Category Archives: Novels

What Harry Potter has Meant to Me: On Being Alive

Today I present my final essay on the Harry Potter series and what it has meant to me over the years. I have built many memories around these books and their corresponding films. I am sad that now, with the release and well-deserved success of the final film, the world of Hogwarts has finally come to an end. As all great books do, though, they will continue to grow precious to me. I will read them again over the years, and I will receive new lessons and ideas each time I immerse myself in them. I cannot wait for the day I will read them to my children.

Without further hesitation, I give you part 3 of 3 of What Harry Potter has Meant to Me: On Being Alive

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Part 3 of 3

I think that this may be the most important thing I gleaned from reading the Harry Potter series and making the stories a part of my life for nearly a decade. I came into the books at a time in my life when things were in transition. When I began reading them, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was the most recently published installment. I was out of high school, I was preparing to leave for college, and I was dealing with all of the emotional, psychological, and spiritual conflicts that come along with that phase in life. As the books continued to be published, they each seemed to coincide with a phase I happened to be going through at the time. In a way, they helped me cope with complex and potentially devastating periods of my life. And, in the end, they helped teach me how to live, how to be alive.

Throughout the series, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are faced with extraordinary obstacles. Harry is orphaned as a young child, Hermione is the classic perfectionist and deals with a great deal of self-inflicted stress (as in The Prisoner of Azkaban), and Ron is born into a family that, at the outset of the series, must cope with poverty and the societal alienation that comes along with such. As the series progresses, they allow their struggles to become a part of their identities, and they learn to grow because of them. Then, when a great evil comes against them, and they are unexpectedly thrust into a war upon which the outcome of all humanity rests, they rise to they rise to the challenge and deal with it each day, week, month, and year as it unfolds. The conflicts with which they each wrestled as children prepared them for building and defending their world as adults. Struggle was no new thing to them, and they knew they would deal with each event as it arose, as they always had.

For years they fought for what they believed to be true, for the values which the generation before them had instilled within them. The most critical period of their lives, the time when they were transitioning into adulthood, was dedicated to a struggle to ensure a better future for those currently living and for those yet to be born. It was no ordinary generational or cultural struggle, either; their years were marked by true darkness, danger, and evil, all of which were represented by the fearsome presence of Lord Voldemort. They witnessed as their friends and families died and the world seemed to be turning in against them. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were so committed to the battle against Voldemort that they were each willing to put themselves into life-threatening situations for the cause. By the resolution of the story, this was who they were: they were the Order of the Phoenix, the resistance against Voldemort, and the individuals who battled the forces of darkness to protect light, freedom, and innocence in the world.

Despite these things, however, they still lived their lives. They still found time for games, to decide what they might want to do for careers after school, and spent time with family and friends. They still found time to fall in love. Even though they dealt with exceptionally dangerous and ominous times, they recognized that they were still alive. I think it is no accident that Rowling refers to Harry as “the boy who lived,” and not “the boy who survived,” because he didn’t merely survive as an infant something that should have killed him. He grew up. He went to school. He made friends. He had a first kiss, and then he fell in love. He made choices, developed ideals and values, and fought for that in which he believed. He lived; he didn’t wait for the war with Voldemort to be over before he experienced his life. Even after facing death and engaging in the great battle of his generation, he went on. He fulfilled his first purpose, and then he found a new one in his family.

We each engage in conflict on a daily basis. We each pass through hard times, a dark night of the soul. I have experienced periods in my life that I thought would consume me, times when I thought I didn’t care if the sun never rose again. There have been, and still are, things I wished to achieve in life that I thought weren’t possible or would never come. Time passes, and these things come and go. It would be easy for me to think that I am still working toward my “life,” that I am somehow still lacking something, or that certain events have yet to come to pass before I can relax and enjoy what I have. Harry Potter has helped me see that this would be no good way to live. Struggle never ceases, and it will always be present. But so will blessings. Voldemort will always be lurking somewhere out there on the edge of a shadow. My generation may yet have to face its great enemy.

What am I going to do?

I am going to live.

