Winding down 2012: some thoughts on Harry

As many of you know, because you were following along on twitter with #HPAlways, I recently reread the Harry Potter series. All seven years. Back to back.

I knew I wanted to do some sort of recap post when I finished, and now that I’m here finally typing it, I don’t know where to start. In fact, I’m mostly just tearing up and getting all blubbery. This series has meant the world to me. (The. World.) It’s spanned well over a decade of my life (if I count the movies) and seen me through many milestones (graduation, jobs, marriage, my own book deal). I’ve already thanked Harry before, but now it seems I have to do it again.

Because goshdarnitt is this series re-readable, and I am so thankful for all the joy and magic it’s brought into my life.

My #HPAlways series reread was very special for me because it was the first time I read all the books together. I hadn’t reread anything since HALLOWS came out, except for HALLOWS itself, just once before the movie. So to frame it clearly: I hadn’t picked up the earlier books in this series for at least five years. (Be warned: If you for some reason haven’t read these novels and plan to in the near future, spoilers abound from here on…)

It was so amazing to relive Harry’s journey; from his first moments in Dumbledore’s arms and his cupboard under the stairs, to him walking out to meet Voldemort, hallows in hand. (Oh God, I’m crying again.) Even more amazing was seeing all the foreshadowed details with utmost clarity. Jo knew what she was doing from page one. With the Hallows. With Snape. With everything.

Each of these novels is an adventure–they will never cease to amaze me–but beyond the twists and turns and action, I’ve grown to appreciate the characters and their deep, complicated relationships with one another far more in recent years.

Like Sirius. Gosh, he might be one of the most complicated characters in the story. (Okay fine, maybe tied with Snape.) Sirius’ plot line with Harry broke me during this reread in a way it never had before. He gives tons of good advice–to look at how a man treat’s his inferiors, not just his equals–and yet it is Sirius’ mistreatment of his own house elf that is his downfall. He is loyal and loving and yet he’s rather reckless and blind to his own faults as well as those of the people he loves (like James’ for instance.) In fact, one of the most moving parts of this reread for me was when Harry slowly realized that his father was not a perfect person. In fact, he was a very mediocre person (in terms of his treatment of others). Harry sees this more clearly than Sirius, and maybe even Lupin. He realizes there are ways he wants to be like his father and ways he does not. Even still, he misses him, and he leans on Sirius a lot to fill that void, and so Sirius’ death feels like Harry losing his father all over again. And maybe that’s why that final scene in the Forbidden Forest kills me so much; Harry surrounded by his family, but also by Sirius. (Harry: Does it hurt? Sirius: Dying? Not at all. Quicker and easier than falling asleep.) *bites trembling lip and tries not to sob*

Speaking of characters, I don’t think I realized how wonderful it was to have Hermione as a heroine of these stories when I was a kid. Lover of books. Smart, and unapologetic for it. Fair and honest (except maybe for that time when she confunds Cormac to ensure that Ron nabs a spot on the Quidditch team). And Luna! Granted, I was a bit older when she first entered the series (15?) but I might have needed her then more than ever. I felt a lot pressure to conform in certain ways in high school, and Luna taught me to march to the beat of my own drummer and follow my heart and not be embarrassed about the things I loved. She taught me to be proud of them. (I’m, like, sobbing right now. I was Luna for Halloween just this year, and now I can’t stop crying.) And then there’s Fred and George Weasley. Oh, the humor and blunt truths they interject into these epic tales. They have been among my favorites since I first read at the age of thirteen. (Don’t even get be started on the epicness that is Severus Snape. I think I could write an essay on him.)

And then there’s the quieter themes that exist beneath Rowling’s work. Yes, these seven books are a gigantic tale of good versus evil, but they are also a tale of family and friendship and integrity. Of virtue and loyalty. Of being a good person. Even in the hardest of times. (In the wise words of Albus Dumbledore, “There will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”) These books so say much about humanity and compassion and character without ever once hitting you over the head with it. The effect is almost magical when you read them from start to finish.

I could keep going. Probably all day. Because there is so much more to this series that is amazing (the world and its creatures and spells and locations and politics), but it really is the characters and their relationships that floored me most in this reread. (And how Rowling rocked the heck out of her plot with masterful foreshadowing.)

In a way, I’m sad that another first has ended for me. I’m never going to read the complete Harry Potter series, back to back, for the first time, ever again. (CRAP. More tears. Ughhh. Why??) But I hope to reread it over and over in the coming years, and then to my own kids one day, and maybe theirs, and then perhaps just myself while I sit on the couch, old and wrinkled and curled under a blanket. And, in the brilliant words of Alan Rickman, if someone asks me “After all this time?” I’ll nod and absolutely say, “Always.”

Thank you, Jo, for this story. Thank you, Harry, for everything.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

And now, because I’m tired of sobbing and need to smile a bit, I give you the condensed story of Harry Potter, years 1-7:

(you’ll want to click to embiggen it, trust me)

Harry Potter, years 1-7

Creative Commons License
A Condensed Look at Harry Potter, Years 1-7 by Erin Bowman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on work at embowman.com. Feel free to share it for non-commercial uses.

This chart is a product of some observations I made during my reread. Mainly that certain trends appear from book to book. A new DADA teacher each year, for instance, plus a key spell/gadget/etc.

Many thanks to Sarah Enni who helped me fill in a few holes in years 5-7, where my original notes, scribbled down throughout my reread, became sparse on account of being glued to the pages.

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