“What Difference Has Harry Made In Your Life?”

Hans Andrea of Harry Potter for Seekers web site and the Harry Potter for Seekers Yahoo Discussion Group wrote me last week about a discussion we’ve been having about The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz (about which exchange there will be a separate post soon). As a throwaway afterthought he asked if I’d answer a question posted at the Yahoo group:

“What would have been different in your life had Harry Potter books never existed? It does not have to be anything monumental, I mean these ARE just books, but any change will do.”

I learned later this question had been the source of much self-reflection at the Harry Potter for Grown-Ups group and it certainly brought some thoughtful responses from the Seekers at Hans’ place.

It’s that time of year, when the end meets the beginning, when by nature we will look backward to have a better idea of how to go forward. Having just posted my look backward at HogPro posts and Harry Potter events from 2007, I will close the year with an invitation and request for your reflections about the ways, if any, Harry has changed your way of thinking or seeing things. Is it deeper, decidedly different, or have you been dumbed down by all your time reading children’s book instead of Frithjof Schuon and Fyodor Dostoevski?

My life is only superficially changed since I became a Harry Potter maven in that I enjoy what you could call a “niche celebrity;” I am not a “first name only BNF” (Emerson, Melissa, Steve…) that can make a living as a full time Potter Parasite but it’s neat when the dental hygienist cleaning your teeth gets excited because she saw you on the Order of the Phoenix DVD. I don’t think my thinking hasn’t changed much, though, because of reading Harry Potter or that I see myself differently because of my fifteen minutes of fame (even if those minutes are preserved somewhat in books, blog bytes, and DVD cases). The obvious and substantial change in my life has been the number of friends I have, with whom I correspond daily here and by email. It would be great if the fame and penpals translated into funds with which to pay my ekeltricity bill, but I am a much happier man for the time I have spent with so many serious readers in the US and UK talking about our favorite shared text. And, because the money couldn’t buy said happiness, I’m glad that, even if the bills are paid late, I came out way ahead. Harry has been a great blessing to my family and to me individually.

A good friend in the UK, Alison Williams, the best librarian-alchemist, I’m betting, in the English speaking world, wrote a much more engaging response to the question posted on the Seekers board. Her answer serves as something of a critique of the novels and an open-ended question about how we are to read them. I offer Ms. Williams’ thoughtful note as a seed for conversation in itself and as inspiration for your own reflections about how Harry Potter has changed your life.

“What Difference Has Harry Made In Your Life?”

While I’ve been reading about Harry growing up, and being forced to think about what the right and wrong choices are for him, I’ve also found myself being forced to think about those things too. It’s not been comfortable. At the start I thoroughly enjoyed the story – the wonderful imaginative world, the engaging characters, the nasty characters, the jokes, the fun. Finding out that Harry was a wizard, about the horrible thing that happened to his parents, and the mystery about how he had survived. It was like childhood itself, everything was new and surprising. There were some first experiences of pain and loss and unhappiness, but also lots and lots of fun.

By the time I got to the end of the last book I was feeling quite grown up and deeply disillusioned! I was questioning, and am still questioning, what to make of what I was being presented with at the end. It seemed to me that Harry had come to see life as a blind struggle through a dark place, a struggle that has to be endured to the bitter end, even if that end is very bitter indeed. Oh and, you might be lucky enough to have friends and family around you for a while, but don’t count on it, because they may have to be sacrificed to the struggle too. A particularly grim kind of ‘realism’.

I’m still wondering if this grim view is really the authors intent. I was expecting a victory of good over evil, love over death, but what I got was a never ending struggle of good against evil in which neither wins, in fact they appear to be quite evenly matched, and there are only temporary lulls in the fighting. In this struggle lots of people die untimely deaths, after which they go on somewhere else – but to what? More struggle? Eternal bliss? We just don’t know.

Those who have read the predictions I made before DH may recall that my idea of an ending was one in which Harry was tempted to take just such a grim view, and to believe he must struggle and give everything up and sacrifice himself, only to realise at the last moment that this isn’t right, that what he is really being challenged to do is to live positively and fully. Maybe that is there in DH in the epilogue, but that just didn’t ring true to me. It felt like a tacked on ‘happy ending’ that didn’t follow naturally from the story that led up to it.

