Seven Things Harry Potter Taught Me | Celebrating the 20th Anniversary

Twenty years ago today, the first Harry Potter book hit store shelves in the U.K. One year later, books one and two were released in the U.S., and one year after that, the first three books waited for me under the Christmas tree. 

I grew up with Harry Potter, from 9 years old to age 17, and I was the same age as Harry for the release of the final book, which I attended a midnight release for and read in precisely 17 and a half hours. It was a rocky road loving this book series through childhood. On the one hand, people thought it was stupid because it was a fantasy book, and on the other, you had people who believed Satan was going to come bursting into my house because of it. 

I wish I could tell people, "chill out, it's just a book." But it's not just a book at all. 

It was the book series that defined our generation. The years of waiting between books, the speculation, the books arriving on doorsteps on release days and the midnight countdowns were as much a part of the Harry Potter experience as the stories themselves. And nothing else has ever been like it. This is definitely one of those things that only people who are a part of the special club can understand. 

"So, you're saying you went to a midnight release party for a book?" 

"Yep, sure did." 

Other series have tried to capture the magic, but they have all fallen short.

Hands down, what makes these books so beloved is the endless supply of incredible characters. Have you noticed that when you try to choose a favorite Harry Potter character, you come away with a list of, like, 10 of them? My favorite character is Sirius...and Luna...and Hermione...and Ron...and Harry...and...and...and...

But I think what comes in a close second is the sincerity, humor and, well, magic, with which the story was approached, mixed with the fact that J.K. Rowling never treated us like children who couldn't handle the tough stuff. 

Harry grew as we grew, and we learned major life lessons as he learned them.

1. Book One -- You're never too _______ to be a hero. 

Harry was only an 11-year-old the first time he fought and defeated Voldemort. If an 11-year-old can defeat the darkest wizard ever just by being brave and selfless and full of love, maybe I can defeat my demons, too. 

2. Book Two -- Don't let other people define you. 

Despite being the school's hero only a year prior, the entire school turned on Harry when they thought he was setting a giant snake on his fellow students. But while it bothered him, as being called a murderer would, he stayed true to who he was and kept on keeping on. Too often, we let other people tell us who we are, and we hear it so often that we start believing it. You define who you are. No one else. 

3. Book Three -- Face your fears

Harry didn't even make it to Hogwarts to begin his third year before meeting the terrifying dementors who suck the happiness out of the air, leaving their victims cold and terrified. They brought the trauma of his past to the surface, and when your trauma is being present while the most evil wizard ever murders your parents, that fear can certainly be crippling. But throughout the year, Harry learned that he had to face his fears head on and defeat them with happy memories using Expecto Patronum (my favorite spell, btw). We can't let our fears or our past hold us back. Only by confronting them can we move forward. 

4. Book Four -- It's okay to ask for help. 

At fourteen, Harry is thrown into a tournament that he didn't ask to join against competitors much older and more experienced than he. But despite being our protagonist, our hero and the Boy Who Lived, he is unable to get through a single task, or the final, unexpected task, without asking for help and receiving help. And it's that help that kept him alive. Asking for help can be such a challenge, but there are so many things life throws at us, whether it's a Hungarian Horntail or a debilitating illness, that we can't handle alone. 

5. Book Five -- Tell the truth, even if no one believes you. 

Harry tried to tell everyone that Voldemort was back and ready to wage war on the entire world...and hardly anyone believed him. The Minister of Magic thought he was trying to stir up trouble, the newspaper thought he just wanted attention and classmates thought he had gone insane. But he kept speaking up anyway. Telling a difficult truth is never easy, particularly when no one is willing to believe you, and double particularly when speaking up means challenging authority. But truth is truth, and when we know it we have to speak it. 

6. Book Six -- Learning about the past can help us understand the present.

In the effort to discover how to defeat Voldemort, Harry and Dumbledore spent much of the year delving into his past, trying to understand who he was so that they could face who he is. Without that context, they would never have discovered the true key to defeating him. By educating ourselves and learning our history, we can better comprehend, and more effectively handle, the new challenges and obstacles that we face today. 

7. Book Seven -- Love and friendship are the most powerful magic of all.

The final, most important lesson these books taught us is that we really do just need to love and be loved to win any battle. Harry's friends didn't abandon him (well, Ron at least came back eventually), and that, along with the love of those who had passed away, gave him the strength to make the ultimate sacrifice, saving everyone. We spend so much time, effort and stress on acquiring things and worrying about ourselves, that we forget that love really is all we need. 

Looking back on two decades of Harry Potter related memories, and the lessons I learned from reading the books during my most formative years, reminds me how lucky I was to grow up alongside some of the most amazing fictional people ever created. 

Sometimes, I miss those days when times were simpler, and I had a new Harry Potter book to look forward to. But J.K. Rowling said it best, as she so often does: 

“Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”