On a whim, I recently decided to start re-reading all of the Harry Potter novels from the beginning (since it’s now been over a decade and a half since the first one debuted). I also thought it might be worthwhile to jot down a few thoughts as I go through, noting how my perspective on these novels has changed (or hasn’t) in the 13 years that have passed since I started reading them (I began them when I was still in high school).
I was actually quite pleasantly surprised by how well these books have aged. As I dove in to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I was prepared to be met with the same sort of sticky sweetness that clings to the first film (which I had seen more recently than I had read the book). What I encountered, however, was a novel that could literally appeal to both young people and adults (however tremulous that distinction is). The characters and their relationships are well-thought out, and there is a definite menace to the appearance of Lord Voldemort that hints at the dark and perilous things to come in Harry’s future.
What stood out most to me, however, was the very queerness of what I was reading. I know that my 17 year old self (no less queer than my 30 year old self, mind, but less aware of queer subculture) would probably not have picked up on this, but there are definite echoes between the wizarding world and those queer subcultures that have existed in most parts of the world. Much as queers have been forced to keep their existence a secret, in the process creating their own world (and worldviews) and vocabularies to express their lived experience, so the witches and wizards of this world have their own secret language and way of looking at the world that is faintly askew from the Muggle world, and infinitely more pleasurable and vibrant than its “ordinary” counterpart. Just there is something immensely validating about a new queer finding out about the community which he never knew existed, so we as readers are caught up in Harry’s joy as he encounters this new world.
This latent queerness probably helps to explain why this novel continues to exert a powerful hold over me. I simply could not put it down, even though I knew all of the major plot details and other points. It’s well-written and tightly-plotted, for sure, but it is this sense of queer pleasure that, I think, explains why it had such a hold on me when I was young and why it continues to exert its hold on me even now. It also helps to explain why I react so viscerally to the Dursleys, easily the most vile secondary villains to appear in all of young adult literature. The way in which they seek so relentlessly to repress Harry’s magical abilities (read: his queerness), is evocative, especially now, of the ways in which so many non-queer families treat their queer members, with resentment, hostility, and often outright violence.
And yet, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone allows its heroes and heroines to recognize that there is a great power in queer/wizardly solidarity. There is something so immensely satisfying about the ending of this novel, as Harry realizes that even though he has to return to his awful Muggle/normal family, there will always be a place awaiting him at Hogwarts and in the wizarding world, where difference in its multiple forms is accepted and celebrated (at least by the “good” characters and their allies). This is a message that, it seems to me, is especially important now, and why this book will no doubt continue to be popular among its legions of queer fans, both young and old.