harry potter

Exit 120. I know those voices because I hear them too.

Harry Potter has been on my mind again lately.  I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which for those of you who aren’t familiar with Harry Potter, is the script for a play set a generation after the Harry Potter novels, featuring the adult Harry Potter and one of his children.  The play is currently being performed in London.  But that is not the point I’m getting at here.

I spent a lot of time in the car this weekend, and at one point I was thinking about other parts of the Harry Potter story.  I was reminded in particular of a scene that always felt particularly intense and poignant to me, and I’ll try to share my thoughts without giving away any crucial spoilers.  In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series, 17-year-old Harry and his friends are on a quest to find and destroy a group of objects that Voldemort (or, as I called him before, Wizard Hitler) has enchanted with some very dark magic, in an attempt to make himself immortal.  About halfway through the book (chapter 19, specifically), Harry and his friends have one of these dark objects, and after carrying it around for a few months, they have found a means with which to destroy it.  While carrying it around, however, it seems to bring out all sorts of dark and negative behavior in whomever is carrying it, at times leading to fights between Harry and his friends.

Harry feels that Ron should be the one to destroy this enchanted object.  But as Ron is about to do so, the object suddenly speaks to Ron, saying that it has seen all of Ron’s greatest fears, and speaking and reenacting these fears in full view of Ron, Harry, and Hermione.  The object reminds Ron that he is always overshadowed.  In his family, he has his older brothers and younger sister, and at school, his best friends are Harry, who is famous within the Wizarding World because of the prophecies made about him, and Hermione, who is a super genius.  The object makes Ron feel like he cannot do anything right, that Harry and Hermione would be better off on their quest without him.  The voices coming from the object mock Ron by saying that no one wants him, and that no woman would ever be interested in him when they could have Harry Potter instead.

I know those voices.  I know those voices because I hear them too… at least in a metaphorical sense.

Of course, I am not carrying around an object that contains a piece of Wizard Hitler’s soul.  This is because Wizard Hitler and magic aren’t real, a fact that Church I With The Problems and many other legalistic conservative churches never fully grasped, but that’s another story for another time.  But all of those fears were already inside Ron’s head; the dark object just saw Ron’s fears and manifested them in front of him.  And some very similar fears are already inside my head.  Those fears become manifest whenever I feel excluded from something my friends are doing or talking about.  They become manifest whenever I see my friends in new romantic relationships while the months since my last date slowly turn into years.  Sometimes I can distract myself from those voices, just as Harry and Ron and Hermione did by taking turns who would hold the evil object, but they cannot be easily destroyed.

But I have to find a way.  I am a Gryffindor, just like Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  I can be brave and silence the evil voices in my head forever once and for all.  I must.

But I’m still searching for a way to do so.  And it won’t be easy.

Exit 108. Maybe I’m braver than I think.

I recently finished rereading through the entire Harry Potter book series.  It was the third time through for me, maybe fourth; I’m not entirely sure.  (Those of you who are familiar with the Harry Potter universe can skip the rest of this paragraph.)  In the books, Harry’s school, Hogwarts, was founded in the 10th century by the four greatest wizards of that time: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin.  (Apparently it was quite fashionable for wizards in 10th-century England and Scotland to have alliterative names.)  The four of them each had different qualities and traits that they sought in their students, so students were separated into four houses representing each of the teachers’ preferred traits.  The four founders created a magical hat to sort the future generations of students who would attend Hogwarts after their passing.  Gryffindors are brave and courageous, Hufflepuffs are loyal and hardworking, Ravenclaws are intelligent and clever, and Slytherins are powerful and ambitious.  There are exceptions, but Harry and most of the major protagonists of the series are Gryffindors, and the majority of the villains are Slytherins.  Voldemort, the main antagonist (who is basically Wizard Hitler), is the last direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin.

Some time ago, around 2004 I think, I found a quiz on the Harry Potter website that would sort you into one of the four houses (kind of like those “Which ___ Are You?” quizzes that become trendy on the Internet every few years).  The first time I took it, I was sorted into Hufflepuff.  I was a bit indignant at first, because in the book, the house of Hufflepuff is often portrayed as unexceptional and somewhat weak, the leftover wizards who aren’t good enough for any of the other houses.  Of course, several Hufflepuff students in the book (Ernie, Hannah, Justin, Susan) are key allies of Harry and his friends during the battles of the later books, and there is no shame in being one of them.  But still, I wanted to be either a Gryffindor, because I identified with the heroes of the story, or a Ravenclaw, because I see myself as intelligent.  I took the quiz several more times, sometimes changing one answer on questions that had two choices I couldn’t decide between, and sometimes leaving my answers the same, and I think I got sorted into all four houses at least once.  But the more I thought about it, I realized I really could identify as a Hufflepuff.  I am certainly loyal and hardworking.  I’m not necessarily brave enough to be the first one to rush to a fight, or the most clever one to use my brain to solve major problems, and I’m definitely not the most ambitious one out there.  I quickly became proud to be a Hufflepuff.

In the meantime, a new official Harry Potter website called Pottermore was launched.  Recently, while I was rereading the Harry Potter books, I decided to take the official authoritative sorting quiz on Pottermore.  I was looking for confirmation that I really was a Hufflepuff, although I answered the questions as honestly as I can.

This quiz put me in Gryffindor.  So much for all that Hufflepuff pride.  Really, me?  A Gryffindor?  I’m not brave.  I’m just me.

There are some interesting side plots in the book, and fan theories, about how students are chosen for Gryffindor.  The Sorting Hat almost puts Harry in Slytherin, but he chooses not to go into Slytherin because he has heard that many dark Wizards were Slytherins.  Ron and Hermione, Harry’s two closest friends, have qualities that are more stereotypical of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, respectively; one unconfirmed fan theory is that they somehow chose to be in Gryffindor too.  And Neville, one of Harry and Ron’s roommates in Gryffindor Tower, is portrayed as timid, quiet, and forgetful, not qualities often associated with Gryffindor.  Neville’s story is most interesting to me.  He comes from a family with a long history in the wizarding world, and many of his family members were worried for a long time that he would not have any magical powers at all.  The reader finds out more of his back story later, which I will not give away here.  But in one of the final scenes, when it looks like the bad guys are about to win, Neville courageously stands up to Wizard Hitler and refuses to proclaim allegiance to the house of Slytherin.  He then uses the sword of Godric Gryffindor to kill a certain magical creature, which is a key step in the plan for how to defeat Wizard Hitler.  (I can’t explain why without giving too much away.)  When the moment happens, Neville shows himself to be a true Gryffindor at heart.

Maybe I’m like that.  Maybe, when it counts, I’m braver than I think.  Maybe I’ll have moments like that where I need to stand up for who I really am, and I’ll find the courage I never knew I had.

Bring it on.