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What Harry Potter has Meant to Me: On Coping with Mortality

Part 2 of 3

When I was fourteen months old, I was diagnosed with type I diabetes.  I have been insulin-dependent all my life.  The thing about diabetes is that it isn’t a disease that simply prevents one from indulging in sweets. It can cause a plethora of other conditions, putting diabetics in danger of everything from blindness and nerve damage to bone loss and heart disease. Typically, the life-expectancy of a young child diagnosed with diabetes is about twenty-five years shorter than average. This may have improved some over the years with medical advancements and technology, but still, diabetes makes life precarious at times.

Needless to say, I have spent some time dealing with mortality. I used to wonder if I would be married or have kids before I died.  Today, I often think about whether or not I will be around long enough to see my children graduate from high school or college, get married, or start their careers.  I frequently question if I will ever hold my grandchildren.

As one may expect, these thoughts, and the trails down which they lead, have the ability to take me to a very dark place. In my earlier twenties, this happened quite often, and I spent many days being depressed because I felt I had been dealt a poor hand by God. And, I feared death.

This is where Harry Potter comes in.  More so in the final three books than the others, death, immortality, and the afterlife become major motifs.  Sirius Black died unexpectedly, leaving his friends and family to cope with grief in the aftermath.  Dumbledore, the greatest wizard in his universe, was killed right in front of Harry, who thought the professor would always be there. Voldemort’s ultimate and consuming goal was to live forever, so much so that he twisted his soul into something fragmented and warped. It would seem that the wizards, despite all their wondrous talents and abilities, felt the same way about death as we do here in the real world.

Note: the rest of this essay contains plot-spoilers concerning the final book/ movie, so you may want to wait until after you finish the series to read today’s post.

 

The final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is where I learned something about coping with morality.  One significant recurring theme was that humans have struggled throughout the ages attempting to overcome death. Alas, according to Dumbledore, “human efforts to evade or overcome death are always doomed to disappointment” (The Tales of the Beedle Bard 94).  This is a hard lesson to learn, perhaps, but the implications of avoiding its message are worse.

Tom Marvolo Riddle feared death above all things.  He was exceptionally talented, and exceptionally bitter.  He turned his talents toward  “evading” death, even to the extent of giving himself the persona of the Dark Lord Voldemort, or “He Who Must Not be Named.” He desired that his very name strike the same fear in the hearts of mankind as that which the Angel of Death struck in his.  He even went so far to avoid death that he committed an unthinkable form of sorcery: murdering innocents and using the abominable magic which resulted from that act to shatter his soul and contain the fragments in tangible items, thus the horcruxes.  As a result, Voldemort was cursed to live a half-life, the most tragic side-effect of which was the inability to experience love or human connection in any way.

In the end, though, nothing in this world lasts forever, and the horcruxes were eliminated one by one. At the climax, Voldemort still succumbed to death. For all of his fighting, for all of his evil, for all of his desperation, the angel of death still came for him.

Here is the moral of the story: what Dumbledore said is true, and no one in this life escapes death.  The only thing we can free ourselves from is the fear of death, or a preoccupation with death. Voldemort feared death so much so that he became enslaved to it, and in the end it prevented him from living a life. In The Tales of the Beedle Bard, the final brother was simply unafraid of death, and when he died “he greeted death like an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals, they departed this life” (93). Harry, in the end, overcame his fear of death and went to face it.  As a result, Lord Voldemort’s soul was ultimately destroyed, and Harry was given one more opportunity to live.  It wasn’t mastering death that allowed Harry to be victorious that morning, but it was Harry’s mastering the fear of death.

Through the Harry Potter series, I learned that when I accept death as an inevitability and cease fearing it, then I am no longer enslaved to it; I am truly free to live.


What Harry Potter has Meant to Me: On Growing Up

With the release of the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, I am beginning the process of getting closure of the last decade of my life. I came into the books the year after I graduated from high school, just after Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had been published and the first film had been released to DVD. I was working at a home theater store at the time. We were having a slow day, and one of the salesmen decided to show the movie in one of our demo rooms. I was on break, and I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about. I watched the part where Harry was in the forbidden forest and witnessed Quirrell/ Voldemort feeding on the blood of a unicorn. Turns out, that was just creepy enough to catch my attention. I rented the movie on the way home from work and watched it that evening. I read all four available books over the following two weeks, and Harry Potter, strangely enough, became a very important figure in my life.

