Although we at The Book Wars have written a fair bit about Harry Potter (albeit often indirectly, focusing on a small aspect of the series or the world or the controversy), we have’t yet spoken about the influence it had upon us as readers.
Maybe that’s because we were already voracious readers by the time Harry Potter came along. I inhabited Redwall for years before Jo Rowling’s manuscript was first rejected by a publishing house. I’m pretty sure the other Book Warriors can say the same about other fictional worlds of their choice. (Enid Blyton’s boarding schools, am I right, Nafiza?)
But for children who didn’t feast on books, Harry Potter was a game-changer, especially for children of my approximate age, who grew up the same age as Harry Potter was every year. The revelation of Harry’s year of birth in the final book of the series did not take away from the experience of growing up with Harry.
Perhaps that is why none of us have written about this yet: because everybody knows that Harry Potter was a phenomenon that brought children who didn’t read for pleasure into the heady world of libraries and bookstores and fiction.
Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing someone else’s Harry Potter story. A man told me that his daughter was dyslexic. He read to his daughter each book in turn as it was published. “When the second- or third-last book came out,” he said, “she took it herself and read it in two days.”
Did the experience make a reader out of her? I don’t know. Even Hermione never came across a spell to cure dyslexia. And yet over the course of growing up with Harry, maybe a few years younger than he, a young woman found a world worth fighting for. Both The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince are thick books, dense with words and thick with plot. I don’t think it matters which one she read by herself matters, really.
Her triumph matters, though.
It matters to her. It matters to her dad – of all the stories he could have told me as we chatted about children’s literature, this is the one he chose.
It matters even to people who don’t like Harry Potter and haven’t found the book that ignites wonder at the marvel of the written story. It wasn’t the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that she read. It wasn’t The Chamber of Secrets or The Prisoner of Azkaban or The Goblet of Fire: it wasn’t the first, second, third, or fourth book in the series that inspired her to struggle through the story when she could have let her dad read it to her, a system that had seemingly suited both of them for the first four books, but the fifth or sixth. It took, in other words, several years for her to become so invested in Harry’s world that she decided of her own accord and without any prompting to read the next installment of his adventures for himself.
Harry Potter changed the way a lot of children thought about reading. But if it isn’t a series that interests you or the reluctant reader in your life, there are others.
Or it might be Harry after all. Who knows?