OF FAIRY TALES AND JOY: A REFLECTION FOR THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF HARRY POTTER
By Elizabeth Amy Hajek
Word Count: 787
Rating: G (suitable for all audiences)
Summary: A Reflection by one reader on the joy Harry Potter and other fairy tales brought to her life.
“Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.”
― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
This summer marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [Sorcerer’s Stone in the USA], the tenth anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—and also, incidentally, this fall will be the tenth anniversary of my own first reading of the series.
Of course, like most adults of my generation, my childhood was saturated with references to Harry Potter. I even, at one time, watched part of the first movie. I knew a few things, like who Dumbledore was and such. But due to the subculture I was partially raised in, I did not truly delve into the world of J.K. Rowling until I reached college. This made me one of the very first readers to take up the series without having to wait a single day between books. (Okay, I’ll admit, the library couldn’t get me book four, but I had watched the fourth movie, which sparked my reading of the series, so I went right into book five and didn’t actually read book four until the next week.)
I’ll never forget that week. I picked up the first book with a sense of trepidation. It was such a controversial subject—but I had researched and prayed and I was ready to read. I didn’t quite know what to expect. After all, despite being a worldwide phenomenon, it was still a book about an eleven-year-old. Would I like it?
I couldn’t put it down. The responsibilities of classes and work demanded short breaks, but the moment these obligations were fulfilled I would dive back into the adventures of Harry, Hermione and Ron. The magical world was utterly enchanting. I found myself filled with a sense of wonder, delighting in how Rowling’s sub-creation could bring a sense of joy to the most mundane of objects, and how her keen sense of humor reminded me to laugh even in the darkest of times.
Indeed, it is the way that the reader inhabits the world that I think truly enables one to read the books over and over again. I will never forget my sense of awe the first time I read the reveals in each book (particularly book three!), but although Rowling has a superb mastery of narrative drive, this alone is not enough to bring a reader back again and again (seven times for me now, I think). The Harry Potter books are about more than the adventures—they are rich experiences of character and place, with deep breaths within the tension-riddled story that allow you to truly visit the world.
And yet, while the wonder of the magical enchantments is a delight to my creative senses, I don’t find myself wishing I lived in a magical world. Rowling has created a story that fulfills Chesterton’s descriptions of fairy tales—a world in which the magic of the objects reinforces our own joy in the real world. Harry, born with his powers, might be able to do things that a muggle-born cannot, but the true magic and joy in the books is those of the friendships—the power of love that transcends death.
Indeed, when I reached the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I was filled with an awe and joy that few books have ever evoked in me. It is not, perhaps, quite the level of Aslan’s Country in The Last Battle, but it comes far closer to showing the joy of the life awaiting than nearly any other book I have read.
This sense of joy, which I believe Rowling captured, has perhaps been best described by J.R.R. Tolkien:
“It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality … In such stories when the sudden “turn” comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, Tolkien on Fairy-stories