Fantastic Beasts (and Where to Find Them) is out in theatres! It was awesome and there were so many things that I liked about it. For those of you who do not know what Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is all about OR if you’d like to read about my thoughts on it, I have written another blog post over here that you can go and read. Just a little heads up, it’s where I’ll leave all of my major spoilers (in the 2nd half of the post only!). What I really want to talk about tonight are some of the lessons that we can take away from Harry Potter (primarily from original 7 books).
Number 1: It’s ok to be the smart one and the weird one; don’t be afraid to stand out and shine
One of the best things we can learn from our wonderful Harry Potter characters is that it is ok to be exactly who you are. We saw this with characters like Hermione, Neville, and Luna. Hermione was seen as a know-it-all by Ron and Harry at first, but then they came to appreciate and highly value her planning, organization, and intellect. Neville was seen as awkward and weird, but he turned out to be brilliant at herbology and helped Harry, he was also a very loyal friend. Luna was another super weird person, but her open-mindedness was a great comfort to Harry when he felt weird about being able to see thestrals when no one else could.
It can take courage and bravery to let your “freak flag fly”. This is especially true when you are in primary or high school because it can feel like anything that makes you different will be perceived as a bad thing and cause you to become some sort of outcast. This is definitely something that can still be a present fear as an adult. Needless to say, it’s good to let your amazing qualities shine. People will appreciate you for being smart, or creative, or open minded and the kind of people you want to be around will embrace it instead of dragging you down.
Number 2: You can use your voice to help empower other people but remember to be aware of your own privilege and address different communities needs in ways that work for them
Hermione and S.P.E.W. is the best example of this. Hermione started Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (or S.P.E.W.) after she found out about how the house elves are enslaved, even in places like Hogwarts. Because she knew Dobby who wanted to be free, she decided that the best way to deal with this social injustice was to basically trick the house elves into taking their freedom by knitting items of clothing and hiding them around the common room… but then none of the house elves wanted to clean the common room any more because the majority of them didn’t want freedom. What could Hermione have done better? She could have talked to house elves and found out how she could use her privileged position as a witch to promote their concerns (e.g. working on ways to prevent being abused by their employers/masters). She had to learn how to work for the well being of house elves in ways that the house elves would be receptive too instead of deciding for herself what they should want.
This is something that we can learn from in the “real” world, especially in non-profits, or when working with people of colour, the LGBTQ+ community, disabled people, etc. If you’re a person of privilege (or just generally want to get involved with social issues in your community), talk to the people you want to work with to learn what you can do; maybe all that is needed is just being knowledgeable and learning and helping to amplify their voices when possible. Get to know a wide range people to develop a greater appreciation of different peoples world views and remember that it’s not your job to save people. Remember that it might actually come off as offensive if it seems like you think that you need to be some kind of saviour vs. wanting to work with people to combat social issues they face, it’s a fine line, which is why I recommend talking to people and seeing what they actually need from you.
Number 3: You can love something and be inspired by something even when it has problematic elements
Harry Potter isn’t without it’s problematic elements. For example, there is a distinct lack of cultural/racial representation – the movies were worse than the books for not featuring diverse characters, but it’s something that people have been like “well, it would have been nice to see more diverse characters featured in main positions”. To be fair, JK Rowling did fabulously with so many other social issues, such as slavery, child abuse, war, poverty, and racism and classism. A lot of people were not happy with how aboriginal peoples were represented in the introduction of the wizarding world in North America. Obviously, these are a few issues in an otherwise amazing text. Something to keep in mind is that it’s still ok to love a thing with problematic elements with one big caveat. The caveat is that these problematic points have been used to fuel conversation and demand better from people. For example, authors have been (strongly) encouraged to fairly represent diverse characters and to learn from the people their representing.
Number 4: Sometimes your family are your friends… and sometimes your friends have amazing families.
Harry’s parents are dead. His aunt, uncle and cousin are abusive to him. In a way, Sirius (his godfather) and his best friends, Ron and Hermione, and even Ron’s family, are the closest things that Harry has to family, and we see what a positive effect getting to choose his family has on him. Meanwhile, Ron has an amazing family and also has amazing friends, same with Hermione. I think understanding and relating to kids like Harry who have to build their own families can be important; it can teach us to value our friendships as something more permanent and valuable.
Number 5: Know your strengths and the strengths of those around you and elevate them
As a young person, it can be pretty easy to feel jealous or insecure, but we continuously see Harry, Ron and Hermione and their other friends choosing to celebrate each others successes. Hermione knew Harry would be the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, so when she organized Dumbledore’s Army, she encouraged Harry to teach while she organized a lot of things behind the scenes to make it happen. Hermione was regularly celebrated for her knowledge, organization and ability to plan.
Instead of dragging each other down, which they admittedly might have misstepped and done so sometimes any how, the characters lifted each other up. I think that that’s an important lesson for real life and knowing when to celebrate your friends.
Number 6: Take care of your mental health by engaging in positive things.
Dementors are a symbol for depression. They’re defeated by conjuring a Patronus with a happy memory; in it’s corporeal form, it takes on the shape of an animal, which provides comfort to the witch or wizard. We see this with Harry on numerous occasions, as he’s had a lot of traumatic experiences, and while it is hard, he is able to conjure happy memories and drive away the darkness.
Boggarts take the shape of something that the wizard or witch is most afraid of. The boggart can be defeated by casting the Ridiculus spell and transforming the fear into something funny, like Neville imagining Snape in his grandmothers clothes makes Snape less scary to him.
The Horcrux, when kept to close, could poison the mind, and getting it away, sometimes literally off their shoulder’s, would lift that weight. We saw this with Ron, as well as his sister, Ginny, who were being harmed by the Horcruxes and suffered emotionally for it. They had people in their lives who helped them get away from the threat and later defeat it.
Harry Potter has so much meaning in my life. If I thought about it for longer, I could think of another dozen lessons and messages that I drew out of the series.
What messages did you take away from Harry Potter?