(I would have written about Twilight but I think the only lesson is if a guy is like really hot he can totally become the only thing you care about and you should totally be ok with that.)
In honor of my trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in a couple of weeks and my genuine love for this series I have written 21 lessons I have learned (and re-learned) from the seven Harry Potter books. I have read this entire series multiple times and really do find something new every time I crack open each novel. I think the reason the saga transcends every age, race, and gender is because they get to the heart of the human spirit. They truly are timeless works of art. As “always” everything belongs to J.k. Rowling. Oh, Spoilers because duh.
1) Every now and then you need to break the rules
From the first book, when Harry, Ron, and Hermione made their way through the forbidden third floor corridor to protect the Sorcerer’s (Philosophers) stone to Harry sneaking his way into Hogsmeade for some Butterbeer…sometimes you need to break the rules for the greater good. Sometimes just for a bit of fun. Other times, like the Marauders securing Lupin in the Shrieking Shack, you need to say “to hell with it” and help out your friends. Either way a life full of order is a boring one. Eventually if you take it as far as the Weasley twins, you too can stick it to Umbridge and have Peeves personally send you off from Hogwarts.
2) Appearances are deceiving
When Hagrid picked up Harry from the “hut-on-the-rock” he looked like an intimidating frightening man. When Luna met Harry, nargles and all, she seemed ditzy at best. When Hermione met Ron on the Hogwarts Express she presented herself so much as an annoying know-it-all that Ron desperately hoped she was not in his same house. Last but not least we have Snape, who should not be forgiven for making Harry’s school years pure torture but should be noted for his extreme bravery and love toward Lily. First impressions and first appearances are not always good representations of the true character of a person. Get to the core of what makes someone.
3) The quest for power will destroy you
Voldemort strived to seek out that power as did supporting characters like Peter Pettigrew and Lucius Malfoy, who gave up their family and their friends to join the ranks of Death Eaters. They ultimately thought they could rule and find money and respect from the Dark Lord but all their thirst for control did was end up costing them their reputations and for some – their lives. Even less “evil” characters like Gilderoy Lockhart demonstrate what happens when you want all the riches and the glory. Only seek out power if you are not just ready for the responsibility that accompanies it but if your purpose in doing so is to help people, otherwise you end up getting Oblivated.
4) Your friends can be your family too
Our beloved protagonist grew up without a family because let’s never for one second mistake the Dursleys as family who actually cared and wanted the best for Harry. But then “The Boy Who Lived” met Hermione and Ron and by extension all of the Weasleys. It was at this moment he found people who stood by him. Who never gave up on him. Who were true family. They all had their fights like anyone does but at the end of the day their customized Christmas sweaters and their genuine love overpowered anything they were ever put up against. The lesson? Blood does not make you family.
5) Prejudice and racism exist everywhere
In the wizarding world it wasn’t about what skin color you had but it was about whether you were a full blood, half blood, or muggle-born. Slurs existed and as seen in Chamber of Secrets with Draco they were capable of harming people like Hermione. Time, technology, and magic does not mean progression all the time. People in the wizarding world, like our own world, are capable of having narrow minded thoughts too. But it is up to proactive people to put an end to bigoted practices and to recognize that it does occur even if you don’t want to believe that it does.
6) It is always the way you approach a situation
Life isn’t fair. Some people have it easier. Others get the short end of the stick. But what matters the most is that we face whatever is given to us with incredible humility and strength. As always Mr.Potter encapsulated it perfectly: “It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew – and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents – that there was all the difference in the world.”
7) Forgive others but also forgive yourself
Lupin’s and Sirius’ relationship for twelve years was strained when Pettigrew lied and deceived them both. But at the end of the day they were able to forgive and forget and save what was important to them. Harry also had to forgive his best friend Ron after he abandoned him in their search for Horcruxes. He let it go for the sake of the friendship even when Ron couldn’t forgive himself for what he did to Harry. Every now and then it can be hard to forgive yourself for your actions, but if you apologize and take the steps to be a better person, in this case a better friend, then it’s time to move on.
