It's Harry Potter's 20th Anniversary, But The Books Are More Relevant Than Ever
Twenty years after Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone introduced us to The Boy Who Lived, we're still finding new reasons to love and relate to Harry Potter. In fact, there are many reasons that Harry Potter is more relevant than ever right now, and I've got 20 of them for you to explore below.
For the last two decades, Harry Potter has permeated pop culture. Not only did J.K. Rowling's book series help shape Internet fan culture, but it also inspired books on business, philosophy, literature, and politics. There are unofficial, Potter-inspired guides for writers, bartenders, and spies. You can eat Cauldron Cakes when you visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando, or take on the challenge of a Harry Potter-themed escape room. Put simply, it's a Harry Potter world, and we're all living in it.
But Harry Potter has much more to teach us than how to amass a media empire. Rowling's world might be magical, but there are some very real life lessons to be learned from it, and readers frequently discover new ways to relate the Harry Potter books to their daily lives.
Here our top 20 reasons Harry Potter is more relevant than ever:
1. 'Sorcerer's Stone' Comments On Recent Drug Epidemics
There are plenty of mood-altering substances in Harry Potter, but only one of them was ever condemned: unicorn blood, a potent fluid that could save lives, but at great detriment to the user. Those who drank unicorn blood — as Professor Quirrell did, when he was in Lord Voldemort's service — suffered because they took an innocent life in the process.
With opioid drug use on the rise, you can expect to hear more and deeper discussions about U.S. drug policy, which currently treats many people with addictions as criminals instead of patients. Harry Potter makes it clear that the only people who should be condemned for drug use are those who knowingly harm others in the process.
2. Harry Potter Tells Us That We Don't Have To Be Pretty To Be Powerful
Each of us needs a bit of body positivity every once in a while, and the Harry Potter books remind us that looks aren't everything. In fact, some of the most powerful and important characters in the books are not conventionally attractive.
Harry Potter had a facial scar and a perpetually bad haircut. Ron Weasley was tall and skinny. Hermione Granger had buck teeth. Professor Snape was sallow and greasy. Lord Voldemort didn't have a nose.
If our heroes can be not attractive in conventional ways and still kick butt, why can't we?
3. It Shows What Healthy Mentorships Look Like
Orphaned at an early age and mistreated by his only living relatives, Harry needed all the healthy mentorships he could get at Hogwarts. And he found them, under Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid, Sirius, Lupin — the list goes on. At a time when far too many people are working for exposure and experience, Harry Potter is here to remind us what good mentors look like.
4. 'Chamber Of Secrets' Teaches Us Never To Trust The Loudest Man In The Room
Harry's second Defense Against the Dark Arts professor is Gilderoy Lockhart, famous writer and Merlin's gift to witches, who boasts about his talents and adventures — in spite of the fact that there is very little evidence to show that these things exist. By the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, readers know that all of Lockhart's confidence and charisma couldn't help him charm his way out of the Chamber. The moral of the story: don't ever trust the loudest person in the room.
5. Harry Potter Has An Allegory For Everything
Harry Potter's emphasis on acceptance is one of its most prominent recurring themes. There are a boatload of differences in the novels — as Harry meets people of other genders, races, sexualities, socioeconomic classes, backgrounds, and even species — and learns to accept and appreciate cultures and lifestyles that are different from his own.
Two situations in particular, however, have become go-tos for fans looking to compare Harry Potter to real life. The stigmas against Hermione's Muggle-born status and Professor Lupin's lycanthropy can be applied to any and every contemporary issue, from mixed-race marriages to HIV/AIDS. No matter what the hot topic is today or 20 years from now, Harry Potter will have an allegory for it.
6. It Values Libraries And The Arts
"When in doubt, go to the library." We learned that lesson early on in Potter, and the Golden Trio returned to the school library whenever they were in need, showing just how important bookish institutions are for our society.
But Harry Potter also had a deep appreciation for the non-literary arts. Magical musicians and artworks abound, and they have had real-world impact. Every Millennial photographer wants to take moving pictures like those in the wizarding world — why else do you think we're all obsessed with gifs?
7. 'The Prisoner Of Azkaban' Shows Us That Our Pasts Do Not Define Us
Sirius Black served 12 years in Azkaban for a crime he did not commit. Remus Lupin became a werewolf at an early age. Both men endured widespread hatred and mistrust for their pasts, even though neither of them were responsible for their lots in life. Sirius and Lupin proved that the people with the darkest pasts often have the brightest hearts.
8. Harry Potter Teaches Compassion For Those Who Can Fight No Longer
When the Weasleys, Harry, and Hermione visited Arthur in St. Mungo's during the events of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, they discovered that Neville Longbottom's parents, Frank and Alice, had come to stay in the hospital permanently after their minds were irreparably damaged by the Cruciatus Curse.
It's important to note that no one suggests that the Longbottoms were weak for requiring round-the-clock care, or that they just didn't want to get better, or that their lives weren't worth living — all arguments used against people living with disabilities and mental illness. Instead, the Harry Potter books accept that Neville's parents are unable to continue battling evil, and that makes it all the more important for the Order to keep fighting.
9. It Explores How Families Are Made, Not Born
Harry's only living blood-relatives are the Muggle Dursleys, who rejected him long ago because of his magical heritage. At Hogwarts, Harry creates a new family with the Weasleys, Hermione, and his father's best friends. None of these people is related to Harry by birth, but they become far more important to him than his aunt and uncle. Through Harry, Rowling's books teach us that it's OK if you have to break ties with your toxic blood-relatives and forge meaningful connections with other people.
