Great Stories – On and Off the Page

When I was younger, I was an insatiable reader. I loved my school reading assignments and my summer reading lists, and would always tackle the whole thing just to see what the books were about. Although I don’t have as much time for reading today, I still have a healthy respect for books and reading. A good book can totally suck you in and take you to a far-off land or into the mind of someone else.

In my opinion, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series does that better than any other and I’m not sure we’ll see the like of it again. The series brings readers to a world in which magic exists just behind the veil of everyday life. Its protagonist, Harry Potter, enters the story as an eleven-year-old boy with no idea that he’s a wizard. Raised by his cruel uncle and aunt, he lives an unhappy existence until a letter arrives, inviting him to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He makes great friends and explores a world of wonders, meeting dragons and phoenixes, playing a fantastical sport on broomsticks, talking to portraits, and more.

But while the books offer a great deal of brightness and fantasy to readers, they have an unexpected dark undertone as well. Harry’s parents were killed defeating the dark wizard Voldemort under mysterious circumstances, and as the books go on, Harry must confront his past as The Boy Who Lived. Meanwhile, there are rumors that Voldemort may be returning. Life and death are frequently on the line, and Harry grows up fast, facing dangers beyond his years at the same time he navigates the treacherous waters of being a teenager in boarding school.

Taken together, the books have been a cultural phenomenon and are beloved by many readers. They are available in sixty-eight languages and have sold over 400 million copies since the first book came out in 1997. Enormously successful films, video games, theme parks, and more have been produced based on them as well.

The text of Harry Potter itself offers a great hero’s journey story, but the story of its author provides another – and it’s one that I find particularly inspiring. J.K. Rowling thought up the idea of Harry Potter while on a train in 1990. Over the next seven years, she was dealt a series of enormous setbacks, including her mother’s death, a divorce, and worsening financial circumstances. She faced depression and reliance on public welfare, and all the while, she was putting together the first volume in the Harry Potter series, writing in cafes whenever she could get her daughter to fall asleep for a little while. Within five years, Rowling was a multimillionaire, and she has since become one of the United Kingdom’s wealthiest and most successful women.

While the Harry Potter books might be a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, I hope that someday another series will come along that is just as compelling!