8) No one is beneath you
Sirius said it best when he said “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors not his equals.” And Hermione demonstrated this best when she fought brilliantly for creatures everyone treated beneath them – house elves. She created SPEW and brought forth the idea that no matter how small someone is, how uneducated someone is, or how someone has been treated for years by an entire society, everyone deserves the same rights. And more importantly than that, you should treat people with common courtesy once they are granted those rights.
9) Sometimes the people we love leave us too soon
Whether it was Lily and James departing before the series, Sirius when Harry was just getting to know his Godfather, or Lupin and Tonks leaving Teddy, we were met with character’s deaths left and right! The truth is that the people who mean the world to us leave this world without our consent – sometimes too early. We will miss them, we will mourn them, and we will wonder why we didn’t have enough time with them. Unfortunately we might not have the last conversation we wish we could have. And sometimes it might be hard to find the strength to swallow that.
9 ¾) But they will always stay in our heart
Our friends or family might be gone, we might even lose relationships or friendships to distance and time, but the people we really love, as cliché as it sounds, don’t ever leave us. We might not have a Resurrection Stone but like Harry walking into the forest to face Voldemort in Deathly Hallows, they surround us in every moment – particularly the difficult ones. They give us hope and they give us their memories in Pensieves and in their stories we recount years later. More than anything they give us their support and we carry it with us…until the very end.
10) Your physical (or mental) disabilities do not define you
J.K. Rowling wrote how Remus Lupin’s illness – turning into a werewolf – was supposed to be a direct relation to someone living with a disease of stigma like AIDS. As we know from Lupin teaching Harry in his third year the Patronus charm to putting up a fight in the Order, he defied any stereotype given to him and was really just a general badass. Similarly J.K. Rowling lived with her own disability, one she personified in the dementors – depression. It might have been tough, in fact it was definitely tough, but she never let it hold her back let alone define her. Our “weaknesses” can be our strengths.
11) People are capable of changing
Throughout the series we see the trio grow. But we see certain characters change their morals and principals too. Sometimes it was small, like Narcissa Malfoy accepting that she cared more about saving her son Draco than letting Voldemort win. Or sometimes it was someone more significant like Dumbledore who once hated muggles and muggle-borns and then became one of the most iconic figures to fight for their acceptance. Even when Harry was up against Voldemort in the final battle in the Great Hall he asked Riddle to try for some remorse, proving that in life you are capable of changing and it is possible to seek out that change in any moment.
12) The best relationships have a solid friendship
It took Ron and Hermione seven years to get together! But at the end of the day their relationship was a perfect match because they had grown as friends into lovers. They learned everything about their significant other. They knew their faults and their strengths which made them more than just a common romantic pair. As for Harry, his attraction to Ginny came about when he finally spent time with her playing Quidditch and getting to know her on a deeper level than the girl who sent him that disastrous poem. Even Lily finally gave James a chance after he had really became her true friend, because friendship is where real love and respect lies.
13) You stand for what you stand with
Dumbledore in the first book tells Neville and the rest of the Hogwarts houses “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but even more to stand up to your friends.” Similarly Dumbledore himself stood up to Grindelwald, the man he loved, when he realized that he was veering towards the same path as Voldemort. In our lives we face not only “bad guys” but sometimes people we thought were “good guys” and more often than not we face ourselves. If we allow ourselves to go along with the thoughts and actions of others than we have to accept that we are no better than them. Good or bad.
14) Never take for granted the importance of an education
Where would anyone be without Hermione reading Hogwarts a History? Or reading in general? J.K. Rowling taught us that learning and knowledge will not only help us in academic settings but in the real world. Most of all she told us also to question what we are taught and who is teaching it. She taught us to question authority even when the results might not be pretty (remember “I must not tell lies” anyone?) She gave us Umbridge, who abided by her own narrow minded views regarding schooling and the hierarchy of the Ministry of Magic. J.K taught us to fight the politics of education and seek out the truth no matter what. It will of course always set us free.
