Although I am an Anglophile, a bibliophile and a fan of young adult literature, I spent several years as a Harry Potter skeptic. I first heard about the books when a family friend, a school superintendent, read the early ones and praised them. But I wasn’t sure I’d really like them – wizards? Spells? Some kind of game played on brooms? Sounded a bit too fantastical for me.
During my first semester in Oxford, several friends were thrilled to tour Christ Church because its dining hall serves as the Great Hall in the Harry Potter films. Privately, I scoffed at their excitement. Didn’t they love this elegant, historic building for its own sake? (Yes, I know. I couldn’t stand me, either.)
Finally, Valerie convinced me to give Philosopher’s Stone a chance. “Just try it,” she begged, pushing it across her coffee table on a hot August afternoon. “If you hate it, I swear I’ll leave you alone. But if you love it, come back and you can borrow the rest of the series.”
Two days later I was back on her doorstep, holding out the book I’d just finished and begging to borrow the next one. I finished Prisoner of Azkaban the following week, sitting at Val’s kitchen table, and as soon as I read the last page, I leaped up and pounded down the hall to her bedroom, to squeal and exclaim and discuss. I had enjoyed the first two books, but the last 80 or so pages of the third one break the plot wide open, forcing readers to reexamine many things they thought they knew. Suddenly, this story was bigger and deeper – and darker – than I could previously have imagined. (Val, bless her, never so much as said “I told you so.”)
Recently, I spent a couple of weeks immersed in what I think is my sixth reread of the series. And I love it more than ever.
It’s fascinating to reread a series from the beginning after I know the end (though it was fun to wait with bated breath for the sixth and seventh books, with millions of other fans). I can glimpse Rowling’s grand design from the first pages of Philosopher’s Stone, and I know to look for the signs and hints she weaves into the buildup of Harry’s story. I notice the repetition of certain symbols, key phrases, even verbs. These books are full of action, and the verbs “seized,” “bellowed,” “roared,” “dashed,” get quite a workout.
I love tracing the familiar, twisting path from number four, Privet Drive, to Hogwarts and back again, learning about the wizarding world alongside a wide-eyed Harry, taking in the delights of Diagon Alley and meeting the Hogwarts students, staff and ghosts. I love the flashes of humor that pop up regularly (often in the form of Fred and George, whom I adore). From Zonko’s to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes to various clever spells, it’s obvious Rowling had so much fun creating this magical world. And Dumbledore had it right: the heart of the series, the great secret that gives the story its power, is love.
Harry has grown up mostly ignored by the Dursleys, but his mother’s love and protection thrums through his veins in his very blood. Somehow, his years with his relatives haven’t erased his compassion: he is kind, loyal and honorable, although he has a temper and a stubborn independent streak (he is no angel, but rather endearingly human). His parents’ love saved his life, and his love for his friends saves more than one life throughout the series, as the stakes rise higher and higher, and more people are forced to risk their necks for those they care about.
I love the Order of the Phoenix, how these wizards from varying backgrounds band together to fight against Lord Voldemort, though for all they know, it might be a losing battle. I love how the Weasleys take Harry in as another son, how the members of the DA stand up for him and for each other, how Ron and Hermione stay with him until the very end. I love how the story keeps growing in depth and scope, until it becomes truly epic, a battle for the very future of the world we all hold dear.
Every once in a while, I get a hankering to return to Hogwarts, to spend a week or two in this world filled with magic (of various kinds). The best rereading combines the comfort of familiarity with new moments of insight each time, and Harry’s story provides both, in ample measure.
Do you reread favorite books or series? Have you read the Harry Potter books?