I hadn’t been asleep long when it happened. A noise, like skin slapping wood, jolted me awake.
“Nick awoke with a fright,” my internal monolog said.
Quickly I realized the noise was innocuous. Then I returned to the sentence that ran through my mind as I was roused: “Nick awoke with a fright.”
Where did that come from? This is when I realized the impact Harry Potter was having in my life.
Much is made of the downsides of aging, but here’s at least one benefit to getting older. You unearth something delightful that was there all along, waiting for you to discover it at the time that’s right for you.
A recent example of this for me is the Harry Potter series.
The first Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was published in 1997. I was a junior in high school at the time.
This is to say I was a closeted gay teenager in rural America hoping religion would save my soul. I had no friends and little hope my life would ever be more than a daily struggle against sinful homosexuality.
In hindsight, I was depressed.
Stories for some people, reading and writing them offer an escape. This was not the case for me. I was too obsessed with fighting my gayness, and too depressed about the hopelessness of it, to read anything other than Sports Illustrated or the Bible.
This means I was unaware of the Harry Potter books that quickly dominated young readers around the world starting in the late 1990s. In hindsight, I could have been part of the first wave of Potter fandom, but instead, I was focused on avoiding hell for being a homosexual.
Over time I accepted my gayness and emerged from the depressive, closeted state of my teenage years. By then, Harry Potter was too big to ignore, but I was an adult now and saw little reason to read a children’s series.
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Then I read Stephen King’s On Writing. King lists as the end of the book other books he read the year prior to On Writing being published. Three Harry Potter books made the list.
I realized if the master of storytelling Stephen King is reading Harry Potter, maybe I should, too. And that’s how I came to reading Harry Potter for the first time at age thirty-six.
Harry became my constant companion for fifty-seven days. I tore through the books, immediately understanding why so many made such a fuss over Harry Potter. So obsessed was I while reading the Potter books that my inner monolog took on the series’ narrative voice. Hence my waking from a dream thinking the sentence, “Nick awoke with a fright.”
It wasn’t until after finishing the final Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that I began to think about some similarities between myself and Harry Potter.
Harry Potter and I are the same age. Harry’s birthday is July 31, 1980. That’s within two weeks of mine.As a boy, Harry faced down dark magic that sought to destroy him. So did I. While Harry was fighting Lord Voldemort in England, I was fighting the destructive belief that being born gay is wrong.
As a boy, Harry faced down dark magic that sought to destroy him. So did I. While Harry was fighting Lord Voldemort in England, I was fighting the destructive belief that being born gay is wrong.
Harry eventually defeated Voldemort. I defeated being a closet case.
Of course, seeing my fight against evil as similar to Harry’s is what makes still today Harry Potter such a draw for kids and adults. It’s a story onto which we all can project our personal struggles.
After finishing the Potter series, I wondered if I regretted not having discovered them when I was a teenager. Could reading Potter have helped me deal with my homosexuality earlier, avoiding years of missteps and pain?
I doubt it. My existence was too bleak back then to be open to the fantastical world of Harry Potter. I would not have been receptive to his story, and certainly in no position to see myself in his shoes.
Besides, the tumult of the years in which I slowly came to accept my gay self provided for me experiences that today make me a better writer.
There were the interesting jobs, such as working in a mental hospital. And jobs, like being a newspaper reporter, that taught me useful skills. There was living in different states, meeting numerous people with varied backgrounds.
There were the experiences, like passing a herd of antelope grazing in a Wyoming ghost town at midnight. Or standing alone in an Oregon rain forest listening to raindrops patter onto the leaves of enormous, green ferns.
And had I read Harry Potter earlier in life, I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of reading his story through adult eyes and understanding. The world is full of treasures awaiting our discovery, and sometimes they stay hidden until we’re ready for them.
Finally, at age thirty-six, I was ready to read Harry Potter.
How old were you when you first read a Harry Potter book?