septology, and are examined in a creative and subtle manner which invites questions about life, about love, about courage, and about the concept of right and wrong. Without knowing it, children and adults are subjected to the inherent values of humanity within the pages of these books, and Rowling incorporates philisophical ideas without taking away from the storyline.
Magic does not exist in our world today, but it becomes real in the world of Hogwarts. Students are not given the right to use magic whenever they feel the need, nor do professors encourage the rash decision to raise their wands. They are taught to use magic carefully and with caution, to respect the rights and feelings of others, and to only use magic as a last resort.
In the third book, characters called Dementors are introduced as beings which suck the life and happiness out of those within close physical proximity. This argues for the presence of a soul, for the basic human spirit that lies within us all.
A more colorful character introduced in the second book goes by the name of Dobby. He is a house elf, brought into this world to serve wizards in their homes. Harry befriends Dobby and earns him his freedom from one of the more malevolent wizarding families, and Hermione begins a campaign for the protection of house elves in general. We learn through these escapades that even in fantastical magical worlds, there are social classes, and to rise against them is often to suffer and endure defeat. The old adage rings true in these books: “A man should be judged based on how he treats his inferiors, and not how he treats his equals.”
Hermione Granger, one of Harry’s best friends, is one of the strongest characters in the series. She is intelligent, creative, kind, and arguably one of the most celebrated feminists in the history of literature. She not only fights for the equality of witches to wizards, but defends those who are in need of support, and continually works to educate the public on issues she feels are misrepresented.
All in all, Harry Potter is a playing field for social, political, and personal battles that rage within the walls of Hogwarts. A culture ripe with strife and triumph has been woven around the story of a young boy who is trying to make it in the big, bad world, struggling against all types of adversity and determined to protect those he loves. Harry Potter is not just a movie about magic and fantasy, but an intense commentary on social injustice and the human heart.
I encourage all who watch the movies to also read the books, and look deeper into the plot than what appears to reside on teh surface. You will find a plethora of themes and ideas presented without your knowing, encouraging all of us to look deep within ourselves and to examine our lives and the world around us.