This week I confiscated a snake from a student.
What a way to begin a post celebrating the endurance of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter.
The student in question, clearly a closet parseltongue, is not a first-time offender when it comes to the snake. I’m beginning to grow suspicious of a possible Slytherin uprising within the school. I’m certain the snake is not a basilisk, as we have found no more than the usual number of petrified students on campus; their horror is still within the same realms as it always has been – having to wear a uniform, not being allowed to use their phones, detention for being late (who would have thought right?), phone calls home for truanting… All the same, I may take to shining a mirror around corners from now on, just to be safe. The snake in question, whose name I’ve been assured is not Nagini, is, in fact, a Queensland jungle python and his name is Skitzo.*
In most other schools, this would be a cause for concern. Not in the Northern Territory. Whilst it’s not ideal to have students bringing snakes to school in their backpacks and the quiet ‘Psst, Miss, look what’s in my backpack’ doesn’t always end up with a snake being confiscated, the whole situation remained pretty calm. What is amazing about this situation, is how many Harry Potter references I’ve been able to link into it. Which brings me back to my main point. I confiscated a snake… no, I’m joking. My main point, is the enduring power of a story about a boy who escaped the ‘The Cupboard under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey’, opening the door to a magical world of witches, wizards, dragons, giants and snakes, captivating my 10 year old self, and the world.
Yesterday/Today, depending on where you are, the world celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I’m not sure about you, but my newsfeed has been flooded with memes of ‘You’re a Wizard Harry’ and overall celebrations of this milestone. As a longtime Gryffindor, you’ll notice a Harry Potter reference in pretty much all of my posts, which is reflective of my day to day life; an ex-boyfriend of mine was referred to for months as ‘He who shall not be named’ before the I had the confidence to openly refer to him as ‘Voldy’, complete with hilarious Lord Voldemort GIFS shared amongst myself and my girlfriends. I’ve attached my favorite for your perusal. It’s this kind of relevance that has kept Harry at the forefront of people’s minds over the past twenty years.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone we are introduced to Harry, who leads a pretty basic life, living in a cupboard under the stairs and desperately hoping for an escape from the semi-slavery he endures at the hands of his Aunt and Uncle, his primary caregivers who have raised him since he was a year old after his parents were killed in a terrible ‘car crash. Strange things begin to happen around Harry’s eleventh birthday; hundreds of letters flood the Dursley’s home, much to the disgust of Uncle Vernon, one of my favourite lines comes from this very situation, one which is the basis of memes all over the internet, ‘No post on Sunday’s’. I can’t even type that without giggling. This the leads us into perhaps the most famous line of the entire series when a huge man finds Harry and the Dursley’s hiding out in a shack and tells him ‘You’re a wizard, Harry’, This catapults Harry into a world of magic, witches and wizards, and most importantly, the realization that he is part of something much larger than he ever thought possible. Overnight, he becomes ‘The Boy who Lived’ famed throughout the wizarding world. We all know this story.
J.K Rowling leads us through Platform 9 and ¾, settles us into a seat on the Hogwarts Express and dares to hold on to our seats over the course of the next six books. Harry’s sidekicks, goofy Ron Weasley and annoying know it all Hermione Granger (“You’re going to take someone’s eye out! Besides, you’re saying it wrong. It’s LeviOsa, not LevioSA”) are the perfect friends for Harry, and the three of them experience mishaps and blunders throughout their first year at Hogwarts; as a reader, you become the fourth best friend and wish you were attending Hogwarts with them. They remind you that it’s ok to be an awkward, bumbling teenager, or that it’s ok to be the nerdy girl, and most importantly, the everlasting nature of true friendships.
Relationships, in my opinion, are one of the key ingredients to Rowling’s success with Potter. Immediately, the reader is empathetic to the orphan boy with a lightning bolt scar, we hate the Dursley’s for their mistreatment of Harry and we get teary the open arms of the Weasley’s in welcoming Harry as one of their own. If like me, you grew up reading the series at roughly the same age of the characters, then you no doubt felt like you could relate to the characters at every turn. In Philosopher’s Stone, my eleven-year-old self would have thought it simply abhorrent for Ron and Hermione to get together, but by Order of the Phoenix teenage me was screaming at the pages when they wouldn’t get together! Similarly, Cho wouldn’t have offended me so much if she had just stopped playing Harry! By the time the Harry and Ginny storyline became evident, I was old enough to fall in love with the idea of them together as well.
The formula is another key ingredient to Rowling’s success, in my opinion. When you think about it, Rowling’s skill as a writer is quite impressive. All of her Potter books follow a formula, we usually start them in the holidays, the trio returns to Hogwarts, strange things happen and finally we come face to face with ‘He who shall not be Named’ (not my ex, the real one). This is how it goes for the first four books. Yet Rowling is smart, she knows this formula won’t engage readers forever, and as the characters grow older, and the wizarding world grows darker, her skill in writing really shines. It shines through in how she grows with her characters, and with a lot of her readers simultaneously. The development of all of the characters over the series is masterfully achieved, we get shy and naïve teenagers at the beginning of the series, and by the end, we have strong characters who throughout all of the evil they have witnessed over the series, have remained inherently good. Unlike many current writers, (cough, cough George R.R Martin), Rowling ends the series giving her readers everything they want. Even the deaths of beloved major characters are ok because of the raw emotion it adds, and she does it in nearly every book. They’re not always major characters that she kills off, yet even the minor ones have an impact on the reader. As for the major deaths, let’s just not talk about them. It’s too painful for sweet summer children.
Twenty years on, Harry is still one of the most beloved, and best-selling, one could go so far as to say that Harry Potter was the beginning of a generation of authors who favor themes oppression and prejudice, highlighting social divisions based on blood or other differences, young adult characters with strong values and beliefs, and of course, magic. Rowling, is quite simply, a master of her craft, and twenty years from now, I have no doubt the world will be celebrating forty years of Harry.
*Skitzo, the Queensland Jungle Python, was returned to his owner at the conclusion of the school day and has not been sighted on campus since.