I am wrestling with many mixed and conflicting feelings now that the entire series has come to fruition. I am very happy for Ms. Rowling on her overwhelming success. I am sad that it’s finally over. I am looking forward to reading through the entire series again sometime in the future.

What I have to offer this week is not a book or film review. That would not be necessary, as many more talented and observant individuals have certainly already put their hands to that work. No, I have decided to pay tribute to this significant cultural phenomenon in the following way: I will post three times this week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In each of these posts I will attempt to concisely convey what the Harry Potter series has meant to me over the years. Today’s topic is what the books spoke to me on the subject of growing up. Wednesday’s topic will concern coping with mortality, and Friday’s subject will be being alive. They are my way of processing through and gaining closure on the amazing, dark, and powerful world that has embraced, encouraged, and excited me for the last ten years.

I realize how important these stories have been not just to me, but also to millions of people around the world. I offer up these thoughts respectfully and humbly. Today’s post is longer than the next two days’ will be due to the introduction. Please enjoy, and join in the discussion.

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Part 1 of 3

One motif that is visited heavily in the Harry Potter series is the idea that the world is built by those who participate. The books also reveal the truth that there comes a time when we may no longer rely on or hold a previous generation responsible for our circumstances; we all reach an age when we must actively build the present and the future for ourselves.

Harry, Hermione, and Ron all engaged directly in whatever was occurring in their world. In the first few books of the series, this resulted in the children getting involved in comparatively light-hearted, even comical, mischief. As the series developed, however, the events that unfolded become progressively less whimsical; darkness and danger rolled in and surrounded all the characters in the story. As it turned out, the “easier” conflicts they had as children lead them to the true battles of adulthood. Nonetheless, the three main protagonists played decisive rolls in the development of the world around them. I think that there is a lot to learn from this.

One major lesson I took from reading the series is that we are all impacted by all of the big and the small events occurring in the world around us, and we all have a responsibility to participate in them once we are aware of this impact. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the primary characters are told that they may not join the Order of the Phoenix because of their ages. This was met with indignation by the younger heroes, especially Harry. They recognized that however things turned out in the war against Voldemort, they would inherit that world. They wanted to play an active role in shaping the future they would inherit. It was valuable to them, and was therefore worth taking a stand and fighting for it. To me, this is one of the first signs that one is “growing up:” a person recognizes that life is happening, history is being written every day, and he or she wants to make an impact on the future that will one day become the present. It is worth taking a stand, even to the dismay or consternation of older generations, which leads me to my next point.

For a time our parents knew what was best for us. They spent their younger days preparing the world for us, and, for a while, we were only responsible to live in the security of the circumstances our parents built. The truth of the matter was, though, that they would not be around forever, and the time came when we had to begin shaping our own days. I found that this was frequently met with resistance by my parents’ generation, as they wished to protect me from the dangers and harsh realities of the world for as long as possible. Then, as in the final two books of the Harry Potter series, it became apparent to the older generation that our generation needed a chance, too, that one day we would have our own children for whom to build a future. When Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest of the students at Hogwarts joined in the war in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it stood without question that they were allowed to fight. After all, it was their last year in school, and they were about to go out into the world as adults. If Voldemort was victorious, it would have been dark for them, too. A time comes when children must accept from their predecessors the yoke of adulthood, when the mantle of responsibility must be transferred from parent to child, for good or for ill. It came for the characters in Harry Potter, it came for me, and it will one day come for my children.

