Jo Rowling couldn’t have known how popular the Harry Potter series would be when she started writing it. She also couldn’t have known how many lives she would impact with her stories. The Harry Potter books have most certainly touched my life. I have been thinking about writing this essay ever since I got back from Lumos; when we got the title to the seventh book and shortly afterwards we got the release date, I knew I had to get this essay in soon. I felt that I needed to write about how Harry Potter has influenced my life. I wanted to share my story about how reading the Harry Potter books and being a part of the Harry Potter fandom has helped me through some difficult times. I really wanted to say thank you to Jo for writing Harry Potter because it has been such a positive force in my life. I will be completely honest about the fact that I was not entirely happy about the release date being July 21, 2007. I was so sure that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows wouldn’t come out until 2008; I knew that the publication of the final book would bring with it a change to the Harry Potter fandom. I feared that it meant the end to something that I have grown to love so much, something that has helped me grow as a person and given me so many wonderful memories. I was hoping for a 2008 release because it would give me more time to relish this wonderful fandom. I don’t know if I can find the words to express how much Harry Potter (the books, Jo, the fandom) has meant to me, but I’ll try.
I first heard about Harry Potter in the fall of 2000, a little while after Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out. I was in my senior year of high school. One day I overheard some friends of mine talking about Harry Potter. I asked them what they were talking about and why they seemed so excited and they told me all about the Harry Potter books and said how great they were. That was at lunch. My next class was English; I walked into class and the first thing I saw was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone sitting on my teacher’s bookshelf. Coincidence? I think not. I told my teacher that my friends had just been telling me about Harry Potter and she also told me that the books were really good and asked me if I wanted to borrow her copy. I said okay but I really wasn’t expecting to read it. I wasn’t much of a reader at that time but I wanted to see why they were all so excited over a book. So, I started to read the first book and I was amazed at how much I enjoyed reading it! I couldn’t put it down! I read all four books and loved them. Jo writes in such a way that it just sucks you into the book, you have to keep turning the page to find out what’s going to happen and before you know it, you’ve read the whole book. Her writing is so descriptive and full of details that you can see everything that’s going on inside your head as if it were a movie playing in your mind’s eye and you can feel what the characters are feeling. I didn’t know a book could be that good or make you feel so many emotions – there were times that I was actually laughing out loud (usually at something Fred and George said or did) and times that I literally had tears in my eyes. I didn’t know you could get so emotionally involved in a book before I read Harry Potter.
I graduated from high school in 2001 and unfortunately I didn’t pick the books up again until Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out. The wonderful world of Harry Potter was pushed to the wayside because of all that happened in my life after high school.
I don’t want to talk about everything that went on (if I do we’ll be here all day), but I will talk about one of the issues I was having. For most of my life I have been obsessed with my weight; I always wanted to be thinner. When I was about eleven years old, some of my peers made fun of me for being overweight. I was constantly being told that I was fat; I heard that so often that I started to believe it. When you are young, you tend to believe what your peers say about you, and soon I was telling myself that I was fat – and that must mean that I was ugly too. I called myself some of the most horrible things, I could never think of anything good about myself and I became my own worst enemy. I told myself that I couldn’t be worth anything if I wasn’t skinny and pretty. I did not put that expectation on anyone else, just on myself.
At the start of my freshman year of high school, I was a size 14 but by winter break, a few months later, I was down to a size 7. I lost the weight because I joined the marching band and I started playing soccer. But I was so scared that I would gain the weight back that I started making myself throw up. That didn’t last very long; I ended up getting very sick because of what I was doing. So I stopped doing it as often and eventually I stopped altogether, but the underlying issues were still there. In high school I would still constantly tell myself that I was fat and ugly and I wasn’t worth anything unless I looked like a model in a magazine. Even when I was a size 7 I thought I was fat because I wasn’t a size 2. I would tell myself that, until I had the perfect body, I couldn’t go out, have fun or like myself. I was always wishing that I was a thinner someone else because I didn’t want to be me. I wasn’t good enough.
