Reading Harry Potter for the 1st time as a 20-year-old

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Isabella Schreiber/Staff

This summer, a friend of mine, an ever-loyal fan of Harry Potter, gave me a brand-new copy of the first book of the series, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I remember sitting there, doubting the excitement of what lay between the covers. I really thought that the Hogwarts Express had left the station, and I was too late in the Harry Potter craze (except for the massive swell that comes back around every Halloween). Quite frankly, it felt a bit pointless to try and read the whole series now. Obviously, here I am now, on the third book, loving every word. There’s a reason these books did so well.

J.K. Rowling’s power as an author is mystical. Her ability to put so much thought into the narrative processes of the Harry Potter series amazes me. A common quip I remember having as a kid reading fictional series was always the fact that no matter how good a book’s narrative was if it had stood alone, the author always felt they had to involve the characters in some sort of love/crush storyline that always served as the basis or motivation for their actions (I’m looking at you, “Percy Jackson,” “Hunger Games” and “Divergent”). And yes, I know that romance is imminent in Harry Potter as well, but I appreciate the fact that I’m three books in and awkward adolescent love doesn’t seem to be a driving force in the books’ narratives. Instead, Rowling emphasizes friendship, which never loses value, no matter if you’re a child or an adult.

The idea behind the four houses of Hogwarts is also delightful. Rowling’s attempt to instill certain characteristics within her readers, or at the very least, help her readers identify these characteristics within themselves through the houses was really interesting to me. Though this is not a new idea, Rowling’s take on the division of houses and traits seemed more intimate to me. Again, the detail that went into creating each of these houses: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, were all so comprehensive, and the characters that emerged out of each house had something to offer the readers. You can’t help but love some aspect that is bred out of these four houses.

While reading Harry Potter, I always think of how fantastic it would be to live in a world where we could fly on brooms, drink pumpkin juice, disappear under the guise of an invisibility cloak, befriend a half-giant and fight noseless antagonists. Harry Potter brought me into this fantastical world, and has been such a great source of escape between classes, or when life just gets a bit overwhelming. I am constantly amused by Ron’s constant sarcasm, envying Harry’s courage and admiring Hermione’s love of learning. They remind me of humor, endurance and intelligence. Rowling’s deep imagination invigorates our own. Seriously, how does she think of all this? There is so much to take away from this book, despite not being 12.

There’s also something weirdly emotional that I’ve felt as I read Harry Potter as a 20-year-old. Is it the magic? The idea that I’m now a part of the 400 million people who have read the book around the world? The fantasy? I’m not sure. I think that as we get older, it’s easy to fall into a trap of reading “sophisticated” books, and it becomes sort of a weird sight to walk around with a copy of a Rick Riordan book, instead of a Hemingway or Nabokov. But I think that it’s wrong to neglect the value that adolescent books serve us as readers. This series, in particular, has been so important to me because of the mythical fantasies it has brought to life.

Sometimes, I forget what it was like to be a kid and to believe that if I dreamed hard enough, I could be a demi-god, and that there was a life for me that I hadn’t even encountered yet. This feeling came back so strongly when I read Harry Potter, and I felt again: there had been a mistake at Hogwarts and my acceptance letter was lost in the mail. So here’s what I have to say to you: it’s not too late to read the series, whether you’re 12 or 20. There’s no shame in getting lost in a little fantasy.

Contact Chelsea Song at csong@dailycal.org.

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