In this blog post, student assistant Donny Turner recounts his experience of reading the Harry Potter series for the very first time!
Warning: This Blog Post Contains Spoilers
When I was growing up, parents were skeptical about the Harry Potter fad. Like many Christian kids, I was not allowed to read the Harry Potter books until I was 13. As I grew up, the series became something of an urban myth to me- the taboo of something I felt like I was not supposed to have. In my head, the stories became something of a legend, and I kept building up how amazing the books were going to be once I turned 13. By the time I turned 13, my expectations towards the books became something that no book, no matter how good it may be, could match. So, when I ended up starting to read the first book, I was admittedly underwhelmed. The book was great, but when I found out that Harry Potter was an adventure story about a group of friends trying to save the world and it just happened to include magic, I was almost disappointed. I never even finished the first book, and for years I had no desire to read the other Harry Potter books. Throughout all of this I felt extremely out of touch and alone with a lot of my friends who had been obsessed with and read every single Harry Potter book.
Years later, in my sophomore year of high school, I stumbled upon the entire Harry Potter series in a used book store. I was able to purchase the collection for less than $50, and I was really excited about getting all of the books. I decided to attempt to read the series again, and for a while, it worked. I read through the first 3 books in less than a month, but then I stalled about 200 pages into the 4th book. For whatever reason, I just could not get past the Quidditch World Cup. I would read the first 200 pages, get busy and it would get set aside for a few months, and I would have to reread those pages again. Another few years would pass before I was able to get past those first 200 pages. Eventually, I began to read less in general; it just never took a precedence in my life.
When I first began college, I once again experienced a feeling of isolation again. I was at a new school full of new people that I had to meet. Often times I felt like an outsider at school; I had a very difficult time finding my niche. For the most part, I felt isolated and outside of the whole community. I remember thinking back to how I felt when my friends were talking about the Harry Potter books. Everyone had these shared ideas, and I couldn’t latch on to them. I felt detached from others. Eventually, I did find my groove, but those first few months of school were difficult.
In my junior year of college, during the month of January, I found myself having to drive 4-10 hours a week and listening to music in the car was getting old; I needed something new. I realized I was able to check out the 4th Harry Potter book from the library (here), and I decided to listen to it on my long drives. While on the road, I was able to get about 400 pages into the book, and then I decided I had to start reading it in print. I flew through the last 400 pages in less than a month, and I immediately picked up the 5th book.
The 5th book is quite a bit darker than all the others. The tone is more somber and there is an edge to everything that is going on. Voldemort, the main antagonist, is on the rise, and it seems like something bad could happen at any moment. Throughout all of this Harry beings to feel more and more isolated. None of the awful things that are happening seem to be happening to anyone else. Harry begins to feel more depressed and more alone as time goes by. To top it all off there is a new professor at the school that is the literal worst. She specifically targets Harry, and she actively attempts to make Harry’s life worse. Harry feels utterly alone. The story focuses around this idea of loneliness and builds more and more that Harry has to learn to rely on his close friends. He must realize that he is not, nor was he ever, alone in any of what is happening to him. At the end of this book, the closest thing Harry has to a father figure, Sirius, dies. Once again, Harry experiences those feelings of expectations being destroyed and a great feeling of isolation. Once again I was able to relate very strongly to the character.
The 6th book of the story has some lighter tones, but ultimately ends on a very dark note. Harry is growing older, and Voldemort continues to gain more and more power. He is learning more about the history of who Voldemort is, and through these lessons, Harry learns of some of the humanity of Voldemort. The main antagonist is still extremely evil, but through multiple backstories, we are able to better understand Voldemort as a character. He is revealed to be more human, although definitely a very sociopathic human. Harry’s expectations of him change as a whole. He understands that he has love while Voldemort never will. Also, Harry’s expectations shift slightly towards the end of the story towards Draco Malfoy. Throughout the entirety of the series, Draco has been considered the antithesis of Harry Potter, and Harry absolutely suspects him of malicious intent at different times throughout the story. As the story is nearing its ending, Draco, ordered by Voldemort, matches up against a very weak Dumbledore and is poised to kill him. Yet, he cannot do it. There is a flicker of humanity in Draco, and he is unable to murder his headmaster. Harry, watching silently in the room notices this. Harry’s perception of Draco has changed in this moment, if only slightly. Where previously Harry had not seen any humanity there was some.
At this point, I was totally hooked on the books. Much of my free time was spent reading on and talking about the books. I can now say with certainty that the 6th book is my favorite, and I would tell anyone who would listen about it. Unfortunately for me, the fad of Harry Potter, while still quite prevalent, has definitely faded. I was dealing with isolation once again. Most people don’t want to listen to someone talk about how much they adore Harry Potter. Nevertheless, I persisted on towards the 7th book.
If you’ve ever read the 7th Harry Potter book, you know how different this book is compared to the rest of the series. The protagonists are no longer at Hogwarts, everything around them seems to be falling apart, and many of the main characters that you have grown to love end up being killed off. The book is gut-wrenching, and it seems like every chapter has a new main character dying. With each death, I felt more and more sadness and isolation. Throughout this book, the main characters become more and more removed from everyone as they are trying to find and destroy the horcuxes, the items that contain Voldemorts soul and ensure his survival. At one point, Ron leaves Harry and Hermione, leaving them even more alone than they already were. Without Dumbledore, and with wicked stories of what Dumbledore has done, the main characters feel utterly alone.
As the story nears the end, however, the main characters learn of all the different people that are still on their side, supporting them. They are encouraged, and they are able to find and destroy almost every single horcrux. It is only when Harry returns to Hogwarts at the end of the story that he realizes he must sacrifice himself to save everyone. This singular moment, the moment he realizes that he must die in order for everyone to live, is a pivotal moment. This is when he reaches his most isolated, but he stays brave and dives deep into the darkness. He sacrifices himself, and through his sacrifice he is able to destroy the last bit of Voldemort that exists. Through his sacrifice, he is given the option to live again. In the moments proceeding his death, he is given a choice. He can decide to stay dead, and go on to the afterlife or whatever happens to witches and wizards after they die, or he can come back to a life that has caused him suffering and pain. He has to choose to make another sacrifice, and once again he makes the choice to come back and fight one last time to save his closest friends.
Despite his isolation and fear, Harry Potter is able to be strong and courageous when he needs to be. Sure, he absolutely makes a lot of really dumb decisions throughout the books that would have saved everyone a lot of time and pain, but I think that is what makes these books so special. Many of the characters are flawed, and even some of the main characters that seem downright evil throughout the entire series have redemption arcs. The Malfoys end up regretting their actions, and, most famously, we get to see and understand why Snape made the decisions that he did. We get to understand his love for Harry’s mother and how isolated and alone he has been throughout most of his life. Finally, the reader is able to understand why Snape acts how he does, and that he was actually acting out of love this entire time. He clings to one aspect of his life that will keep him from being completely isolated, and as a result, dies for an extremely heroic cause.
Every single Harry Potter book has some themes of isolation, and dealing with feeling misplaced or alone in the world. Reading these in the first years of college or whenever you are in a new place in your life can be especially helpful because often people feel out of place and alone at times of change. These books can help give one perspective about isolation, and they can show how one can emerge from that isolation and be a much stronger and better human being.
Plus, the books themselves are fantastic stories, with deep characters. These books are probably the most famous series of the 21st century. They personally have helped me get through a challenging time in my life. Harry Potter is absolutely incredible and 100% lives up to the hype, and if you have not read them yet, there is no time like the present.
*written by Donny Turner