50 Books to Read Before You Die

words to inspire before you expire

The Harry Potter Series

Good morning, class.

I’m still powering through The Lord of the Rings.  I’m about halfway finished, and I am hoping I’ll be done before our next class.  Await my forthcoming epic lecture.

Instead, I’m dedicating class today to the Harry Potter series. Why, the bolder of you may ask?  There are a handful of reasons.  Firstly, I’m not rereading Harry Potter–I’m only writing about it here.  I’ve read each book at least three times, so I feel I’ve earned the right to call myself an expert on the series (and no, you can’t call yourself an expert if you’ve ONLY seen the movies…there’s no call for that kind of nonsense in my classroom).

Secondly, I was inspired once I realized that Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings are basically the same story: an unlikely protagonist becomes a key fighter in a vast magical war, accompanied by close friends who, together, face death, betrayal, and dark magic in a fantastically epic world (created by the genius mind of a British author known by strikingly vague initials rather than a first name).

And thirdly, I’m interested in harkening back to a time before Harry Potter was LITERALLY THE COOLEST THING EVER.  This series may have one of the strongest fandoms in the world, but like any fandom, it earned its popularity.  Did you know that there are people who are not a part of the Harry Potter fan community?  I assume they are simply overwhelmed by the ridiculous in-your-face-ness of said fan community’s enthusiasm.  Let’s face it–we’re a crazy group.

But someone needs to save the pour souls that seem to avoid this fantastic Wizarding World like the plague.  Someone needs to let them know that in the beginning, Harry Potter was simply about an orphan trapped under the stairs.

Enter Professor Jeffrey (cue John Williams music).

When readers meet Harry, he is a child bullied by his aunt, uncle, and obnoxiously spoiled cousin.  I imagine J.K. Rowling writing to a very specific reader–a child in a scary, uninviting world.  Then arrives his letter of acceptance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and an adventure begins.

I, personally, have waited for my Hogwarts acceptance letter for about 15 years.  But it’s okay, because my dreams of going to Hogwarts came alive through seven novels and eight movie adaptations following Harry on his journey.  The Harry Potter books are one of the defining moments in my childhood, and this is the case for many other readers as well.  This series was our hope of escaping a world we were afraid of.

Once the series springs from this foundation, it soars into one of the most innovative fantasy worlds ever created.  Magical spells next to beautifully written characters; wizarding politics and wizarding sports; a boarding-school castle with more secrets than a child could dream of; a brooding and dynamic villain in a complex wizarding war; and through it all, a mostly unbiased boy-wizard hero with a courageous heart and a sometimes-simple head.  It’s the adventure of a lifetime.

Don’t get me wrong–if Harry Potter isn’t your taste, don’t waste your time.  There are tons of books to read.  Don’t limit yourself to what’s most popular.  But I would be letting you down as my students if I didn’t educate you on why it is so important.  Besides everything listed above, here is the gist: it’s important because it meaningfully discusses and challenges topics like ethics, death, friendship, education, love, coming-of-age, hope, and magic, all in a kid-friendly, not-condescending way.  Not a lot of authors can do that with as much gusto as Rowling put forth.

I’ll definitely be including quotes from the novels in the coming week.  Some of you may have noticed that I’ve included a few quotes on my blog–extra credit is reserved for those who come in on Mondays and Fridays, not just Wednesdays.  You’re not required to come to class on those days, but if you do, you’ll be letting me know how much fun my class is.  And I know some of you are having fun!

As an added assignment (NOT extra credit…this is the regular credit), I’d like to hear from you.  Harry Potter means a lot to me, and I’m sure it means a lot to you and your classmates.  Leave a comment about what Harry Potter means to you, or has meant to you in the past.  If the importance of the Harry Potter series is partly found in the meaningfulness it has in the lives of its fans, then it would be a disservice to leave out your own story.

Enjoy your week, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Prof. Jeffrey

3 Comments

  1. Because of all the reasons covered, Harry Potter will become a cultural reference for years to come. In the same way I know what it means when someone references Dogpatch or Nancy Drew or a leave it to Beaver world, for years to come educated people will need to know what it means to refer to he who must not be named or Dumledore. Or Bart Simpson or Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. Besides those books are pure fun to read!

    • wordsmith2294

      September 7, 2016 at 9:41 pm

      I completely agree. I love when stories like this have cultural significance! I don’t think it was J. K. Rowling’s intention to write one of the bestselling book series of all time–I think she was just telling a story. But like I wrote on my post last week about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the story has saturated our culture. The story itself is important, but its importance is also important. It might have been elected for the list of “50 books to read before you die” based only on its own merit, but the impact it had (and still has) made it an even more obvious choice for this list.

  2. I could not refrain from commenting. Exceptionally well written!

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