In these books I think that I’ve encountered an author exploring her own struggle over what she believes, and not compromising that to make anyone feel more comfortable. If I hadn’t encountered that I might not have been so challenged to explore my own.

However, I suspect that the story is a kind of Mirror of Erised, and what we find there will be different for all of us.


Thank you, Alison, for giving me your permission to tack that up here, thank y’all in advance for sharing your thoughts as we enter the New Year 2008, and, once more, thank you for the delightful 2007 here at Hogwarts Professor. In many ways, it’s been the happiest year of my life.


  1. Great news! Regina Doman, friend of this weBlog had her baby today. The birth announcement:

    Announcing the birth of Paula Kathleen “Polly” born at home, December 31, 2007 1:21 AM — 8 lbs, 0 oz — born hand first (!), reaching out to explore the world already, and with a full head of black hair, a first for us.

    Mother and baby are doing well. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

    An Explanation of the Names: Paula after St. Paula, friend of St. Jerome and collaborator with him on the Vulgate Translation, Also in honor of the upcoming Year of St. Paul (2008-2009) to be proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, “Polly” after Lady Polly Plummer of Narnia [ :)], Kathleen after her paternal grandmother.

    Thanks for all your prayers and good wishes!

    Now back to your New Year’s thoughts: How has Harry Potter changed your life or way of thinking or both?

  2. Oh my! My daughter asked me a similar question during our holiday visit last week. She wanted to know how my attitude toward the Harry Potter books/movies had changed since my first hesitant encounter 5 years ago.
    I could not elucidate my thoughts at the time; I will now attempt to do better.

    Harry came into my life via cinema rather than written word at a time when my oldest grandson was 6 and his parents thought him ready to enjoy Harry’s adventures. The sum total of my HP knowledge was wrapped up in Katie Couric’s book reviews on the Today Show and a video denouncing the practice of magic found in the HP series. As I was a full-time university student myself, I did no *pleasure reading* between terms, preferring to zone out with movies and HGT-V when I had the chance. I discovered “Looking For God in Harry Potter” before I graduated, yet I didn’t read the series until the summer of ’06. This was my graduation present to myself and the rest, as they say, is history…I’ve been hooked ever since!

    So how has HP changed my life or way of thinking?

    First, I’ve renewed my childhood love of reading for pleasure and adventure. I am a big kid at heart, preferring certain adolescent and young adult works for their endless possibilities and words of encouragement. Rowling’s treatment of the muggle and wizarding worlds creates for me great thought-provoking moments; plus, I can’t help but think about present-day parallels during my reads.

    Second, Harry Potter provides me the opportunity to discuss spiritual themes with my 11yr-old grandson through Harry’s journey into friendships, the battle between good and evil, sacrificial love, and choice. Granted, the best source for these themes is Holy Scripture and I do not discount the responsibility to nurture his understanding of the Word (his parents do a great job, by the way). I am just excited to have another *secular* vehicle by which I can uncover spiritual implications together with my grandchildren.

    Third,Harry is going to be a very important literary character for generations to come; how nice to be able to bring a greater understanding to the discussion table when the grandchildren and their friends have questions. (I’ve even been introduced to the neighborhood kids as an “expert” on Harry Potter; a title I quickly brush aside, I assure you!) I am SO grateful for the added benefit of blogs like HogPro and the contributions posted by learned readers that challenge my point of view. If anything, I am more willing to listen to others’ opinions about HP without getting “all bent out of shape” if we don’t see eye-to-eye (this is BIG). Now I refer them to HogPro and John’s books first, then SoG, and other sites!

    Finally, I have been reminded of the importance of reading and reading for the right reasons. I do not contradict point one, above, when I say I experienced an epiphany of sorts prior to the final two nights of reading DH with the grandson. God truly spoke to me about the impact of our sessions together; of how listening and reading were not the same and to make sure that the grandson was following along with his eyes as well as his ears when I was reading aloud. (I was reminded of the Word Incarnate after years of the Israelites reciting the Torah and prophets…seeing, and not just hearing.) I’m not sure I would have had this ah-ha moment if I hadn’t been so absorbed in bringing HP to life for the grandson.

    Thanks, John, for asking the question and allowing space for the answer. I look forward to seeing how HP has changed other readers.