Then after high school, I gained a lot of weight. I went from a size 7 to a size 16. I gained about 60 lbs or so, maybe more. I gained the weight back for a number of reasons, namely because I was out of high school. I was so active in high school that I could eat pretty much whatever I wanted. I really didn’t have very good eating habits to start with, and since I didn’t have those activities to burn off the calories, I just packed on the pounds. There were also other factors that contributed to my weight gain. When I gained back all this weight, it was devastating to me. Since I always told myself that I wasn’t worth anything if I wasn’t skinny, being 60 lbs overweight meant that I was worth even less. I felt I was too big to go out in public and I didn’t want to leave my house. I didn’t want anyone to see me, I just wanted to disappear. I ended up falling into a major depression because I would just stay at home and ruminate over how much I weighed; I told myself that no one would want to be around me since I was so fat.
When I was depressed I felt completely hopeless and there was a sadness that I just couldn’t cry away, and after a while, I just stopped crying. When I was depressed, I felt as if I would never be happy again – it was like having a dementor around. Have you ever seen those commercials for anti-depressants, where the subject is walking around under a rain cloud? That is really how it feels to be depressed, but the cloud is inside your head, like walking around in a fog all the time. It seemed like I was stuck inside a cloud of misery, like I was trapped inside my own mind and body and it felt like there was no way out. After a while I sort of went emotionally numb and nothing seemed to affect me. I just couldn’t feel anything, I felt empty inside. I started to wonder what difference it would make if I were alive or dead because I couldn’t feel anything anyway.
When Order of the Phoenix came out, I bought it and started reading it but it had been so long since I read the first four books that I had forgotten a lot of what happened. So, I went back and re-read the first four again and then read the fifth book and I was reminded of why I liked them so much before. Harry Potter takes you on this great adventure and you’re able to leave behind all your problems and just enjoy the story Jo is telling. When I was reading Harry Potter I was able to escape to this wonderful world and forget everything that was going on. I was able to think about other things besides my depression – Harry Potter helped take my mind off of everything that was going on. Because of Harry Potter I was able to focus on something other than how miserable I felt. Harry Potter came at a time in my life when I needed something to distract me from my depression. Harry Potter gave me something to be excited about, something to enjoy. If I hadn’t had these books to take me away to this wonderful world, I don’t know what I would have done.
Like I said earlier, the books are so well written that you can feel what the characters are feeling. When I was reading Harry Potter I felt emotions that I hadn’t felt in a very long time – there were times that I was laughing out loud and as I hadn’t had anything to laugh about for so long, it felt so good. The books are so vivid that I felt like I was living through the characters. Harry Potter was the one thing that helped me feel as if I still wanted to live. The books helped me realize that I was still alive because I was still able to feel all of these different emotions. Reading Harry Potter helped me cope with my depression and eventually start to feel human again and not just an empty shell. When you’re that depressed anything that makes you feel that good can be a lifesaver – Harry Potter was for me.
I went online to try and find out when the sixth book was going to come out and I found this whole online Harry Potter community. Visiting all the fan sites only deepened my love for the books because you find out so much more about them. Going to fan sites makes you appreciate even more what an incredible writer Jo is as you learn to see how much thought Jo has put into Harry’s world. I was able to find out lots of little tidbits about the wizarding world that made reading the books all the more intriguing and wonderful. It didn’t matter what I looked like when I was reading the books or going online, so I was able to just enjoy the feelings of elation that I got from anything to do with Harry Potter. My weight was still constantly on my mind but because of the Harry Potter books and the fan sites I was able to push that issue to the back of my mind. I realized that I didn’t have to think about it if I didn’t want to. Harry Potter became the tool I used to help get myself out of my depression. I did go on anti-depressants – they seemed to lift the fog and I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and start to pull my life back together.
Then I found out about PotterCast and MuggleCast. I started listening to their shows, and I fell in love with them. PotterCast and MuggleCast are full of laughs, and they say that laughter is the best medicine. There are times when I’m listening to their shows that I’m laughing so hard that I’m almost crying. I always feel good when I listen to their shows, they really do make my week. Whenever I think of Harry Potter, I get so many wonderful feelings and listening to PotterCast and MuggleCast brought out all of those feelings of happiness and excitement. Both shows have very interesting topics and theories all relating to Harry Potter and they also talk about what is going on in the fandom. When I listen to their shows I feel more connected to the Harry Potter fandom because I’m not really on the forums myself. The shows only deepened my love for Harry Potter and the people who make up the Harry Potter fandom.
