Why We Need Harry Potter

Harry Potter Festival

I’ll admit it; I was a long-time resistor of Potter Mania. I simply didn’t buy that any youth book could possibly be so great as to live up to all of the hype and the OMG-this-is-the-best-thing-EVER attitude that permeated American popular culture in the early 2000s. However, in 2002, one of my figure skating friends would not drop the issue and insisted that I at least give the books a try. I caved. I read. I fell totally, head-over-heels in love. I instantaneously became one of many million worldwide Harry Potter addicts and I devoured books 1-4 as quickly as I could manage. Over the next half-decade, I continued my HP love affair with all-day line-ups at book stores for the midnight releases of books 5-7, Harry Potter festivals, midnight movie showings, and a homemade Gryffindor cloak. Yes… I’m a full-on Harry Potter nerd. I’m cool with that. And yes, I was at the midnight showing of HP7.

I often wonder just what it is about Harry Potter than has spawned such a huge mass of rabidly devoted fans. The stories themselves are riveting and the characters are full of life and easy to relate to, but the same could be said of many other series whose draw is not nearly as intense. I believe what really sets Harry Potter apart is the world that J.K. Rawling so painstakingly crafted—the highly creative, imaginative, magical existence of Harry Potter and his fellow witches and wizards. Excepting for, perhaps, the most mundane of Muggles, who doesn’t want to jump on the Hogwarts Express and spend their school year learning how to cast spells and whip up potions, wandering through a castle with ghosts, enchanted armor, moving paintings, and magically appearing rooms? It is such a beautifully described and thought-out world that it seems like it must really be only a brick-tap away. It ignited the sense of wonder of a generation and is likely to live on in our culture for many more generations to come.

Now for my plea: we need Harry Potter! Or, more accurately, we need to foster and encourage the imaginative development that leads to cultural phenomenon like Harry Potter. Here at CMA, we have had preschoolers tell us that they are not allowed to use their imaginations because to do so would be lying. We were shocked; how could parents come to associate imagination with dishonesty? But, sadly, our current education system is one that focuses on facts and figures, memorization and regurgitation. It measures success and intelligence through closed-ended answers recorded on bubble sheets. Parents, while having the best intentions for their children, encourage them to study hard, focus on homework, and engage in structured after-school activities (see the film “The Race to Nowhere”). When do these children have the opportunity for exploration and play? Where is the imagination in their lives? How can we ever expect another Harry Potter—or Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or Lemony Snicket– to develop from Scantron-imbued, drone-like students?

Our culture and humanity depends on imagination in order to grow, learn, create and innovate, as discussed by Seattle’s Parent Map. All of us—educators, parents, Harry Potter fans, and concerned citizens alike—need to embrace the importance of imagination and demand that it play an important role in our own lives and those of the next generation. If that begins by donning a black robe and grabbing a stick-like magic wand, so be it, and 10 points to Gryffindor!

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Dayna Jalkanen, Educator for Family Programs