    God’s Blessings for a great 2008! Happy New Year, everyone!

  3. Perelandra says

    Without HP, I wouldn’t have made your delightful acquaintance, John. And you revealed the intricate symbolic structures in the series, which indicated that the books had more intellectual merit than I had at first supposed. This led to reading up on alchemy and related topics. Defending Harry made longterm friendships and emnities, indirectly eading to my latest book, PIED PIPER OF ATHEISM, with another HP fan, Peter Vere.

    You never know where that first step on the road will lead.

    And a Happy New Year to everyone.

  4. globalgirlk says

    The results are mixed but I still think that it is mostly good. I’ve had to defend myself against those who are extremely superstitious and believe that HP will bring bad luck-it is true, those who say the J.K. Rowling is a witch herself, and that I’m not a Christian b/c I read them. I’ve had to struggle with my extremely obsessive nature and imagination. God used these books to help me deal with my obsession oddly enough. I’ve been introduced to loads of wonderful British writers, my favorite though is C.S. Lewis. I’ve learned to read things for myself to find out what they are about as opposed to listening to everyone else. Still, sometimes, I wish that I had never read them or heard about them. Where I’m from is extremely conservative and it is hard for me to be quiet about something that I like.

  5. globalgirlk says

    Say what you like but after the Dumbledore is gay announcement my view changed. It took a while for my parents to understand why I liked the books. My view on life has become focused more on choices because of the HP books. I like Alison’s note at the top. I feel much the same way she does.

  6. Arabella Figg says

    I can’t say Harry Potter changed my life, as much as that which swirled around it.

    As a young Christian I had the “aha! point of reading a series, much like HP, that stressed choosing what is right over that which one desires, and the consequences–the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. This served me well during the very stressful time during which I read the books and influenced my thinking ever after. So I can imagine young readers gaining the same benefit from HP.

    Nevertheless, I enjoy the books immensely and find them just as “sticky” as LOtR; very difficult to move on from that world. They’ve given me great pleasure and I’ll enjoy them the rest of my life.

    Like others in conservative areas, I’ve had to defend them to unwilling reception and have had few with whom to discuss them. It’s been a joy when, armed with information from John’s books, I’ve been able to intriuge some to read the books and become fans. Which leads me to my main point–the Harry Potter effect.

    Because of John’s efforts, I’ve come to see the books as “seven-layered bars” (hmm, symbolism there? 🙂 What I mean is, there is so much more to the books than the stories themselves (and this leads me to view other books as potentially that way). Not having had much college education and being woefully deprived in classics, how would I have known of all the components which John has revealed? How could I have read the books in the deeper manner he opened to me? How could I have understood the rich depths of meanings available below “the surface of the deeps,” without our dear Professor?

    Why, in heaven’s name would I be reading Dracula right now? Considering reading Dante? Fascinated by literary alchemy? Given a great grounding in postmodernism through John’s Five Keys? Learning traditions and symbols of our faith of which I had been ignorant?

    Another way the books have changed my life has been the fun of living through the creation of a series and enjoying the suspense and speculation, and experiencing the wonder and anticipation of holding a new, eagerly-awaited HP book in my hand. No readers which follow will have this marvelous experience.

    Also, very important to me, has been participating here with all of you. I’ve lacked intellectual stimulation (conservative area here, I’ve encountered very few people who enjoy engaging on ideas and deep discussions), which has been frustrating and lonely. But I feel I’ve found some kind of “kindred spirit” home here, where ideas reign and erudition, articulation and politeness abound, though I often feel like a match flame amidst halogen lights. Yet, how grateful I am for you halogens, because you stimulate me to thought about ideas, my own ideas, prejudices, etc., and how I originate, perpetuate and can deconstruct them…or keep them, feeling confident I’ve been on the right track.

    It’s like having the best book group/debate club in the world.

    So, thank you Professor John, for all your hard work, for referring me to other great thinkers, the other professors who participate here and fellow All-Pros for giving me such thoughtful and enjoyable interaction.

    Clap paws, dance about…

  7. Well, Arabella, I’m going to print this one out and pin it on the wall behind my computer. I’m not wasting my time and single talent. Thank you for this wonderful Nativity gift.

    John, thinking about getting a cat

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