I am a BIG fan of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. No big surprise there, as I write fantasy myself. I consider the HP series one of my biggest inspirations (see my previous Harry Potter post here). I read them over and over and over again. Each time a new one came out, I had to reread the previous ones, in over, to see what clues and hints I had missed as to what was coming in future installments. I learned quite a bit from those books, such as the following:
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t yet read the HP books, and plan to, you might want to hold off on reading this post. It will definitely spoil some of the major plot points of the novels. I’m writing under the assumption that most of my readers are already familiar with the series.
- LOOK TO HOW A MAN TREATS HIS INFERIORS TO DISCOVER WHO HE IS TRULY IS. This is a major message in “Goblet of Fire,” and it really stuck with me. This concept, voiced by Sirius (who ironically proves himself very human by mistreating his family’s house elf in the next book) even influenced an intriguing encounter between Vane and the kidnappers’ spy in “The Magic Council” (my upcoming November release, if you’re unfamiliar with the blog and my work). I had never considered before reading those lines how everyone will be kind, and good, and agreeable in the face of someone who can help them and has power over them. It’s how we treat the weak and the helpless, those who can’t do a thing for our benefit, that shows our real character. That was a powerful lesson for me, and one I think everyone should know, both to be able to judge the actions and character of others as well as themselves.
- FAMILY DOESN’T HAVE TO BE BLOOD RELATIONS. Who can deny that Harry finds his family in the Weasleys? In my opinion, one of the most beautiful and most powerful scenes in the entire series comes near the end of “Goblet of Fire,” when Harry is in the infirmary after Voldemort’s return and Mrs. Weasley is with him, comforting him, and the books says that “Harry had no recollection of ever being held like this, as by a mother.” It tore me up. There is something so wonderful about that moment. I consider it essential to the story, and have never forgiven the fourth movie for cutting it.
- “IT IS NOT WHAT YOU ARE BORN, BUT WHAT YOU GROW TO BE THAT MATTERS.” This is another powerful lesson that I really stopped and thought about when Dumbledore delivered it. These words are so true!!! No one chooses who their parents are. What their genes dictate. What talents they have or don’t have, or what limitations they are born with. It is “what you grow to be”–how you confront your limitations, how you use your talents, how you interact with others and what things you choose to value in life over others–that defines who we are. If you stutter, that doesn’t define you. If you walk with a limp, that doesn’t define you. If you have an anxiety disorder, that’s not who you are. THIS is: Are relationships or money more important to you? Do you judge others based on how they look or walk or talk or other things they can’t control? Do you use your gifts and talents to help others and improve the world, or in a selfish manner?
- IF YOU’RE A WRITER, YOU OWE IT TO THE READERS TO RESPECT THEM ENOUGH TO GIVE THEM THE BEST YOU CAN. JKR spent YEARS developing the HP universe. She has notebooks listing every student in Harry’s year in every house, and whether they are half-blood wizards, full-blood wizards, or muggle-born. She took the time to make sure she did it right, and taught me that I, too, if I wanted to write fantasy, needed to respect my audience to give the best work I was possible of creating.
- BRAVERY MATTERS. COURAGE IS TRULY A VIRTUE. The scene in the graveyard where Harry, hiding behind the gravestone, decides to confront Voldemort and die like a man is truly masterful. So poignant, especially when Harry’s decision to fight a losing battle ends up saving his life after all. We all live, and we all die. It’s HOW that differentiates us.
- LIVE YOUR LIFE IN SUCH A WAY TO INSPIRE OTHERS. The reason Harry decides to stand up to Voldemort in that graveyard is because he remembers his father. He determines to die like a man because that’s what his father did. That really hit me. Our decisions and our lives inspire others in ways we can never anticipate and may never even know. That moment in “Goblet in Fire” really taught me that. When I think of it, I remember I should live my life in such a way that those who know me and know of me might gain a positive example and a worthy, improving influence. For sure, I can’t say I always succeed in that, but I strive for that. I think we all should. The world would be a better place for it.
- IT’S NOT WHETHER YOU SCREW UP THAT MATTERS. WE ALL SCREW UP. IT’S WHAT YOU DO AFTERWARD THAT COUNTS. Lupin isn’t proud of running around openly as a werewolf in his schooldays, but he uses that shame to mold him into a better person, one capable of being a true mentor to Harry. Ron walks away from his friends, but he comes back and stands beside them when it counts. Percy deserts his family, but is man enough to admit his mistake and ask forgiveness when he realizes how wrong he truly was. Redemption is possible. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing, perhaps the greatest gift we can give each other.
- IN FICTION, EDITING MATTERS. IF IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE THERE, IT SHOULDN’T BE. JKR herself has admitted that “Order of the Phoenix” is too long. More should have been cut. It was poorly edited. It’s still an awesome book, but I consider it the weakest of the series, and it could have been better. Sometimes, less in more. Any good edit of a draft should REDUCE its size, not expand it.
- NEVER DISCOUNT SOMEONE BECAUSE THEY SEEM WEAK AND INSIGNIFICANT. Neville Longbottom is a wonderful character, and he really drove this lesson home for me. Who would have thought Neville–scrawny, bumbling, silly Neville–would end up destroying one of Voldemort’s horcruxes and prove so brave and honorable? It was such a joy to see him develop through the series and come into his own. He’s one of my favorite HP good guys, and a warning not to think poorly of others–or ourselves–if we have yet to reach our full potential. Life’s about the journey. About improving as people day by day. We can’t be everything all at once, from the start. Be patient with others and with yourself. (I’m ok, most of the time, being patient with others. Not so much with me though. Not at all with me.)
- THE ROAD TO HELL IS PAVED WITH ADVERBS. That is one of my favorite Stephen King quotes. Unfortunately, JK is a bit too fond of them. I still love her books and they are still, VERY much, worth reading.