This essay was the first place winner of the 2019 Hooked to Books Scholarship program.
I no longer remember the Christmas, eleven years ago, when my parents gave me the book that changed my life. I can’t recall where I was, who was there, or how I reacted.
The only proof I have is a note, written in my father’s blocky scrawl, inside my copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The note is dated Christmas 2008. It promises “the beginning of another series of adventures”.
While I can’t recollect receiving Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I do remember that it wasn’t love at first sight for Harry and me. I was stubborn and snobbish when it came to my reading taste and had no desire to try out a book that “everyone else was already reading”.
The more people told me that I had to read Harry Potter, the more I dug my heels in and insisted that I would never read it. Until, one day, I gave in.
And fell in love.
For the first time, I understood what it meant to truly and completely lose yourself in a book. The rest of the world seemed to fall away as I read about Harry’s adventures. I felt like Lucy Pensive stepping through the wardrobe and into Narnia for the first time, stumbling through a portal into a magical realm completely unlike my own mundane reality.
It wasn’t long before I grew impatient with the pace of my parents’ reading and smuggled my copy of The Sorcerer’s Stone into my bed after my parentally mandated lights-out. I stayed up all night (or at least what felt like all night to an eight-year-old), hunkered beneath the covers, a flashlight in hand, turning page after page until I finished.
Thus began my year-long journey through the Harry Potter series (a journey which I had the good fortune of embarking upon after all seven books in the series had been released), a journey that left an indelible mark on me as a reader, a storyteller, and human being.
When I think of that time in my life, the memories that jump most readily to mind are of where I was when I first started or finished a Harry Potter book. Sitting in school, so transfixed by the climax of Harry Potter and the Order Phoenix that I didn’t even notice that the rest of my class had long-since moved on to a lesson.
Being so distressed by the ending of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that I ran to tell my parents about it, an incoherent, weeping mess, never mind that it was past my bedtime and I had been reading in secret. Lying in bed one morning, moments after finishing Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, sobbing, feeling full and empty all at once because the story which had been such a large part of my life was finally over.
In the years since that first Christmas, I’ve read hundreds of books, fallen in love with new writers, characters, and worlds. I now have more favorite books than I count on both hands; the list of stories that own a piece of my soul goes on and on and on. But I doubt there is any book that has impacted my life more than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
The Sorcerer’s Stone made me the ravenous reader I am today, filled me with a hunger for stories that would absorb me completely, that I would emerge from teary-eyed and dazzled, with the sensation that I had lived another life in another world. It also made me the determined writer I am today, filled me with dreams of weaving tales that mean as much to readers as my favorite books do to me.
I’m now nineteen-years-old, and I still try and revisit the Harry Potter series every few years. For a time, I re-read the Harry Potter series at least once a year (if not more), every year, finding something new to wonder at each time. As I experienced The Sorcerer’s Stone again and again, first through the eyes of a child, then an adolescent, then a young woman, my admiration for J.K. Rowling’s storytelling prowess only increased. Rather than remaining fixed in the amber of childhood nostalgia, Harry Potter seemed to grow up alongside me, becoming less fantastical and more relevant to my own life with each passing year.
Yes, I love Harry Potter because it sates my wandering imagination and allows me to disappear into a rich fantasy world, to dream of what it might be like to attend Hogwarts, to be sorted by the Sorting Hat (I’m a proud Ravenclaw with some Slytherin tendencies), to receive my wand (Hawthorn wood with a phoenix feather core, 10 ¾” and surprisingly swishy flexibility) and learn to cast spells. But that’s not all.
The Harry Potter books are about witches and wizards and goblins and ghosts and magic and mayhem, but they are also about the very real experience of growing up. Meeting your best friends. Falling in love. Stressing over school and staying up all night to finish your homework. Dealing with angst and anxiety and depression. Realizing that adults are just as fallible as you. Losing faith in your government’s altruism. Discovering that your world is full of prejudice and darkness and hate. Choosing to go on living anyways, to believe in goodness, in the new generation’s ability to right the wrongs of their forefathers, in the world’s potential to be better than it is.
I know that some readers (and writers) dismiss books like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as mere escapism, fairytales for children. But they forget that fairytales- the forerunners of modern fantasy stories- are meant to instruct as well as entertain. The best fantasy novels may carry readers to far-off lands and hold their attention with depictions of the strange and supernatural, but they also contain kernels of truth about experiences both universal specific, about the nature of humanity and society. The fantastical often makes these truths accessible in a way that the familiar cannot.
For the past eleven years, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has been a refuge from the real world, a second home that I can always return to for an entertaining and cathartic experience. But it has also taught about the person that I am and the person that I want to be. As the quote often attributed to Kristin Martz goes, “We lose ourselves in books. We find ourselves there too.”
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