“The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home” ~ JK Rowling
It’s rumoured that there are people in this world who haven’t read Harry Potter (or even seen the films). I can’t even begin to wrap my head around that and honestly struggle to believe that those people actually exist. I truly believe that they are a series of books that everyone needs to read at least once. It’s impossible to not be changed by them somehow, regardless of whether you believe in magic, for they teach you the simple truths of light overcoming darkness and of love overruling fear.
‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ was first published in 1997 when I was fourteen years old. I was 24 when the seventh and final book ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ was published in 2007.
I suppose you could say that I grew up alongside Harry Potter during the most formative decade of my life. During that time I sat my GCSEs; got seriously ill and almost died; had a LOT of therapy; recovered; took my A Levels; decided to travel around Australia and New Zealand for fifteen months instead of going to university; came home forever changed; met the man who would eventually become my husband; worked in London; re-trained; moved to Staffordshire; had my first daughter (who was very poorly for the first eighteen months of her life); and set up my own business. I went through a phenomenal amount of personal change and growth during those ten years – mentally, physically and soulfully (it fits better then ‘spiritually’ for me) and the Harry Potter books were my companion throughout. Hogwarts was a place to escape to where I could switch off my head and get lost in the magic.
But then somewhere along the way through my motherhood journey I simply stopped reading. Life was busy – we added Mimi and Lola to the mix in relatively quick succession after Ella – and I was so exhausted from trying to raise three daughters aged 3 and under whilst keeping some semblance of myself, plus running my own business, that I simply didn’t have the brain space for anything beyond the occasional magazine and non-fiction books that I needed to read for work. I missed reading proper fiction books though and knew that I would eventually get back into reading properly.
When our eldest daughter, a huge bookworm, started reading the Harry Potter books when she was seven or eight years old, I re-discovered their magic. She would excitedly tell me which part she was up to in which book and I loved sharing her enthusiasm for them, loved seeing the wizarding world come to life through her eyes. A couple of years later our second daughter, Mimi, gave them a try and found that she loved them too (truth be told, she’s a little obsessed – she’s read the entire series all the way through at least fifteen times over in the last couple of years, and that’s a conservative estimate). As I type, our littlest one, Lola, has just started reading ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, thus beginning her own journey into the world of Harry Potter for the very first time. The girls each have their own set of the books, as well as the well-loved set that I own. We also have Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit, several Harry Potter jigsaws, Harry Potter Scrabble, and Mimi’s room even has a little corner dedicated to Harry Potter. I think it’s pretty safe to say we are big Harry Potter fans in our household.
We’ve been to our local Waterstones’ Harry Potter night twice (it’s always the first Thursday in February, for those who didn’t know about it and might want to pop it in their diary for next year). It’s always a fun evening full of Harry Potter themed games, challenges and prizes, and those who attend usually go all out with their costumes.
In the Summer of 2015, when the girls were 8, 7 and 5 respectively, we made the trip down to the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Hertfordshire, which is collectively known in our house as Harry Potter World. We always plan one big day trip each summer holiday (last year was Chester Zoo, the year before was Legoland Windsor) and this year they have all unanimously requested to go back to Harry Potter World. We’re all SO excited to see the new additions to the experience – the Forbidden Forest and the Goblet of Fire.
We even attended the Quidditch World Cup (yes, it’s a real thing!) in 2016 as it was being held in a town fairly local to us. It was a far bigger event than we thought it would be and even though it was freezing and both Mimi and I had some kind of flu, we all loved it and had a brilliant time.
The girls’ enthusiasm for the books made me realise just how much I wanted to re-read them all over again, so I added it to my ’40 Things Before I’m 40′ list and, a decade after I read the final book in the series the first time around, I started them all over again, this time aged thirty-four.
The first three were easy. Small enough to fit in my handbag whilst waiting for appointments or on train journeys, and nothing too heavy to think about. I enjoyed them as good adventure stories and not much more. When I reached ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (always my favourite the first time round) I could tell that they were gaining greater depth, so I flew through that one relatively quickly too – I think all four books took me about four months to read in total. And then I got to the fifth book, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’, and I stalled. It’s the longest out of all the books (766 pages in total) and definitely my least favourite. I really don’t know why – the intricate storyline is, of course, excellent and the background information and scene setting that takes place throughout the book is infinitely detailed. I just found it so hard to read. Every time I picked it up it felt like a chore. It took me about six months to get through and when I finally finished it, I felt such relief that it was over – I really didn’t enjoy reading it at all. I’m still asking myself what that was about.
‘The Half Blood Prince’ and ‘The Deathly Hallows’ have each taken just over a week to complete and I thoroughly enjoyed every single page. I got so involved in the stories that I couldn’t wait to pick them up again, actively choosing to leave my laptop closed every evening (instead of working until 10pm and beyond) and read my book instead, turning the pages breathlessly as the journey continued, completely absorbed in a same-but-different world. I think they may be my new favourites in the series, purely because you get to know the characters so much better than throughout the earlier books. It’s always the characters rather than a plotline that pulls me into a story, whether it’s a book, a TV show or a film – the characters are what really matter to me. I love to understand them, to identify with them, to figure out what they’re thinking and feeling and why. In the sixth and seventh books you get that in abundance, you’re there with the characters as they go through everything, and you feel like you’re one with them.
I finally finished ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ last night and sat, stunned, for quite some time. Of course I already knew what happened at the ending – I just had that wonderful, magical feeling you get when you finish an incredible book, put it down and feel somehow completely changed inside, and then you look up and the rest of the world is carrying on as normal, completely unaware of the profound and deep shift you’ve felt within yourself. Those are my absolute favourite kinds of books and there are only a few books I’ve ever come across that make me feel that way. The Harry Potter series is definitely one of them.
There is so much more to these books than *just* magic. They are jam-packed full of important messages that I want my girls to know. Things like loyalty and bravery and friendship; standing up for what you believe in; finding the light in the dark; family; and love. And of course Dumbledore’s infinite wisdom is inherently present and woven through every story.
I’ve picked out some of my favourite quotes of his that really resonate with me, ones that I want to remember as I continue to navigate life and hopefully lead by example so my girls grow up knowing and believing these things too:
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) – my personal favourite quote
“There will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right” (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
“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” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
“It’s the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more” (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince)
“Of course its happening inside your head Harry but why on earth should that mean it’s not real?” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
I have a feeling that I’ll come back to these books time and time again. I hope that one day I may even be able to share their magic with my future grandchildren. They are part of the fabric of my own story, their threads interwoven with my own learnings and beliefs and values.
Have you read the Harry Potter books? Which one is your favourite and why?