I don’t know how much it’s come across so far, but I’m a bit of a geek.
Okay, more than a bit.
Okay, a lot of a geek.
I love comic books and fantasy and sci-fi movies and role-playing games.
But my first true, geeky love was for Harry Potter.
I was a bit of a Johnny-come-lately to it all. I saw the first movie, then walked out of the cinema and bought all the books that were released to that date. Then read them all in a day. People who love Harry Potter will point to the reasons they loved the books: the amazing world created by JK Rowling, the characters that ended up meaning so much to them, the story they didn’t want to see end.
The reason I loved Harry Potter so much was because of what it taught me. I say a lot that spiritual and life lessons can come from anywhere, if you’re open to them, and that includes works of fiction. Here’s five things I learnt from Harry Potter that ended up helping me spiritually.
Severus Snape was an interesting character. If you take him at face value – which we all might have done if he wasn’t portrayed by Alan Rickman – he was a horrible bully, treating all students bar his favourites with contempt and not really teaching them much of anything. After all, he normally just puts instructions on the board and tells them to get on with it. In later books we learn that his particular hatred for Harry comes from his hatred for Harry’s father, and then in the final book we see that hatred comes, in part, because he loved Lily and wasn’t the one who won the girl.
Of course, the stories are told from Harry’s point of view, so maybe he had a wonderful life where Harry couldn’t see it. But I don’t think so. I think he held onto this anger and hate – at the Marauders and Harry and Lily and most of all himself – for nearly twenty years until he finally died. And in that moment of death he wanted to see Lily’s eyes.
You can argue all you want that he had a terrible home life and wasn’t the happiest soul even before the Marauders and school and joining the Death Eaters, but the fact that he couldn’t let go of all this negativity only made his short life (as old as Rickman was, Snape probably wasn’t yet 40 when he died) more miserable.
Studies are showing that anger doesn’t need a vent. Emotions are like a muscle, and the more you exercise the negative ones, the stronger they get. So it’s better to let go of the attachments and negative emotions and work on strengthening the positive.
Dobby’s Lesson – Being different gives you strength
JKR’s stance on house elves is pretty confused. In Chamber of Secrets we meet Dobby, horribly abused, but determined to help his hero, Harry Potter. At the end of the book he’s freed and that’s a good thing. But in Goblet of Fire we meet Winky who is also freed and goes on to become an alcoholic, ruining her life. We meet the Hogwarts elves, who are happy in their service to the school and treat Dobby like a pariah. They stop cleaning the Gryffindor tower to avoid Hermione’s hats. And then in the last book, Kreacher is seen as turning around into a good elf when he is treated with kindness and given wizards to serve.
Whether the house elf slavery is wrong or not (maybe it’s more a symbiotic relationship?) the important thing for me was Dobby being different. He’s easily excited, doesn’t want to be a wizard’s slave. He still likes serving, but he’s a free elf and proud of it.
What does that difference let him do? For starters, he’s strong enough to warn Harry about the chamber opening. Not the best warning in the world, but he still does it. Then, after he’s free, he steals from Snape to give Harry gillyweed (in the books – the gillyweed comes from Neville in the movie) and can go to Malfoy Mansion to rescue the prisoners in the final book, choosing to give his life to rescue his Harry Potter.
For so many years I saw my differences as a weakness, something that singled me out. That was until Dobby, the unique house elf who found his strength in being free.
Ron’s Lesson – Trust, and you’ll be brought to where you need to go
Ron’s always been another interesting character. If you delve into the world of fanfiction, you find Ron the brave friend who sticks by Harry, or you find Ron the jealous git who was only ever friends with Harry because Harry was famous. And both interpretations can be found in the original books – Ron who follows Harry down into the Chamber of Secrets, and Ron who stops talking to Harry after Harry’s name is pulled from the Goblet of Fire.
But, of course, it’s in Deathly Hallows where people get most upset with him. In the midst of their horcrux hunt, when the locket is making everyone miserable, Ron abandons them. He leaves Harry and Hermione in the forest and runs back to his family.
Of course, he says he wants to go straight back, but can’t find them, so Ron is left feeling guilty and wondering how to get back to his friends. Then, as if by magic, he hears their voices through a strange and unique artifact and instead of going ‘what the hell?’ he shrugs and goes ‘what the hell’ and steps into the glowing ball of light.
He trusts in the Universe (or Albus Dumbledore at any rate) and gets taken right to where he needs to go, to save Harry’s life and destroy the horcrux.
Draco’s Lesson – Eventually you have to go your own way
Draco, like Snape, is another character whose very horribleness makes him interesting. Like Snape, if Draco is taken at face value he’s a bully and a bigot and although it’s not just Tom Felton that made him a popular character, that probably had a lot to do with it.
But Draco had layers and over the seven books they begin to be peeled back. From the arrogant little twerp always saying, ‘Wait til my father hears about this’ to the broken boy choosing not to give Harry away in book seven, Draco probably has more character development than just about any other.
We see that as a young boy he’s absorbed his family’s bigotry but then he’s exposed to his aunt’s madness, his father’s torture at the hands of the Dark Lord, the reality of having to kill.
His change stops and starts – he covers for Harry at Malfoy Manor but tries to capture him during the final battle – but in the end it’s clear he’s choosing to go his own way.
Hopefully most of us won’t have difficult decisions like Draco’s, but the lesson is still there for us. Eventually we have to step away from all the expectations others have of us and take the steps that lead to our own happiness.
Harry’s Lesson – Love is All You Need
Harry is obviously created to be the anti-Voldemort. They have similar childhoods of abuse and neglect, are both half-bloods, neither really knew their parents. But while Tom Riddle is already stealing and bullying other orphans before he comes to Hogwarts, Harry is trudging through his life at the Dursley’s, cooking them breakfast and cleaning their house.
What made one a megalomaniac and one a savior? Who knows, though certainly an abusive childhood does not normally turn one into a megalomaniac.
What I do know is how often Harry’s love for his fellow man – and creatures – saved him. We could call it his ‘saving people thing’ or love or compassion, but so often he paid attention to people and showed them caring, and that saved him in the end.
He saw Dobby’s misery and rescued him, then was in turn rescued by Dobby. He saved Sirius, who saved him in return. His compassion for Snape when Snape was dying meant that he got the memories he needed to finish the war. Instead of refusing to answer Narcissa’s question about Draco because they were enemies, he told her her son was still alive and she protected him. He even showed compassion for Voldemort when he saw the withered thing that was his soul.
Harry never expected to gain anything from rescuing others or showing them compassion. He never did it with ulterior motives. He just, in the words of the Golden Rule, treated others as he would wish to be treated, and people loved him for that. He never had an easy childhood, but he had loyal and true friends and a lot of love in his life and that was enough to save his life.
Lesson? Show compassion and love your fellow man. Life’s just easier that way.
So there it is, five lessons from Harry Potter that help guide my spiritual life. Do you agree with my character assessments? What lessons have you garnered from Harry Potter, or any literature, that you try to live by? Share it in the comments!