Had I been told ten years ago that a piece of literature would so dramatically change the way I think, the way I view the world, and the way I live my life as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I may have believed it… but I would surely have been skeptical.
My mother always tells me that she knew I was going to be an English major from the day I learned to talk: My siblings and cousins liked to run and jump and scream around the neighborhood, and I spent most of my childhood with the natural, irrepressible desire to sit for hours and “read” aloud the picture books I had memorized to a crowd of my stuffed animals. When I’d outgrown Little Critter, I moved on to Beverly Cleary’s infamous Ramona Quimby chapter book series, and my connection to Ramona was so strong that I resisted my mother and teacher’s pleas for me to move on to bigger and better things. I valiantly fought my mom one night when I was ten, because I didn’t want to tarnish my allegiance to Ramona by reading a copy of the first Harry Potter book, which she begged me to try. But, in the end, my desire to gluttonize a novel proved stronger than my desire to win a fight, and I fell asleep in the wee hours of the night, clutching the hard cover of my new best friend to my prepubescent chest.
In some ways, I’ve grown far beyond my ten-year-old self. I now read and enjoy masses of literature each year, and I have learned from example that, occasionally, my parents and teachers actually know what they’re talking about. However, just as my mom suspected my lifelong passion from my early childhood, some latent personality traits never die. The Harry Potter series grew up alongside my generation, and what started as a trilogy of children’s books expanded to include four volumes of rather adult content and complicated prose. This is fortunate for me, because my unfailing devotion to Jo Rowling has only grown as I’ve matured, and I owe much of my personality and many of my life experiences to her works, even in my young adult years.
It’s a strange and difficult concept to explain to an outsider, but my favorite of Jo Rowling’s novels,Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, has so dramatically affected my life that, had I not eagerly awaited its arrival, read it in one sitting, and continued to reread it several times thereafter, I would hardly resemble the person I am today. My job, my hobbies, and many of my close friends and contacts have come into my life as a direct result of my obsession with Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts. It may sound like an exaggeration, but so many of my personal experiences have dominoed from those 700 pages.
I was fourteen—going into my freshman year in high school-- when Half-Blood Prince was released, and although my love for the series had not dwindled, I was at that stage in my life when being accepted by my school clique was more important than taking the risk to show my true self, and I had been keeping my obsession nearly secret. I was desperate for the opportunity to discuss theories and moon over my fictional crushes and make predictions about the final two books, but my real friends had only a fleeting interest in the wizard world, and I knew my “popular friends” would make fun of me if they saw my true nerdy colors. In need of an outlet, I did a little bit of googling one afternoon, and came across a website called MuggleNet.com, which claimed to be “the ultimate Harry Potter fansite.” As I scrolled through pages and pages of forums, fanfiction, drawings and essays, all compiled by thousands of fans, it became suddenly clear to me: I was far from alone.
I immediately subscribed to MuggleNet’s talk show podcast, and for one hour every week, I could take a break from the stress of school, and I could just relax and listen to strangers who seemed to understand me better than my fake friends*. MuggleCast led me to search other avenues on the internet used by fans to express their obsessions, and I discovered a brand new, unknown video-sharing website called YouTube, to which I became one of the first couple thousand members.
Inspired by the two (yes, only two) other YouTube videos about Harry**, I decided to join in, and started creating poorly edited comedy shorts about life as a fan. Shortly thereafter, a slew of other fans discovered the site, and my videos were being seen by hundreds of people who knew exactly where I was coming from. Somewhere between the start of my sophomore year and the unexpected bombardment of user-generated content that the growing popularity of YouTube provided, I was offered a job with Google, and began receiving revenue for the traffic my Potter-related videos attracted to the website. Harry Potter had breached the barrier of my “double life,” and my secret Internet world provided me with the job that currently pays for a portion of my college expenses.
Through this job, I’ve gotten to meet a wide range of other YouTube Partners, as well as some incredibly talented and successful musicians who make up a bona fide genre of music called Wizard Rock, and I now consider many of these people to be some of my best friends. I introduced one of my nerdy high school friends to a Potter fan from across the country-- whom I’d met through a chat room, because she subscribed to my YouTube channel-- and I did a reading in their wedding this past summer. Two of my good friends are married because of my devotion to a book series.
Sure, my involvement in the Internet Potter microcosm hasn’t always been a perfect experience—my distracted choice to isolate myself completely from my high school clique, while a mostly healthy decision, left me feeling lonely and misunderstood during the school day-- but by choosing to suffer social exile, I broke free from the paradigm of the middle class white kids, and exposed myself to people from all different backgrounds, sexual orientations, and ideologies. I learned that two people who appear totally different on the outside can have in common their love for a piece of literature, and that, just as Jo Rowling teaches, love should always win over hate.
The lessons of acceptance and the commonality of the human experience that Harry, Ron and Hermione encounter over the course of the series correlate directly to my life. I started high school as an Abercrombie-clad fake, associating myself only with the people who looked exactly like me and forced themselves into molds, and because of a book, I left my graduation ceremony with a career, friends across the globe who care more deeply about my soul than about my clothes, and the knowledge that a belief in truth can always beat out evil at the end of the day.
Through my experiences with Harry Potter, I will never be able to approach a piece of literature passively. I find it hard to criticize popular authors***, because what is often written off as a children’s fantasy story is directly responsible for my real life growth as a young adult. Books have the potential to radically transform people, and after seeing this firsthand, I can’t help but long to be a part of such a change in someone else’s life. My mother sensed my passion for literature from the picture book days, and I will forever be grateful to Jo Rowling for exposing just how important this passion can be.