I was just about to turn 11 when the first Harry Potter book was released. But that was not the year I would read it. In fact, I would not discover Harry Potter and his wizarding world for another decade. My discovery of this magical world was accidental. My love for it is not.
Firstly, isn’t Harry Potter a children’s book?
Yes, it most certainly is. Which is why it would have been appropriate for me to come of age with Harry and Ron and Hermoine. After all, they had all turned 11 the very year I had! But for better or worse, I was indulging in Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews – old, battered copies I found in the attic of my granduncle, books that once belonged to my mother when she was a teen. That was exciting for me. My mother’s mark on the very first page, signalling only with her initials, that these copies were hers. And those treasures had lain forgotten for decades until the day I stumbled onto them in a forgotten room in the home of someone I was getting bored in. And I inherited my first books. So all that existed for me during that age were these 20-odd books and I cared for little else.
So I didn’t get meet Harry when we were both 11. In fact, I would meet him, when he, of course, was still 11 but I had already marked a milestone in my life – by turning the corner of 20. I was adulting and suddenly I felt ready to take on the world.
I was studying to be an engineer and as is bound to happen over coding useless web pages that excited you back then for ten minutes and then lost their charm, my friends and I took to doing what we loved best – cracking jokes, teasing and just being silly. That is when someone started talking about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which is so far ahead in the series, that when my friend mentioned the great twist in the end, she pretty much spoiled the entire series for me. But I wasn’t going to read the books. This was magical stuff. Stuff for children. I had grown in literary tastes, and after experimenting with Sidney Sheldon and John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer, I had already moved onto exploring non-fiction works. What satisfaction could I possibly derive from Rowling’s fantasy world?
I just didn’t know at that moment, what I had been missing.
Harry Potter is as enjoyable for adults as it is for children. It is that good a story. But also, it has some very important lessons for grownups.
I only began to read Harry Potter because my friend who gave away the big spoiler wanted to convince me that I would love the books and I was being daft for thinking that this was only for kids. I didn’t expect to enjoy the Harry Potter series. But I did. Which made me wonder, how could something that is written for young adults be actually fun for an older audience? The answer is that Rowling is a master storyteller. Not only has she weaved an intricate world, but she has also infused it with meaning that both young adults and the grownups can resonate with and appreciate on different levels.
Here are 6 reasons why you should read Harry Potter as an adult.
Disclaimer: Loads of major spoilers ahead. If you are yet to read this series (and I highly recommend you do!) just trust me on these big, bold points in black, and get your own set of Harry Potter books!
1. It addresses important mental issues like depression and anxiety
The very first time I read about the dementors in Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, I saw them for what they truly were. These evil, faceless, fear-inspiring creatures that made everything go dark and made you relive your worst memories could only be the representation of one thing – depression. What I didn’t realize right away is that in the same book where we first meet dementors, Rowling also introduces us to another very serious mental ailment. A boggart, which takes the form of whatever you fear the most, is actually our anxieties. A boggart can transform into any number of things depending on who is closest to it. Just like our anxieties stem from different visions we have that we obsessively worry over. These representations are easy to miss if you read Harry Potter as a young child, but as an adult, you quickly latch on to their meanings. I, in fact, began calling my dark depressive days as dementor days, and my friends understood exactly what I was talking about it. They were Harry Potter readers too and the description of dementors in the stories was enough for them to understand what I was feeling, what I was living through. The word ‘depression’ did not occur to me back then. But calling it by the name of dementors gave me a way to address a problem I didn’t even know I had. To dispel a dementor you focus on the happiest things with all your might. And I unconsciously learnt to do just that. Not an overnight achievement, but an important step in moving forward nonetheless.
2. It is a story of hope and love and of standing united, lessons we forget as adults
Love is what saves Harry. That is the truth behind the unwitting protection Lily left on Harry when he was merely a year old, and a protection that brought him through till the fourth book.
Hope comes to us in the form of Dumbledore’s unfailing optimism, even when things turn against him. He believes that Voldemort can be defeated even if Voldemort has gone way beyond with his magical powers to split his soul into seven, and even if the Ministry of Magic decides to not believe Dumbledore or support him and instead dismissed his warnings as fear-mongering.
We discover the meaning of unity in the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. What begins as a competition in this book, will eventually call for collaboration between students. Cedric and Harry only get to the end because they collaborated in the last few minutes of the Triwizard tournament. and of course, Harry’s two best friends, Ron and Hermione stand united with him in the last book and go wandering around without a plan, even though they could have chosen to fight Voldemort in different ways. But they chose to stay united, and look at how many Horcruxes they helped discover and destroy! How much of harry’s victory was the product of a united front put up by the very many characters throughout the books. Even though his enmity with Voldemort was personal, and Voldemort’s reason for wanting to destroy him was also personal, many great witches and wizards stood by Harry.
