True Life: ‘I grew up with Harry Potter’

(Illustration by Keryn Brenzel)

Back when I was in fifth grade, I really enjoyed reading. It was one of my favorite things to do. So, I looked forward to my teacher’s twice weekly readings from a novel with great excitement. Little did I know how much that practice would change my life.

That year, I was introduced to a boy who was my age, but who was experiencing extraordinary things. The boy had evil relatives, but he persevered. He got to go away to a fantastical school. He made great friends — the best a child could have — and he found many role models. He stuck up for what he believed in. He was my inspiration.

He is Harry Potter.

Now, with the release of the first part of the final chapter in the institution and religion that is the Harry Potter phenomenon, I find myself wanting to say “thank you” to the boy wizard. I want to thank him for growing up with me and for inspiring me. I sincerely believe that my life would be different if it hadn’t included the raven-haired, spindly-legged, scar-stricken boy from Number 4 Privet Drive.

Harry Potter is one of the best book series of all time. Argue with me all you want, but there is no denying what J.K. Rowling has created — a character who is relatable to most everyone on a certain level. Most can find a quality in Harry to identify with. And if not Harry, then definitely in his best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. I have never encountered more fully-developed, well-rounded characters. And I’ve read quite a bit.

Harry is a great role model. He teaches young people to rely on themselves and their friends, but to not be afraid to ask for help from others (like adults) if one needs it. He teaches bravery and strength of character. He teaches perseverance in the face of certain defeat. He helped shape me to be who I am today.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but it was the Harry Potter books that convinced me that if I had a big enough imagination and I tried hard enough, anything could happen. After all, how many people turned Rowling down before one (and that’s all that is needed) said yes? Rowling had created a wonderful world, full of magic and creatures and heroes and villains and it took one lucky publishing lackey to see that.

Harry Potter helped me to broaden my horizons. I imagined places and situations I never had before. He helped cultivate my ideas and my dreams.

I have never been so emotionally attached to another literary character. Nothing has ever made me laugh, cry and think like Harry Potter. I knew, when I started reading the seventh book (which I put off for a full three days for fear of the end), that if Harry died, a little piece of me would die as well. As it is, I’m still convinced I left a little of myself within the pages when I closed that last book.

As excited as I am for “Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part 1” (I had my tickets purchased almost a month ago for the midnight showing tomorrow), I’m also terrified for a two-fold reason. One, I know, knowing what happens, that it’s going to be a hard film to watch. I’ve already planned out my survival pack of tissues and extra contact lenses.

But, more importantly, this is the beginning of the end. The movies have never been as important to me as the books (while some have been well done, don’t get me started on the ones I’ve hated, like “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”), but they were part of the experience and the culture. Once the credits roll tomorrow night, there will only be one more Harry Potter experience to be had. I think it’s beautifully ironic that “Part 2” comes out about a month after my graduation — Harry has truly grown up with me.

No one will ever experience Harry Potter the way our generation has. Sure, they’ll read the books and watch the movies and enjoy them. But we grew up with him. We were there every step of the way. We stood in the cold waiting for the midnight book releases. We dressed up in ridiculous costumes for the midnight showings (well, I haven’t, but I plan to for “Part 2”). We talked each others’ ears off about what was going to happen next. We lived through the books with Harry. Wow. We sure have been lucky.

Thank you, Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling, for giving me a childhood full of wonder, and for making me the person I am today.

P.S.- I’m still waiting for my Hogwarts letter. Send it at your leisure.

Caroline Russomanno can be reached at russoma4@tcnj.edu.