These Emotional Stories Show How Harry Potter Has Changed Lives
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book, eight people tell us how the series' magic affected their lives.
"It allows me to still believe in magic, the type that transcends time and illness and breathes love back into our souls."
My grandmother taught me how to read using the Harry Potter books. She started by reading them to me, then with me. When the movies came out, she took me and my cousins (all 21 of her grandchildren) to see the movies in theaters, but she always asked me to sit next to her. When you grow up in a family as big as mine, it's hard to find your place or feel like your voice is heard, but my grandma never made me feel that way. And I feel like I owe Harry Potter for at least part of that bond.
My grandma now has aggressive Alzheimer's and barely remembers anyone or anything. On a few occasions, I have reread the Harry Potter books to her. Not only does it seem to calm her, but it allows me to still believe in magic, the type that transcends time and illness and breathes the love and bond that this disease has taken back into our souls. This type of magic ties the person she once was to the person I am becoming. It reminds me that even though she is not mentally present, she is still very much a part of who I am. And while I can't speak definitively for her, I know deep down it's a mutual feeling.
"I made my first friends bonding over a mutual obsession ... Those women are people I still love and care about very much."
I was always the most awkward kid. Just a small, overimaginative little weirdo who had trouble connecting with people and following social conventions. I made my first friends bonding over a mutual obsession with Harry Potter. We had a Harry Potter club. We wrote our own versions of the Daily Prophet, made chocolate frogs out of Tootsie Rolls, had Harry Potter-themed birthday parties, and dressed like witches for god knows how many Halloweens. When one of us got a newly released book before the others, we would call each other and read it over the phone. Those women are people I still love and care about very much.
Harry Potter was a huge part of growing up for me and, in bad times, I'd sneak off with the book and escape reality for a little bit. The fantasy and magic of it all help me cope with clinical depression, and to this day you'll still catch me reading a 20-year-old book written for children.
"It made the complicated emotions I was experiencing tangible."
I was 7 years old and Prisoner of Azkaban was about to be released. It was a challenge for me. The books were beyond my reading level, but I kept going – sometimes just reading a page a day – and finally I had read my first book entirely independently. No one had told me the story beforehand, no one was guiding me through it or testing me on how much I remembered. I loved it; I loved the story, but most of all I loved the experience of discovering a new world on my own terms.
More importantly, though, J.K. Rowling made the complicated emotions I was experiencing tangible. I had a difficult upbringing with a lot of abuse and confusion, and I developed borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. J.K. Rowling did something magical when she created terrifying creatures: In the Dementors I recognised my own depression, and Boggarts became a representation of my flashbacks – something utterly terrifying to me but, ultimately, something I could control. Seeing the way in which J.K. Rowling was able to explain these feelings, which had felt so abstract to me, motivated me to find a way to use my own experiences in a creative way. I am now a writer, and while I still have terrible moments that land me in the hospital, I have found a way to cope when everything feels unbearable. There are times I wonder if I would still be alive now if I had not experienced Harry Potter.
– Rachael Matthews, Facebook
"It taught me that if you spend all your time fearing your death, you will have lived a life not worth living."
This might sound strange, but I took more away from Tom Riddle's life story than I did anyone else's experiences in those books. I started reading in 1998 when I was 8 years old and read over the years until the last one was released when I turned 17. I was afraid of everything as a child. I was very scared of dying, and especially my parents dying. I can honestly say that the Harry Potter books helped me with my fear of death. It really hit me round the head reading about Voldemort’s past and his obsession with his own mortality. He spent his whole life full of fear, desperately searching for a way to become "master of death", but in the end he had no quality of life at all. He died surrounded by people but completely alone. That story really helped me let go of my fear and just live my life. It taught me that if you spend all your time fearing your death, you will have lived a life not worth living.
"I am indebted to J.K. Rowling forever for the healing she provided."
When I was 7 years old, my mom got very sick. My dad had to take her to a research hospital in Florida, but the doctors had no idea what was causing this sudden and extremely painful illness in my mom. They didn't know if she would live through it, and if she did, she would probably be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. It was during this time that my second-grade teacher noticed I was bored with the books in our classroom library and introduced me to the Harry Potter books. Once those books were in my hands, I never let go of them.
When I opened those books I was in a world where I didn't have to think about my mom being sick or being away from my parents, and when I did think those thoughts, I had Harry to look to. He didn't have his parents with him anymore, but he was brave and he was OK. He had great friends and people like Hagrid and Dumbledore who looked after him. While my mom was gone, I read and reread those books over and over, and when she finally came home in a wheelchair and she couldn't play with me like she used to, I kept reading those books. It got me through.
Over the years, I turned to those books for respite from many things. When I had radiation treatment a few years ago and had to be isolated from everyone, I had those books. They've gotten me through so much. I am indebted to J.K. Rowling forever for the healing she provided. It means the world to me and more. And my mom? After many years of painful struggle, she made a miraculous recovery and walks on her own as though she were never sick. She is a walking miracle. I introduced her to the books, and she loves them as much as I do. Thank you, Harry Potter. You are so much more than just a book series.
"Luna was exceptionally kind and smart, but also wasn't afraid of who she was. She was everything I wanted to be."
I started reading the Harry Potter books in middle school and, like most of us out there, it was a rough three years for me. What helped me get through it – and many other difficult times in my life since – was Luna Lovegood. Luna was the first character I had encountered in my literary journey that was not only exceptionally kind and smart, but also wasn't afraid of who she was. I was a closeted bisexual 13-year-old girl with no friends, and she was everything I wanted to be. She got way more crap from her classmates than most kids, and still retained a calm demeanour and a pleasant smile on her face.
"It gave me the courage to always strive to do what is right, regardless of anyone else's opinion."
My childhood was pretty Dursley-ish: My parents used me for chores and manual labor without much thanks or love in return. I first read Harry Potter when I was 12, and immediately fell in love. Here was a boy who could have all this bad shit happen to him, and he still rose above evil and oppression to do what was right for others and save the entire Wizarding World.
I was raised in a pretty religious family, and we no longer have anything to do with one another since I'm openly lesbian and married to a woman. Harry Potter taught me that it's OK to make your own family and surround yourself with people that truly love and care about you. The lessons of friendship, bravery, and loyalty are ones I still carry as the basis for my beliefs and passions today. This series gave me the courage to always strive to do what is right, regardless of anyone else's opinion. Statistics say I should never have made it out of my small town, and that I shouldn't have accomplished much in my life. Harry Potter is the reason I overcame those statistics and am pursuing my doctoral degree in education, and it continuously shapes the way I interact with my students. Many of them are cupboard-under-the-stairs kids, and I do my best to use my experiences – and Harry's – as a basis for understanding and overcoming life's hardships.
– Ashley Higginbotham, Facebook
"My mom used Dumbledore's lines to explain to me, age 11, that she wouldn't be recovering from her cancer."
Harry Potter provided and continues to provide emotional support during the hardest times of my life. My mom got me the first two books after she read a review of Chamber of Secrets while she was at chemotherapy, and everyone in my family became devoted to them. A few years later, she used Dumbledore's lines – "You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us?" – to explain to me, age 11, that she wouldn't be recovering from her cancer. She passed away shortly after that.
Not only did I love to read Harry Potter as an escape from a devastating and confusing time, but because I felt like Harry and I understood each other. Maybe in some way we were both boys who lived. Now I'm in my late twenties and the memories I have of my mother have faded a lot. When I read Harry Potter, the gift she gave to me, I feel connected to her and that she, like Lily Potter, never really left me. I don't think I can ever thank J.K. Rowling enough for something so precious.