10. 'Goblet Of Fire' Emphasizes The Importance Of Media Literacy
Was there anything worse in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire than watching Rita Skeeter write all those nasty things about Harry? Aside from Cedric Diggory dying, not really. But all of our cringing over Rita's Daily Prophet articles taught us an important life skill: media literacy.
In an age of fake news and alternative facts, we should all be more critical of the media we consume. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire taught us how to spot sensationalism from a mile away.
11. Harry Potter Shows Us That Even Magic Has Its Limits
Even in Harry Potter, there were some things that even magic couldn't solve. There was no spell to bring back the dead, for example, or to bring about true love. Certain magical injuries, such as Harry's scar and George's lost ear, could not be erased either. When we're inundated daily with messages about the latest and greatest secret remedies that doctors don't want us to know about, it's nice to be reminded that some things just can't be cured, and that that's OK.
12. It Teaches Us To Treasure Lasting Friendships, And To Never Be Afraid To Make New Ones
Making friends as a kid was difficult enough, but sometimes it feels as if it's downright impossible when you're all grown up. Thankfully, we have the Harry Potter books to remind us that we should respect and treasure our lasting friendships, even when we get into squabbles, and that we should never be afraid to make friends with the people we meet.
13. 'Order Of The Phoenix' Exposes The Power Of Propaganda
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the closest thing the series has to a dystopian novel, and it's absolutely brilliant. One of the most chilling details of the fifth Harry Potter book is the anti-Dumbledore/Harry propaganda put out by the Ministry of Magic to discredit claims that Lord Voldemort was responsible for Cedric Diggory's death during the Triwizard Tournament. Being able to recognize propaganda when we see it is an invaluable skill — see Point No. 10 above — and our misinformation-detectors get a nice little re-calibration whenever we meet Dolores Umbridge.
14. Harry Potter Highlights The Value Of Hard Work
A lot of time and energy has been spent praising Hermione Granger for being clever and bright, but can we all take the time to recognize how hard that young witch worked to get to the top of her class? Seriously, Hermione lived the same 45 minutes over and over again during her third year at Hogwarts, just so she could take three classes in the same time slot. She read all of her books in advance, and she studied and wrote scrolls into the wee hours of the night. Yes, Hermione was quite smart, but it was her hard work that got her to the top.
15. It Doesn't Care For Your Classism
From the very beginning, Harry and Hermione couldn't care less that Ron wears hand-me-downs and doesn't have the money for trolley snacks. Even though he and Draco are both wealthy, Harry knows that the blond boy isn't the sort of person one can trust to be a friend. Many of the best characters in the Harry Potter books come from dirt-poor beginnings, and everyone agrees that love and kindness, not wealth and material possessions, are what's really important.
16. 'Half-Blood Prince' Teaches Us To Protect Children At All Costs
Knowing that Lord Voldemort had called on Draco to assassinate him, Albus Dumbledore asked Professor Snape to end his life when the time came. Although the beloved Hogwarts headmaster wasn't long for this world anyway after meddling with Marvolo Gaunt's ring, it's clear that his priority was preserving the innocence of one of his most unlikable students.
Likewise, even Narcissa and Bellatrix, worried that the boy might not be able to go through with his task, asked Snape to promise to fulfill Draco's mission in order to protect him from Lord Voldemort's wrath. These agreements, between Dumbledore and Snape, and between Snape and Narcissa, have a valuable lesson: that we should protect children at all costs, even when it means doing something extraordinarily difficult.
17. Harry Potter Calls On Us To Question Authority
Harry's adoptive parents should want to nurture him, but they heap untold abuses on him instead. The higher ups in the Ministry of Magic should be concerned that Lord Voldemort has returned, but they're far more concerned about their image and, later, protecting the Death Eaters. That's not to mention Hogwarts' questionable hires for the Defense Against the Dark Arts professorship, or Dumbledore's theories on punishment and child endangerment. Few powerful adults in the Harry Potter series make good decisions where their charges — and the world — are concerned, and the Golden Trio learn quickly that authority should be questioned with regularity.
18. It Inspires Our Activism
One of the biggest letdowns about the Harry Potter movies was their erasure of Hermione's social work. She campaigned for House Elf rights throughout Rowling's book series, and may have even taken her Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare along with her when she left Hogwarts and began working for the Ministry of Magic. Hermione fought for what she believed in, even when it was unpopular to do so, and that should give us all the warm and fuzzies.
19. 'Deathly Hallows' Paints A Realistically Grim Portrait Of War
War does terrible things to good people. It kills innocents, from the fiercely loyal Dobby to fanboy photographer Colin Creevey. War forces good men to sell out their allies, and leaves everyone it touches with a scar. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows did an excellent job of showcasing the consequences of war on characters we had come to love.
20. Harry Potter Shows Us The Correct Response To Tyranny And Oppression
When Lord Voldemort returns, Harry doesn't sit on his lips about it. After the Ministry of Magic takes over education at Hogwarts, the students form Dumbledore's Army to fight back. When innocent witches and wizards are thrown into Azkaban simply because of their parentage, others take up their wands and resist. Harry Potter contains strategies for combating tyranny and oppression as they creep across our landscape, and we need all the resistance inspiration we can get today.