Books that Built Us: ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’

Thursday, October 25, 2018 - 5:41pm

A young Daniel Radcliffe as Harry

A young Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Buy this photo
Warner Bros.

This is it. It’s really happening. The never-before-accomplished think piece about the massive impact the “Harry Potter” series has had on basically every millennial to ever pick up a book — with the exception of the middle schoolers “too cool for magic.”

Jokes aside, “Harry Potter”’s cultural impact is essentially unparalleled in today’s world; millions upon millions of children have had the same exact experience I did, falling madly in love with the boy wizard’s story, feeling the excitement of midnight releases and growing up with him and his friends. I wish I were kidding when I say that I have been Harry Potter for Halloween (in multiple different iterations, including Quidditch attire) going on 12 years this season. The bottom line is that I would be a drastically different human had it not been for J.K. Rowling’s brilliant mind.

For the sake of brevity (I once wrote a full research paper about the impact of J.K. Rowling’s literature / charity work when I was 14, and I’ll be sure to publish it if I ever find it), I’m going to focus on the impact of Rowling’s very first novel “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and why I can’t get through the first few sentences without tearing up: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”

Normalcy, as a social construct, has plagued my existence from a very young age — not that I even began to understand why I deviated from the norm until I was about 17, but the fact of the matter is that I am very, very gay, and the signs were very, very obvious from as far back as I remember. Internalized homophobia was so deeply ingrained in me by my family and school that I refused to fully face this truth until I had moved away from home. Which, frankly, is really fucked up. But I digress.

Anyway, I wasn’t “normal,” and everyone knew it but refused to understand. And because I, too, refused to understand, I lashed out by being “different” in other ways: I listened to pop punk and screamo, made short films with friends, did a little acting in middle school and, of course, read too many books. My mother often reminded me that I was “too contrarian” and even went so far as to say I “have issues with authority” when I was kicked off my high school tennis team.

Now at 21, I think Rowling’s opening paragraph is exactly why I have always clung to the “Harry Potter” novels like my Catholic family has clung to their Bibles. From the very beginning, Rowling makes it clear our protagonist isn’t normal. He’s quiet, he doesn’t have friends, weird things happen around him, hell, his own foster family hates him for the very fact that they know he isn’t a regular boy. And Harry’s otherness, his mistreatment, his invisibility echoed in my empty little frame (and still does if we’re being honest). Then he’s whisked away from his torturous existence with four simple words spoken by a giant groundskeeper: “You’re a wizard, Harry.”

I quite literally got on my knees and prayed to God every night leading up to my 11th birthday that my Hogwarts acceptance letter would arrive. Obviously this never happened, but I never stopped holding on to Harry’s story. Harry learned how to be a real wizard, adjusting to a new culture and way of life at only 11-years-old by making friends and forming his own family at Hogwarts. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” helped me understand that it’s OK to choose your family, to start over and find happiness outside the nuclear family unit, and it’s even better when that family is comprised of those who are othered like you: a famous orphan, a genius with muggle parents and a loyal friend whose large family has to spread their earnings thin.

This isn’t to say that my family is evil; far from it, actually, when compared to Voldemort’s burning hatred for the minority groups of the wizarding world. Despite a slightly rough upbringing, they’ve been almost entirely supportive of everything I’ve attempted to accomplish. Yet, I do feel less suffocated since I’ve moved away. I think of all the smiles Harry flashes, the amazement he expresses with each discovery of his new life, and I think about how closely it has paralleled my own experiences flying away from my nest of white suburbia. I also think about how badly I wanted to feel the same way at 11, at 14 and especially at 17, when the real me wasn’t having the best time being tucked away for so long.

“Harry Potter” shaped me in ways that are often hard to put into words, and while gays might not have magic powers (or do we?), I can say for certain that I’m a braver person for the lessons I’ve learned — someone more comfortable with my place in this world and more empathetic for those who have felt the same. I could write a whole other article on Hermione Granger alone, but for now, I’m going to thank “the boy who lived” for helping me cope with being different, and for taking Dumbledore’s advice to heart: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

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