I’m not the first person to tell you that Harry Potter changed my life, but I also hope I’m not the last. I grew up with Harry and was 18 by the time the last book came out. Even ten years after the last book was published, I still think about it regularly and even secretly evaluate people according to what house they belong in. (Pottermore sorted me into Gryffindor, but I actually identify more as a Hufflepuff.) Here’s how Harry Potter shaped me into the person I am today.
Harry Potter went through, well, a lot. Aside from escaping death on a yearly basis, he had PTSD from witnessing Cedric Diggory’s death and torture from Voldemort, a psychotic teacher like Umbridge, and all of this as a teenager.
But he dealt with it. He had his struggles, but he learned how to overcome them. I felt his anguish and frustration, but I also was thrilled over his victories, even smaller victories like when he won the Quidditch house cup in the third book or when he was training Dumbledore’s Army.
It’s encouraging to see characters you love and care about overcome their own issues. You realize you’re not alone in your struggles, and that you have the power to work through them.
Reading is a unique way to get inside someone else’s head, feel what they feel, and understand their decision-making even when you don’t agree with them. Even though the books are written from Harry’s point of view, Rowling did an excellent job of helping the reader gain compassion for characters such as Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Draco Malfoy, and Snape.
As a teenager, I didn’t understand what Harry was going through. I initially wrote off his mood swings in the sixth book as hormonal but annoying. It was only years later when I gained a greater understanding of mental health that I realized that he was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Because of this, I’ve gained greater understanding and compassion for the people I interact with on a regular basis. I’m still learning, but I realize that most people are fighting their own battles.
Thanks to the advent of the internet, you can find fellow Harry Potter nerds on a variety of internet forums and read (or even write) fanfiction. I began writing fanfiction of my own and not-so-loosely based one story’s plot off of You’ve Got Mail. It wasn’t great or widely read, but I had fun. Fanfiction gave me a whole new avenue for creativity.
Another talent I discovered was drawing. I learned how to draw because of fanart. Harry Potter fanart brought the characters to life. Whenever I looked at fanart, I felt closer to the characters and watched scenes that the movies never captured properly. I began drawing more and took several art classes throughout college so I could capture expressions, body language, and emotions.
I was not particularly academic throughout most of school. I’d always struggled with assignments in school and getting homework done. Harry Potter (among other books) was an area I could get absorbed in and stay there for hours. I’d stay up until 2 a.m., hiding a faint lamp under my blanket or reading by my nightlight. I excelled in my English and literature classes and developed a steel-trap memory, especially for some good Harry Potter trivia.
Loyalty and love, friendship and courage — these themes constantly pop up in Harry Potter and are forever relevant. I re-read the books on my phone last summer, and let me tell ya — these books age well. I kept taking screenshots and sent them to my fellow Harry Potter-obsessed friend, along with thoughts on the sections I was reading. I read other fan’s opinions on places like Quora and even discovered a Tumblr account called “Sorting Hat Chats” that took the personalities behind the Hogwarts Houses to a deeper level. (If you’re looking for a fantastic rabbit hole, I highly recommend it.)
No matter what other books I read, I keep going back to Harry Potter. He was my childhood hero, but to be honest — he might be my adulthood hero, too. I developed a love of writing, learned empathy and compassion, and can keep on trying just as he always did.