Listening to PotterCast and MuggleCast made me want to get more involved with the fandom. I found out about Lumos while listening to one of their shows, it might have been a LeakyMug. It sounded like so much fun to hang out for a whole weekend with a bunch of other Harry Potter fans, so I decided to go to Lumos. I initially wanted to try and lose the weight by the time I went to Lumos, but I didn’t, and about a month before Lumos I actually thought of not going because of my weight. For years I put everything off because I told myself I had to lose the weight before I could do anything else and I ended up never doing anything. I didn’t lose the weight – all I lost was time, years of my life that I can never get back. I suddenly realized that years had passed and I hadn’t lost any weight and also hadn’t done anything else either. I knew I had to change something. One thing that needed to change was putting things off; I needed to go out if I wanted to even if I didn’t like my weight. I made one of the biggest decisions of my life and decided that I was going to go to Lumos anyway. I even became a volunteer for Lumos, which turned out to be one of the best things I could have ever done for myself.
When I got to Lumos, I told myself that I needed to act as if I had confidence in myself and try to have fun and pretend that my weight wasn’t an issue for me. Since I was a volunteer at Lumos, I was forced to interact with all the people who were there. I was a volunteer for M&G, which meant I had to man the info desk and answer questions. I also volunteered to be a Programming Prefect, which meant I had to be in the rooms where the presentations were taking place. I was told that I had to go on stage and tell the audience that they could not record the presentations. I also had to talk with the presenters and ask if they wanted an introduction, and if they did then I had to do it. Tom Morris was one of the presenters and he wanted an introduction. The room was packed, but I got up there and introduced him. I was so nervous going up in front of all those people but I did it, despite my insecurities of what people would think of me. By doing these activities, I learned that I can do these things – I just need to put aside my fears and do what I want to do anyway. Since I have always told myself that no one would want to be around me unless I was thin, I was kind of surprised that people were talking to me (and weren’t booing me off the stage or anything) and they didn’t seem to care that I was overweight! All they were interested in was sharing their love for Harry Potter with other fans, like me. I ended up making lots of friends, people that I still talk to and some of them I’m planning to go to Prophecy with. It was an amazing feeling.
I really wanted to meet all the people involved in PotterCast and MuggleCast because they have brought so much joy into my life and I wanted to thank them in person. If I wanted to meet them, I was going to have to go up to them – they weren’t going to come to me. I was a volunteer for registration, and during my shift, almost all of the LeakyMug people walked in. When I saw them, I jumped up, and I practically ran over to them, and went up to each of them telling them how much I loved their shows. I remember that I got very flustered, and I was probably blushing like crazy, but they were all very nice to me. I had so much fun at Lumos and I also learned how to be comfortable with who I am, which was something I don’t think I’ve ever felt before.
I also attended the reading that Jo did in New York soon after Lumos. I remember sitting in the audience and when anything Harry Potter came up all the fans would go crazy. You could feel the love for Harry Potter in the room; it was just the same way at Lumos. I called my trips to Las Vegas and New York my “Harry Potter vacation,” it was all about Harry Potter for 10 days, and it was awesome! When I go to any Harry Potter event I feel like I’m around friends I’ve known forever, I’d say we are like kindred sprits! There were times when I was at Lumos that I forgot that I was upset about being overweight, I let myself just be me and I had fun. Harry Potter has given me something to be a part of – a way to feel connected to other people.
When Jo wrote her article “For Girls Only…” it helped me realize how shallow the media is, how shallow I was being. There’s more to me than how I look. I used to pore over magazines, wishing for nothing more than to be like “those girls.” Jo’s article helped me look at things a little differently. It is much more important to be a good person than to be skinny. One thing my aunt told me is very apt here: your weight is really only a problem if it bothers you. I still want to lose the weight, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t, but now it is for health reasons. I want to be healthier, I want to be able to walk up a flight of stairs and not get winded. I’ve learned that I can still have a life while I’m trying to lose the weight and that I’m never going to be a size 2 (the smallest I get is maybe a size 5) and I’m okay with that now.
