Raise your hand if you’ve watched a "Harry Potter" movie. Keep your hand raised if you can quote all of them. Now if you’ve read all the books? Multiple times? Annual pass to Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios?
Millenials are literally the generation of the "Harry Potter" series. We grew up waiting in line at the movie theater for premiere tickets. We pre-ordered the books at Barnes and Noble or possibly Borders (R.I.P). We flipped OUT when Universal Studios announced the decision to build the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. People have wand collections, robes, attend Q&As with the cast and creators, cosplay at conventions, and stretch fandom to its farthest.
While I may not attend the annual Celebration of Harry Potter or have a collection to show, I still consider myself a pretty hardcore fan. I’ve received plenty of eye rolls and chuckles when I describe my love for it. But here’s the thing: it isn’t just “what everybody’s into,” it shaped my life and this is how.
I have a memory of sitting on the child seat in a shopping cart while my dad wheeled it around the music and books section in a department store. A book caught my attention and I picked it up as he pushed the cart. It was "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone." Like any parent, he took it out of my hand and with a laugh said the book was too big for me. I insisted until he accepted probably assuming it would end up in the next garage sale.
That book was the first chapter book I ever read. I bought and read every following book as they released, rereading them all each time in anticipation for the new one. This was at the same time that I had rare access to the internet and came home from school every day to an old computer, Microsoft Word, Minesweeper, and a floppy disk. Reading those stories engaged my imagination and my creativity. They took me to a world of magic, friendship, and possibility. It gave me dreams to be a novelist and write movies. It introduced me to the art of storytelling. I would come home and write stories for hours. My parents would come in my room at 2 in the morning and tell me to save my work and go to sleep.
Everyone started getting nervous after "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One" came out. There was only one left. What were we going to do when the entire series was done? "Part Two" premiered the month after I turned 18. Entering that theater, I felt like I was graduating. This was the end of my childhood. I wouldn’t continue growing up with Harry, Ron, Hermione, and all of my favorite characters.
While pursuing musical theatre performance at University of Central Florida, I heard that Universal Studios was opening a second area of the Harry Potter theme. In search for a summer job, being a wizard seemed pretty darn cool. I was hired to sell merchandise throughout Diagon Alley and had the amazing (and crazy) experience of interacting with all levels of fans in theme to bring the Wizarding World to life. I met numerous actors from the films who came for the media opening and met awesome diverse co-workers who all had something in common; we shared a magical bond (wink wink) over the series.
What is it we love so much about this epic? So many movies focus on seeking love and never giving up (which this one does) but this series also focuses so deeply on friendship and how important it is to work together as a team. Harry couldn’t have defeated such a villain as Lord Voldemort without so many people at his side, despite the magic. It’s the human condition that helps us live with love rather than hatred. In a time when our society is constantly choosing sides, we can learn from J.K. Rowling by watching her characters triumph over evil by spreading love and support to those who want what’s best for this world to defeat the obstacles in our way.
This fantastical experience also taught me the incredible impact of storytelling. Who knew the struggles of an unfortunate and ordinary boy with a magic wand could inspire so many age groups in so many countries in so many languages. How hard would it be to find someone who hasn't heard of "Harry Potter?" Daily this series inspires people to stick together, never give up, and believe. And not just children! What better use of our time and emotional energy could we ask for?