15) Choices can determine your fate
Harry had a whole prophecy about him but in the end that did not matter. He was the one who chose to fight Voldemort. He was the one who chose to not take the easy way out. He was the one who fulfilled the prophecy instead of Neville. It would have been easy to take up Draco on his first offer to be his friend in Sorcerer’s stone (a fact that might have led him in a completely different direction) or to give up in the face of the final battle – even to join Voldemort or others for the false promise he could bring back the parents he wanted. Instead he made choices that far exceeded his abilities proving that we all have more power over our destiny than we think.
16) Live in the moment
No one could fault Harry for staring longingly into The Mirror of Erised, it was there he was able to finally view the family he always wanted. But it was Dumbledore (of course) who made a very good point. “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” You must seize every moment given to you as if it were your last. Ironically it is Harry who ends up embodying this saying the most although he has the most to be depressed about. Even after finding out that he must be the one to destroy the horcruxes and by extension Voldemort, he is just glad that he has one last day and wants to enjoy that one last day of peace with his best friends Ron and Hermione.
17) The pen is mightier than the sword
Throughout the Harry Potter books battles were endless. Whether it was the graveyard incident in Goblet of Fire or The Department of Mysteries. The violence was always there. But power came in different subtle ways too, in the form of diaries and in books. It was the half-blood prince that not only caused Harry to use spells like Sectumpsempra but also save Ron’s life with the Bezoar. Likewise, Tom Riddle’s diary showed that words were powerful and controlling over Ginny because writing is not only a way that we can speak to people long after we leave this earth but also a way in which we can preserve ourselves.
18) There is always the extraordinary in the ordinary
The reason why Harry Potter resonates with countless of people is because so many wish they could be Harry – an eleven year old taken from his problems in the middle of the night to be introduced to a world of magic. The unfortunate truth is that this won’t happen to us (even though I am still waiting on my letter, I swear it just got lost in the mail.) But for Harry it was never so much about the magic as it was about the small things. Chocolate frog cards and visits to Diagon Alley. Friends and Wizard’s Chess. We might be ordinary people with ordinary lives but there are always extraordinary bits in them if we just open our eyes and look around.
19) Love is the most magical thing of all
It was the love of Harry’s mom that saved him. It was the love of Harry that ultimately saved the wizarding world. It was even the lack of love that Voldemort received from his family and from himself that made him become the most evil wizard of all time. Because no matter what was going on, and what needed to be defeated, and how they needed to all make it through the next dangerous adventure…love was the most powerful and truthful emotion to have. Harry dismissed it regularly, as do we all. But it really is all you need.
20) Let your imagination run away with you
J.K. Rowling taught us a valuable lesson with my favorite quote of the entire series “Of course this is happening inside your head Harry but why on Earth should that mean that it is not real?” Our minds are powerful things with the ability to create worlds, characters, and to make up elaborate games like Quidditch as well as beautiful places like Hogwarts. We dismiss our imaginations as being trivial and kid-like but we forget that they are the escape from the monotonous life we sometimes need a break from. Also? Our imaginations take us on adventures and the adventures we go through in our head are often more enthralling than the ones on foot.
21) You will fail. You will want to give up. You must find hope.
If there was only one lesson that Harry Potter could ever give us this would be it. That there will be difficult times in our life, and there has to be, after all we are only human. But what we need to remember is to never give up hope that it will get better. If Harry had given up hope than the whole wizarding world would have been doomed. More importantly if J.K. Rowling had given up hope on her lifelong dream, even after 12 rejection letters for the first installment, we would never have the characters we love, the series that has captivated us, and the story we can always return to.
We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better. – J.K. Rowling (2008 Harvard commencement speech)