Now, despite being the undisputed (among fans at least) best series of fictional stories around, one thing that can be said of the Harry Potter series is that it is beyond the realm of real life; however hard I wish, I don’t expect to discover that J.K. Rowling is actually writing a biographical account of real-life events. One thing that can definitely be said of her works is that Rowling is a master of incorporating real life issues, if not events, into her work. These issues include love, puberty, and coming to terms with huge changes and realisations we all experience. I have grown up alongside Harry and the others in his year. I went through some of the same emotional humps and have overcome them. Some of this thanks goes to J.K. Rowling and her series of Harry Potter novels.
When I was around twelve years old, I realised I am homosexual. Having grown up in a highly homophobic community, this threw me greatly off balance. I became almost a recluse, leaving my bedroom only to eat, wash, and go to school (something which became increasingly harder to do, and therefore rarer). After a while, in my seclusion, I took the energy I had previously used hating myself and put it to better use; re-reading the mountains of books I had amassed over my life. I eventually reached Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I found myself identifying with the characters a lot more, in particular, Harry himself. Throughout chapters 2 and 3, Harry’s tragic personal life is revealed. He is bullied at the hands of Dudley, Piers and the rest of their gang and he is mistreated by his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. He was deemed an outcast by them for being different. Was this genetic? Were they at risk of becoming the very thing they feared? However, when Harry realises he is of magical descent, he doesn’t automatically accept this change and go skipping off happily. He instead chooses the route of deep thought and contemplation and it takes him several more chapters to come to terms fully with the idea he is a wizard. I am reminded of Harry's fears of uncertainty during the sorting ceremony:
A horrible thought struck Harry, as horrible thoughts always do when you are nervous. What if he wasn't chosen at all? What if he just sat there with the hat over his eyes for ages, until Professor McGonagall jerked it off his head and said there had obviously been a mistake and he'd better get back on the train?1
After his fear of not being sorted is resolved, Harry begins to settle into a routine, settle into his new life. This got me thinking. If Harry can come to terms with being a wizard, and a complete shift of life, why couldn’t I come to terms with being something I blatantly can’t help? And slowly, but surely, I came to terms with my homosexuality. And now, at the age of nineteen, I am happy with who I am, comfortable at last in my skin.
Over the course of my life, I have received my share of homophobic abuse and prejudice. Though I was able to hold my head up and stand proud, despite the insults and attacks, I know of people who haven’t been able to cope; I have had friends move away to live in more liberal areas due to the intensity of the abuse they received, and in one tragic event, a friend was killed in a homophobic attack. Rowling touches upon similar prejudices in a highly tangible and moving way; lycanthropy. Remus Lupin is a much loved character within Harry Potter fandom, yet within the books he is a victim of persecution based on something he cannot possibly change. He is forced to retire in the end, merely because he knows parents will fear their children being taught by a werewolf. Lupin tells us of the repercussions of this discrimination:
This time tomorrow, the owls will start arriving from parents- they will not want a werewolf teaching their children, Harry. And after last night, I see their point.2
I have experienced many situations where I have felt like an outcast due to my sexuality, and again I can see my own situation in the pages of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. When we see the end of the battle in the tower, Lupin has nowhere he fully belongs. He does not fit in with normal wizard-kind, due to being a werewolf, and he no longer fits in with other werewolves, as he was seen fighting against the Death Eaters and Fenrir in the battle. Yet, in the same way as Rowling makes Lupin struggle with his ailment, I struggled with my own feelings of being different. Friends make the difference. Lupin turns to the Marauders to cope with his problems, and in the same way, I turned to mine. My friends got me through many a difficult time.
When I was at college, I volunteered as a student counsellor, offering a kind, objective ear and a shoulder to cry on. And in these sessions, though few and far between (people seemed uncomfortable talking about problems with a fellow student), I noticed huge parallels between their problems and those represented within the Harry Potter universe.
One girl lost her parents, brothers and grandmother in a car accident when she was a toddler. She was the only survivor of the accident. And even at the age of 17, she hadn’t come to terms with the fact that she lost all of her family in one fell swoop, and never knew them. She came to me after a series of nightmares in which she heard her brother’s dying screams. This disturbed me deeply, and though I was trained to remain objective and passive towards situations, this one particular situation shook me to my core. After this one session, she disappeared from college for a while. And when she returned, she told me she had found solace in a book; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I asked her ‘how this helped her cope’. She replied that by seeing other people, who have lost everything before they had to chance to have it, and then seeing them lose yet more and carry on filled her with hope; she could move on, she could be strong. She just had to have faith. The example she used was the death of Sirius Black. In this case, Harry Potter led this girl to the Christian faith.
Harry and Ginny, Ron and Lavender, Ron and Hermione, Hermione and Viktor, Ginny and… whoever next? Love is a constant, if occasionally faltering, theme of Harry Potter. And yes, of real life. In my counselling sessions, I remember one girl coming to me after being ‘dumped’ by her boyfriend. She came to me three times over one week, and for the first session, she just cried. But in the second session, two days later, she had gotten over the grief, and was now very angry. She told me that she wished she could “pull a Ginny Weasley on him.” And when I asked what she meant, she explained that she wished she could cast a bat-bogey hex on him. After the laughter had ended, she told me that when she was down, she read Harry Potter to cheer herself up. It was then the idea that Harry Potter could be used as a counselling tool in certain scenarios hit me.
Through the Harry Potter novels, J.K. Rowling , has written about a beautiful yet sometimes terrible world which allows people to see in the characters reflections of their own troubles, and from that, start to solve those problems. It can bring issues into the public eye where others have tried and failed in the past. And it can bring comfort and support to those in need. In conclusion I will say this; in my personal experience, as a counsellor and as one in need of aid, Harry Potter has the potential to help. Trust me when I say that Harry Potter did more for me than I ever thought possible. J.K. Rowling, I salute you. And I thank you.
But on a more serious note; if you, or anyone you know, are having a hard time coming to terms with your sexuality, or any life changing realisation or experience, remember that you are not alone. There are groups out there for a myriad of situations that can provide help though the Internet, written literature or a simple phone call. But above all else, no matter what your personal issue may be, there are people you can talk to; you are not alone.
1. Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone, 90.
2. Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban, 309.Bibliography
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury,. 1997.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.