If You Think You’re Too Old to Start Reading Harry Potter, Read This
To everyone who told me the books are better: you were right.
*contains spoilers - but to be fair, it’s been 10 years since the final book came out.
When I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in August of 2019, I had already seen the movies a handful of times. My sister and I would only emerge on marathon weekends for pizza. I had been to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios and taken a Harry Potter tour in London during my semester abroad. I completed the official Sorting Hat quiz in middle school and called myself a Slytherin ever since. I was never obsessed with it, but I was a fan like so many others. Of course, everyone had nagged me about how good the books were and gave shocked looks when I admitted I’d never read them.
I was hesitant for two reasons:
1. I hadn’t read a book for fun in years. Who has the time? Read more on top of the 200 textbook pages I saved till the last minute? In this economy?
2. Around the time I considered starting the HP books, She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was in hot water (rightfully so) for openly transphobic views. I decided to boycott the books on principle.
It’s safe to say I had no idea how much the books would come to mean to me when I finally gave in. They were fun and magical and meant for kids, so at 21 I thought it would be a light, easy way to get back into reading; though I swore against giving any money to you-know-who if I could help it. I never thought Harry Potter would be the thing that got me through 2020 – nor did I realize just how intricate and devoted the fanbase was. If you told me I’d be in a deep Harry Potter TikTok hole for months or suggested I read fanfiction to fill the void, I'd roll my eyes and tell you I’m not a fucking nerd.
A friend convinced me to bring the first book back to college in the fall of 2019, though I promptly ignored it for months when normal college life got back into swing (remember that? HA). When my university kicked us all out in March 2020, I finished Tiger King and Outer Banks, got fed up with trying to make whipped coffee and was left with nothing to do but sob over living farther than 2 floors away from my best friends. So I opened up The Sorceror’s Stone again.
3 days and a few very late nights later, I had finished book one and was hungry for more. I devoured the next two books within the same month. There were points in quarantine where my mental health hit ugly lows I didn’t know existed, and with nowhere to go, my escape was Harry Potter. Diving into new adventures at Hogwarts was the closest I could get to leaving my suffocating hometown. I latched onto the characters while my real friends were stuck hours away. By the time I started Goblet of Fire, the real world started to open up again, but I was far too attached to Harry's world to stop there.
I’d heard how much better the books were, but I didn’t realize just how many blanks they would fill in from the films. In the same way that you fall in love with the minute, vulnerable details of a person, the incredible detail of the books kept me coming back for more.
The books made me realize that the depth of the storyline and characters went far beyond silly magic movies. There are a plethora of dots that only connect once you’ve entered the halls of Hogwarts by page. The books make you love your favorite characters more, and some you never expected to, and expose the unexpectedly twisted nature of some characters the films only show at surface level.
Everyone loves sweet little Dobby the elf, but if you never read the books, you wouldn’t know Hermoine started a movement to end house-elf mistreatment: S.P.E.W, or the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. Harry’s cousin Dudley Dursley is consistently dreadful in the films, though in the final book Dudley quietly tells Harry, “I don’t think you’re a waste of space.” Though this hardly makes up for years of abuse, the movies robbed Dudley of this humanizing moment. Harry’s parents and their best friends Remus Lupin and Sirius Black were side characters in the films, but the intricate backstory they have in the novels is enough to make you long for a Marauders-era film series. And Dumbledore? You wouldn't BELIEVE how much more there is to him than a brilliant wizard with impeccable style. The list goes on and on, but you’ll have to read them yourself.
As far as the problematic original author, many fans just don’t acknowledge her. You can form bonds with the story and take the messages to heart without buying into the author's personal ideals. One good way to enjoy the series without supporting J.K. Rowling is to buy merch from one of the many small, brilliant artists on websites like Etsy–or watch the movies illegally, but you didn’t hear it from me.
The final Harry Potter book was what really hit home for me; I binged the last 100 pages of Deathly Hallows in my half-empty, packed-up dorm room on the last day of college. I paused with less than 10 pages left and realized how much it felt like I grew up with the characters in such a short period of time. Though our troubles had obvious differences, at the core, Harry and I spent our last year of school dealing with circumstances way out of our control. We were worried about so many unprecedented bigger things that we didn’t even consider what senior year traditions we were missing out on. All of the emotions of my own year hit me at once as Harry, Hermoine, and Ron came to the end of their journey. Harry Potter gave me an escape from the dumpster fire of 2020, but I didn't expect it to help me process it, too.
If nothing else, Harry Potter was the perfect way to rediscover the high of late-night reading by flashlight that all burnout gifted kids have been chasing for years.
Although I have beef with Dumbledore (he was MANIPULATIVE), he was right about one thing:
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Harry Potter taught me that you’re never too old to believe in magic, in a year where the world needed a little magic most.