My weight never was the real issue; I didn’t like myself even before I gained the weight. I had to learn to like myself even if I’m not the size I want to be. Even after Lumos and New York I still had problems with my weight – I still do to this day, but I no longer let it stop me from doing what I want to do. A few weeks after I got back from my trip, I started to doubt my new found self-esteem, and I questioned myself a lot – I still do sometimes but I’ve learned how to redirect my thinking. I was talking to my aunt about all this and she told me that the idea of liking myself is so foreign to me that it’s going to take awhile for me to get used to it. I’ve had to change the way I’ve been thinking about myself for most of my life and that takes a little time. However, I can now recognize when I start to feel depressed and when I start to question myself, I now know what to do. I trip and sometimes fall, but now I can pick myself up again and get back on the wagon.
I learned that I was the one holding myself back; I learned to let go of my insecurities and just live my life. I used to try to put off my life until I lost weight. I kept wishing for the weight to just fall off – but it doesn’t happen that way, unfortunately. Now I continue to live my life even if I’m overweight and I’ll work on my weight in the meantime. I learned how to change my thinking, if that little voice inside my head starts telling me that I’m too fat to go out, I think of something else and I put on something nice and go out anyway. I’ve learned that I’m in control of my thoughts and feelings. I learned that I had to act as if I was confident and happy, and eventually I started to feel that way. I used to wish that I was somebody else, but now I like who I am; I’d just like to be a little thinner, that’s all. I’ve started taking kickboxing classes and eating healthier, and I know that I will eventually lose the weight; it’s just not going to happen over night. Being healthy is a lifestyle change and so is thinking more positively and it takes time. I stopped telling myself I have to lose the weight by a certain date or I’m not going to do whatever it was that I wanted to do – I go and do what I want to do, regardless of my weight. I’m planning to go back to school, and I really want to become a teacher.
Going on my trip made me realize that I could have fun even if I was overweight and that has made a major difference in my life. Going out to Harry Potter events helped me overcome my insecurities. I’m now pretty happy with myself and my life; I’m a lot more confident too, and a lot of that is thanks to Harry Potter (the books, the fandom, and Jo). Of course, I have my ups and downs just like everybody else; just now my downs aren’t so low that I can’t see the way out. Reading Harry Potter, being a part of the Harry Potter fandom and going to Harry Potter events helped make my life be more enjoyable. Harry Potter gave me something to be into; almost something to live for, something that brought joy to my life, it’s made my life worth living again.
So, thank you, Jo, for writing Harry Potter, you opened up a whole new world to me. Thank you for showing me and many others how great books can be, and the gift of knowing what a love of reading can do for your life. Thank you, Jo, for setting up your website, where you talk to us about what’s going on in Harry’s world and yours. Thank you for communicating with us: it lets us know that you really care about your fans – it makes me feel that you are talking to me personally, and I thank you for that. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us about different things that are going on and just taking part in the fandom, by giving us clues and encouraging us to theorize. Thank you for enriching my life in such a way that didn’t know was possible, especially from someone I’ve never met. I cannot thank you enough for what you have done for my life. Thank you, Jo, for writing your “For Girls Only, Probably…” article, I’ve actually printed it out and read it frequently. Thank you for creating Harry Potter and, in essence, creating the Harry Potter fandom, where I have met so many wonderful people.
Thank you to the people of PotterCast and MuggleCast. Thank you to all the wonderful Harry Potter fans that make up the fandom. Thank you to all the volunteers that I worked with at Lumos, especially all the people I worked with at the info desk, where I spent most of my time. Thank you to the friends I made at Lumos and still talk with. Thank you, Jo, for giving us the title and the release date for the seventh book, because it made me get off my butt and finally write this essay!
It was wonderful to hear how Jo felt about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows being finished and it was nice to know that she felt the same way that I and most of the fans felt about the final book coming out so soon. We have all gone through the Harry Potter experience together; I think the fact that the last book is finished and will be out in July is bittersweet for all of us. It really is the people of the Harry Potter fandom – and that includes Jo – that makes it so special. It has been a wonderful experience to be a part of Harry Potter. Words cannot express how much better you have made my life and I cannot thank you enough for that.
Thank you, Jo, thank you!