It's been 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was published. For some of us it might make us feel quite old. But if you think about it, it’s a pretty short amount of time in which we’ve been part of the Harry Potter universe.
Things like Butterbeer, the sorting hat and knowing how to pronounce the name Hermione have been with most of us for just 2 decades. A comparatively short amount of time in history if you think about it.
I don’t know about you but the written wonderment of JK Rowling that is the Harry Potter series completely changed my life. I grew up with those books. I waited with bated breath for each one to come out and, when it did, spent day and night churning through it. I would do the annual (sometimes bi-annual) re-read and it brought comfort during the school holidays or tough times.
It was the catalyst for me to read — actually read books outside of the school curriculum. Harry Potter showed me reading was actually really cool. And the things I read in the book weren’t just lovely stories for kids, they told stories of what humans are made of — values, actions, decisions, and emotions.
Although they were set in a magical world, these books highlighted the trials and tribulations of 3 teenagers who I saw so much of myself in. Like many other young people, it was the first time for me to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n — immerse, imagine, reflect. As I would read, I would think about how I would act in the wizarding world, put myself in their shoes. It helped me reflect on my own personal values and create my own values set.
So, it got me thinking…what did other young people learn from those stories? (apart from how to say Wingardium levi-oh-sa). Inspired by this article from the Sydney Morning Herald, I spoke to some young Australians about the life lessons they got from Harry Potter..
Emily, 26 | Resilience: I really connected with Harry from the first page. He grew up in such alienation. I mean, he lived under a staircase! He just didn’t fit in. Even once he found out he was a wizard, and felt like he belonged, he still was a bit of an outsider. But he found his small, but stellar crew. It’s such a common story that young people can really relate to. I started reading the books in primary school and I didn’t have many friends. It gave me hope for what could happen when I would head to high school.
Harry had so many things thrown at him. There are huge ebbs and flows in life — incredible and terrible moments. It taught me that without the terrible challenging moments you can’t experience or really value those good times. I always struggled with Dudley and his perfect charmed life. But down the track when he was older and had that breakdown, it wasn’t a surprise. Sometimes those hard moments make your character even stronger. I really held onto that as I grew up — that life isn’t easy but it’s worthwhile. You can find the magic in everyday things, even if it’s a bit dark.
Hayley, 24 | Nothing is just black and white: Many characters in the book showed both good and evil. Some started off evil and you just hated them. But by the end of the story, or at some peak moment, they showed such goodness. It reminds me of that conversation between Professor Lupin and Harry where they are talking about Professor Umbridge. Lupin says, “Harry, the world isn’t split between good people and Death Eaters”. I think that rings true for even people like Malfoy who was such a terrible bully, was part of the Voldemort’s gang, but in the end wasn’t really a bad person, just in a bad situation. I suppose it made me think to not judge people’s behaviours so quickly and to help understand more about what’s going on for them.
Ed, 23 | Being brave: While reading the books I really identified that this idea of courage and bravery manifests itself in many ways. It’s not always about standing up to the bad guys. Obviously when you think about Gryffindor House it’s all about bravery, but it doesn’t always have to be the take-on-Voldemort-and-win bravery. One of my favourite memories is when Neville Longbottom takes on Harry, Ron and Hermione when they sneak out. I was really struck by that. Standing up to your friends is so much harder than standing up to the enemy. That was very courageous and brave thing to do. I’ve had to be the Neville and stand up to my mates in the past and it’s really hard. It was good to read and see that play out while I was growing up.
Annabel, 19 | Understanding and tolerance of others: I started reading the books when I was 9. It broke down all these barriers of creativity and innovation. It inspired me to want to become an author. I loved how you could see yourself in so many characters. I wanted to be as funny as Fred and George, as weird as Luna, and as smart as Hermione. They each had their flaws, but they owned them and because of that they were cool. It was helpful growing up to read because I didn’t have to be a cliché. I could be anything. I could be a bit of everything. I could be different and it would be OK.
Kate, 25 | Friendship: I think that friendships are at the core of each story. Without the core friendship of Hermione, Ron, and Harry I don’t think it would’ve been the same. There is such loyalty between them that it’s a force to be reckoned with. I think due to that friendship other things like bravery and courage happen because they care so much for each other. And that’s even before Ron and Hermione hook up! When Harry’s name was called out in the Triwizard Cup Hermione and Ron didn’t hesitate to help him and form a team. Harry brought his humility, Hermione her smarts, and Ron with his
red hair generosity. They each brought something that others didn’t have. Swoon.
Although the Harry Potter stories are set in a magical world, where actual magic does happen, the stories are about so much more than that. In my life and in my job at FYA, a lot of it is about connecting with others on like-minded issues that I’m passionate about. Yeah, it might not be about defeating He-Who-Must-Not-be-Named but I know we can rally together to tackle anything!
Now throwing to you — what did you learn from the books? What lessons did you take away and how did it shape you and your values?
And if you haven’t read or watched the stories, I recommend doing so stat!