It’d be hard to overstate the extent to which the Harry Potter books and movies shaped my oldest daughter’s childhood. I nursed her while reading the first few books, and 12 years later, we’re off to the last movie tomorrow.
We have 2 Lego Hogwarts castles and minifigs galore from smaller sets. Violet read the books so much for a time that I debated hiding them so she would read something else. We have multiple family activities that are based on a deep knowledge of Harry Potter, and for one crazy summer we homeschooled by pretending that Violet had been invited to participate in a Hogwarts correspondence course, which involved me writing letters from each of the professors, trying to imitate their voices, and arranging for their delivery by a sort of owl post.
Many adults I know have been looking back at the principle actors/characters growing up, often with a hanky handy. This one got to me:
What all these “look back at the kids over the years” moments remind me of is that the Harry Potter series has been, at its heart, a coming of age story. As the last books were coming out, reviewers and readers were making lots of comparisons to Narnia and Lord of the Rings, Lewis and Tolkien. We talked about it on the blog, on a page I kept separate to hide any spoilers: Harry Potter Talk.
It would be impossible for a fantasy series not to be heavily influenced by the most significant fantasy series of all times, but I still think these comparisons are unfair and misguided. The Harry Potter series, as I said back then, is a much more personal story than that, and Harry’s biggest job—the job both Dumbledore and Snape were trying to help him do— was to grow up right. He needed to grow up kind, brave, and humble while knowing all the while that he was The Chosen One.
It’s what all kids need to do. Each child, in her own mind, is The Chosen One, the center of her own story, yet growing up well means recognizing her independence as well as her dependence on others, and embracing her true power while putting that power in service of something other than herself. This is the battle Harry Potter fights, and that kids are fighting all the time. It’s the crux of every book: can Harry develop his full powers, and can he make the right choice about how to use them?
That question, ideally plus loads of magic, is the journey of childhood, in which even the biggest superstars of the adult world can only play a supporting role.