These are lessons that we as adults tend to take for granted a lot of times. And revisiting these values, with Harry, becomes a journey not only into his life but also a great way for introspection into ours.
3. It exposes the problems in our society like bullying and discrimination
Dudley is a bully. As are Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. They are Muggles, different from Harry, and much less appreciate Harry , they fear what they don’t understand. But in the list of bullies is also Sirius Black. His treatment towards everyone is kind but with Kreacher he is nothing like that. Everybody loves Sirius, but only when Dumbledore points out to Harry why Kreacher is so disrespectful towards Sirius and his friends, does it become clear that bullying is not a trait that only belongs to people we term as bad. Even those, who otherwise are wonderful, can be guilty of being unkind towards others, without even realizing it.
Then they are the squibs and house elves. I mean sure, Filch is evil, so we laugh when we discover he is a Squib. But when Mrs Figg comes to the scene, that’s when you realise, just how difficult it must be to belong to a world where you cannot be whole. And then with the house elves, you see the mistreatment they receive at the hands of their masters. Dobby’s loyalty to Harry borders almost on worship, but there is an important lesson here – if we can find it in our hearts to treat those, who are different from us, no differently, the best of friendships can form.
4. It addresses power dynamics, very similar to the real-life political upheavals we see around the world
Harry wins battle after battle against his nemesis. Sometimes it is outwitting Draco. Then its the Death Eaters. Finally, he has to face off Voldemort who has all the power of evil behind him. But Harry doesn’t ever give up. He doesn’t shirk from the grave burden that is his. He helps us rethink of how to make this world a better place. We all have a Voldemort to fight. But we also have to fight against lesser powers that suppress our voices or take our freedoms for granted and are evil nonetheless.
Take the power of Umbridge. She manages to get Dumbledore kicked out of his office, but that doesn’t stop a bunch of 15 year-olds from fighting against her. Or the power of Hermoine Granger, who uses her talents for positive purposes and begins to work for the emancipation of house-elves. Power is a fickle thing and those with it can be tempted to abuse it. But when used in the right direction, it can create a more integrated and better-connected world.
5. It is a great way to connect with your little ones
My set of Harry Potter books is the legacy I will pass on to my own children. Of course, their conversion from muggles to the magical world will involve their own set of Harry Potter books. But I know that right from their earliest days, they will have Harry to comfort them because that’s who I had as a grownup to comfort me.
What’s more is that I have already tested this technique (and it works!). When my cousin was just three, I used harry potter to becomes his favorite sister. He was of course too young for the books or even the complex storyline, so I simplified it down and narrated it to him in bits and pieces. And then watched the movies with him. I don’t know how much he understood what he saw or heard. I do remember him enjoying all the visuals though and the idea of a flying car in the second movie or the nasty tree (the Whomping Willow) in the third one sure fascinated him.
6. It reinforces one of the most important lessons of life – there is greatness in us all
Take the case of Neville. He is clumsy, forgetful, and really just a boy who cannot get anything done right. Yet, in the very first year at Hogwarts, he manages to find courage, standing up to his friends for what he believes is wrong. And this brings him a reward far greater than he could have imagined. Or any of the readers could have imagined. Neville manages to score ten points, measly by Hogwarts standards, but just what Gryffindor needs to win the house cup. That is simply a precursor to the crucial role Neville will go on to play in later books. If anything he teaches us it is this – it is not beyond anyone’s reach, to achieve greatness.
Harry Potter is more than just a story of a magical world. It is a thrilling experience and one that even adults can find meaning in.
I’m certain my experience of Harry Potter would have been different had I first read the books as an 11-year old. But the magic of what it could have been is not diminished by what is. I fell in love with the first 6 books so much that I waited in line for 2 hours on the day of the release of the final book. It was 4 in the morning and nothing could deter me from the queue – not the dark creepy roads, not the thirst, not a crow who took perverse pleasure in scaring the crowd by voiding himself.
Every two years I revisit the entire series – it’s my ritual, and those reading days invariably are one of the best ones of my reading year. I suppose, in a way, when I decided to ‘dare’ to read what I thought was a children’s book, I stopped being a Muggle forever. And that is the magical transformation you go through when you read Harry Potter.
In the words of J K Rowling herself –
Have you read Harry Potter? How old were you when you first read it?