It is painful to grow up. The most difficult and terrifying thing about becoming an adult is realizing that we are utterly, unequivocally, and irrevocably responsible for the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It seemed like only yesterday that I was eighteen, living in my mother’s house, eating my mother’s food, and being incredibly concerned about myself and what happened to me. Today, I am married, I live in my own house, I have a career, and I am the father of two wonderful children, and their well-being is my utmost concern. It would be easy to think that all of these circumstances just happened upon me, that I arrived into them by accident. If I look back with an analytical eye, though, I can see that I decided to move to Missouri for college. When I met my wife, I decided to actively pursue her and to propose to her. I chose teaching as my profession, I opted to go to grad school right out of college, and all of these things enabled Kara and I to begin having children when we did. I could go on and on, but the point of it is this: I took ownership of my life and my future. There was a point when I had to leave my parent’s protection and go into the fray for myself. In many ways, the Harry Potter books helped me in coping with this transition.

Now, I am building a world for my daughter and my son to inherit, and that is worth fighting for.


Everybody Needs a Villain

Today’s  post comes inspired by my friend Cody’s review of the Green Lantern movie.  Before reading the rest of my post, go check it out on Popgun Chao$!

This post got me thinking about what makes a good villain.  When I read a good book, see an awesome movie, play a fantastic video game, or read a great comic book, they typically always have one thing in common:

A villain you can believe in.

So, today on [Poor Scribbler], I would like to give you a list of my favorite antagonists of all time, and a brief explanation of why each makes the list, in my opinion.

1. Ansem, from Squaresoft’s Kingdom Hearts

This guy is a great villain for a few reasons.  One, he is definitely a “means justify the ends” kind of guy.  To him, the drowning of worlds in darkness is acceptable so long as it bestows upon him god-like power.  Two, he ruined the Hundred-Acre Wood.  I have never wanted to defeat a bad guy so…badly.

2. Princess Azula, from Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender

This girl is just mean.  She will do anything as long as it brings suffering upon another being, especially against her own brother (one of the greatest heroes of all time, in my opinion).  In the end, her malice is so strong that it drives her insane.  Oh, and she’s wicked powerful.

3. Commodus, from the film Gladiator

Without a doubt, Joaquin Phoenix was a prime attraction in this movie.  I have never, ever wanted so much for a baddie to get his. He killed his own father, then had an innocent man sentenced to death and his family executed. He’s also the biggest coward on the list.

4. Fernand Mondego, from the film version of The Count of Monte Cristo

I put this guy on the list because he betrayed his own best friend to prison so that he could both a) take a position of employment that was rightfully his friend’s (even thought he didn’t need it), and b) move in on and marry said friend’s fiancé.

5. Caleb, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7

This guy was the villain in the final, and by far best, season of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  He derived super-human strength from the original source of evil, he does something horrible to one of the Scoobies, and he is as sadistic as they come.

6. Doomsday, from The Death and Life of Superman

This guy is destruction incarnate, and he actually killed…that’s right…killed…Superman back in 1994.  I’ll never forget it.  The New York Times ran it as a front-page story, as if a correspondent had actually been on the scene.  It’s okay, though; it lead to the most glorious moment in comic book history: the miraculous resurrection of the Last Son of Krypton.

7. The Dark Lord Voldemort, from The Harry Potter series

In my opinion, this is the greatest villain of all time.  First, there is a reason he is the villain.  He has an elaborate harrowing, and complex backstory.  He represents death itself, which is ironic, because his ultimate quest is to gain eternal life.  In order to do so, he commits so great an act of abomination against nature that he is doomed to live a cursed, half-life, and must go on killing in order to sustain himself.  Beyond that, he is deceitful, prideful, and above all, deadly.  By the end of the series he has inflicted such a great amount of pain, despair, suffering, and darkness upon the protagonists that you feel as if you are emotionally obligated to stand with Harry until the very end.  He was one of my favorite villains as it stood after I read the books; when Ralph Fiennes donned the persona, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. The struggle between Voldemort and Harry is so violent and enthralling that I almost hated to make it to the climax of the book.  In the end, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has one of the most flawless climaxes I have ever had the privilege of reading.  I love hating Voldemort almost as much as I love supporting Harry.  Needless to say, I will probably see the final film multiple times.

I think I wrote this post mostly for myself. I love discussing villains as much as, if not more than, discussing heroes.  But not as much as I love my anti-heroes…I’ll save that one for another day.

In the mean time, please enjoy this song from This Will Destroy You.  As always, thanks for reading.