comfort reads

Comfort Reads: Revisiting Harry Potter (Part 7)

Welcome to Comfort Reads: where I talk about re-reads and what I’ve learned on second (or twelfth) encounters.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

some facts & opinions136251

  • publication year: 2007
  • movie release date: 2010-2011
  • age of my first encounter: 17
  • favorite magical object/creature introduced: Hermione’s freaking purse. Who doesn’t want a magical purse that can fit your personal library, changes of clothes, a portrait of a dead headmaster, a tent… I mean, I just need this in my life. Not to mention the sheer level of magic required to cast such a spell on an object. Book 7 definitely showcases Hermione as being super talented. Obviously, cause she’s amazing.
  • best supporting character: Ron. Yes, he runs away, but he also comes back.
  • best professor appearance: Severus Snape. Snape, the guy you hate for books on end and then he breaks your heart into a million pieces. He’s not just an incredibly powerful, snarky jerk of a professor. He’s able to fool the Dark Lord, disguising his deepest thoughts. And despite his behavior and inclinations, Snape is capable of love and loyalty in a way that Voldemort never was. #MyFeels
  • best Dumbledore quote: “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.”

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The Deathly Hallows was perhaps the most highly-anticipated book release of my entire life. My mom escorted me and a bunch of friends to the midnight release party at the local chain bookstore, which was packed with excited kids dressed up as witches and wizards. I immediately regretted not having the guts to dress up as Hermione. I had just turned 17, the same age as Harry in Book 7. I had never felt more connected to the story than I did when I read the book in two days.

And yet, Book 7 is very different from the rest of the series. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. It doesn’t take place at Hogwarts, so the whole time I’m reading it something feels just slightly off, even years later. Even though I know how the story turns out, reading Harry and his friends’ struggles to figure out how to defeat Voldemort, I feel the hopelessness they’re feeling.

I realized that I haven’t really talked about Ron at all in this discussion series. I think, reading the books as a kid, I didn’t really appreciate him as anything more than Harry’s best friend. I didn’t think about the importance of Ron’s character in explaining aspects of the magical world, and occasionally as a stand-in for the reader. I really felt for Ron in Book 7. Because, aside from not having a whole lot of money growing up and his deep insecurity as the youngest brother, Ron’s had what would be considered a pretty easy life. I understand completely why the Horcruxes affect him so intensely: when you’re not emotionally prepared for the struggle against darkness, it’s hard. Just as the dementors affect Harry in the extreme because of the darker aspects of his life, so Ron is deeply affected by the Horcruxes because he’s never had the opportunity to build up defenses. This really resonated with my experience with mental illness: because I have certain privileges, people often question the depth of my depression because they don’t see an explanation for it. The reality is that depression doesn’t care how good you’ve had it; it will find a way to drag you down, regardless.

I really appreciated Harry’s struggle with his perception of Dumbledore in light of new information that comes out after his professor’s death. In most of the series, Dumbledore is portrayed as not only the greatest wizard alive but also a really decent person, and I enjoyed the way that idealized view comes under scrutiny. Nobody is perfect, least of all Dumbledore, and Harry’s reaction to the reality of his hero’s life resonated with me as well. As a kid, I really looked up to Dumbledore, and by age 17 I was finally realizing that adults are not infallible.

Hands down the most heart-wrenching scene in the book is the “Kings Cross” chapter, when Harry is between death and life and encounters Dumbledore. We finally see Dumbledore’s regret for his mistakes, his great weakness in seeking a way to overcome death itself. We learn just how much Dumbledore actually kept from Harry, and why Harry is able to succeed. And, of course, the chapter is littered with amazing quotes.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

This quote in particular has given me so much comfort in my darkest days. Mental illness is, by its very nature, happening inside your head—and it’s easy for people outside of it to declare that it’s not real. I have taken so much comfort in this quote, in which Dumbledore declares that things inside our heads are very much real, regardless of whether or not anyone else believes us. Because we can’t move on with our lives if we’re too busy discounting our own understanding. We can’t heal from cognitive distortions if we’re too busy berating ourselves for having them in the first place. And we can’t learn from ourselves if we’re not willing to accept what happens inside our minds as real, as truthful in their own ways.

The ultimate message of The Deathly Hallows, and the series as a whole, is incredibly powerful, no matter how old you are when you read it: that love is a powerful force in the universe, more powerful than fear, darkness, despair, and even death. Harry’s story breathes hope into my life, just as it did when I was a teenager struggling with depression and self-hatred. It reminded me then that I had to keep fighting for myself. I spent too many years feeling that my capacity for love was a weakness that only caused me pain, but Harry reminded me that sometimes what we think is our biggest weakness can actually be our greatest strength. Harry Potter gave me hope and taught me to believe in myself, even in my darkest times.

Throughout my life, the Harry Potter series has given me an escape, a sense of being understood, a magical world in which to think about the concepts of love, suffering, death, and what it means to fight for what you believe. It takes a very special author to create a world we can return to again and again, always finding something new to inform the real world. It takes a very special series to resonate with you just as much at 27 as it did at 7. I will be forever grateful to J.K. Rowling for writing these books that will be part of my life forever.

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Well, that’s a wrap for my discussion series on Harry Potter. I hope you enjoyed reading and that you gained something by seeing my perspective. If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, let me know in the comments. As always, thanks for reading!

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