A couple of people have told me lately they miss the blog. I’m always so touched by this. So thank you, truly. It’s good to be back.
Lately I’ve found myself taking comfort in other people’s words, be it escaping into the Neapolitan novels (highly recommend), binging political podcasts (who’s not doing this?), and diving into the quicksand of Twitter.
It’s all just been too much. COVID, concussion, work reorg, kid anxiety, election angst, post-election nausea — all of the standard 2020 stuff.
But there’s been a bright spot. It’s not new; it was just new to me: The World of Harry Potter, or HP as we refer to it. As a family, we have been deep into HP since about October 2019 and I gotta tell you, it’s given me life over the last year. It’s helped me make sense of some deep stuff.
Before I go on, I’ve had to reckon with something about Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. For anyone who may not know, J.K. Rowling has expressed transphobia in recent statements and actions. This is not acceptable: it is bigotry plain and simple. I do not tolerate it and it is not tolerated in our family culture. Full stop.
It is also true that curious and thoughtful people must hold and to attempt to reconcile two seemingly paradoxical ideas at once. In fact, to keep our heads together in these times I would say it’s a crucial skill. We can love America and dismiss the views of some Americans. We can feel pride and disappointment at the same time — even about the same issue. I can love and respect certain members of my extended family who vote differently. I can abhor that, but love them.
I can hold on to hope that, in time, their views may evolve and broaden and change, but I’m not waiting on it. I’m going to live my life. I’m going to read Harry Potter with my kids.
And we can love the world and stories of Harry Potter and completely reject views expressed by its author in other contexts. To do so, in my opinion, is a personal reckoning of sorts — a sign of growing up. Both people and the world will dazzle you and disappoint you in equal measure, I tell the kids.
Disclaimer, as opposed to spoiler alert: If like me, you graduated from HS in late 90s (or earlier) when Harry Potter first came out, and spent your college years listening to Sublime and Bob Marley and being irresponsible with friends, you may have missed the HP craze by a few years, and haven’t experienced the books. I’ll say this: you’re in for a treat. You probably catch even more the second and even third time around, but as they say: there’s nothing like your first time. The point is: if you’re a newbie, I’ll keep it general.
The genius of HP is that the more you know about a character, the more you have to reckon with. Harry himself gets the hero’s journey, more or less, but even he is not untainted. A quick rundown of some key players: Harry’s Dad James was your basic high school quarterback douchebag; Snape was a broken person, formed from a broken home and broken heart; and beloved Dumbledore had a serious god complex and made a withdrawn and controlling leader. Harry’s besties, too: Hermione is both brilliant and thoughtful and arrogant and aloof. And Ron, my favorite, is practical and loyal, but also jealous and lazy. And as we know, J.K. Rowling can be a brilliant author, and a bigot. Both can be true.
To know her characters is to know people. How sad and yet how right it is to learn that, in the end, there are few very heroes and very few villains — only flawed people.
This is what reading Harry Potter has meant to me.
However hard won, I want our kids to develop the ability to recognize, even acknowledge, that — more often than not — diametrically opposed values often live in one story, one person, one nation, one world. And if you want to love people, and things, and ideals, you accept this wholeheartedly. Things are rarely all good or all bad, save for Voldemort (and Voldemorts everywhere). Without him — without them — the Death Eaters would have no feast. Without evil, there would be no overcoming of it.
The world of Harry Potter, and the escapism it offered, was more applicable to the realities of 2020 than I could ever have imagined.
So, this Thanksgiving, I am grateful. I am so grateful that in the insanity of the last year, our family found the magic of Harry Potter. I’m grateful for the stories, and how they gave me the language to connect with my kids around some of life’s most existential issues: identity, purpose, death, prejudice, tyranny and liberty. I will never forget our HP conversations in the car, and around the dinner table.
We are within two chapters of the end of the last book, after which we will watch the second part of the final movie. There will be catharsis, and closure. The credits will roll and there will be an ending. And then there will be a moving on — all of us changed.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Image above: A fan’s depiction of Harry Potter, Cor-Sa on DeviantArt • CC BY-SA 3.0. It has not been altered in any way.