Podculture: Wildcats talk beloved character Harry Potter on his 40th birthday

Haley Fuller, Reporter

Even though we know deep down that we won’t ever receive our letter from Hogwarts, the world of “Harry Potter” has captivated many members of the Northwestern community. They talked about the nostalgia surrounding the series, J.K. Rowling’s transphobic remarks and Deering Library’s resemblance to Hogwarts.

HALEY FULLER: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Haley Fuller. 

HALEY FULLER: In the midst of a global pandemic, protests against police brutality and the general turmoil of 2020, Harry James Potter turned 40 years old on July 31. J.K. Rowling’s book “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was published in 1997 and became an instant hit, spawning a seven-book series, eight movies, several spinoff books, a Broadway play, an app and even a land at Universal Orlando. “Harry Potter” has become a worldwide phenomenon for children as well as adults due to its compelling narrative and relatable characters. Even though we know deep down that we won’t ever receive our letter from Hogwarts, the world of “Harry Potter” has captivated many members of the Northwestern community, including sophomore Natalie Rarick who started reading the series while in elementary school.

NATALIE RARICK: I remember I was a slow enough reader that it actually felt like it took time to go through the book. I remember that. I was like, my school year is unfolding as Harry Potter’s school year is unfolding. It was like we were classmates. What really drew me to “Harry Potter” in the first place is not necessarily the plot, but it’s just the world and the characters that again, kind of felt like my classmates, like I definitely had these parasocial relationships with all of the characters and I wanted to kind of exist in that world.

HALEY FULLER: As with many other young readers, the “Harry Potter” books sparked Natalie’s love of stories, eventually leading her to become a theatre major with the goal of creating children’s media for the stage and screen. 

NATALIE RARICK: I really credit it for a lot of my love of stories and fantasy worlds, which has been a huge pillar in my development as a person and an artist and someone who’s stepping into the career world. I think it’s a great touchstone for our generation, I think because so many people grew up with it. It’s something that you can sort of relate to, almost universally and I’m really curious as to whether future generations will have that. 

HALEY FULLER: Although different books fade in and out of popularity, “Harry Potter” is still a cultural mainstay. As an employee at an independent bookstore, I still see children come in and look for the series. Earlier this week, I even witnessed a child beg for a LEGO book, and when their mother said no, they said, “but it’s ‘Harry Potter’!” However, the many layers of storytelling allow for readers of all ages to enjoy the books and movies.

NATALIE RARICK: Something I love about “Harry Potter” is how it sort of matures with its audience and it really becomes more complex and dark and deep as it progresses, which I don’t think many children’s books do. I hesitate to call them children’s books because they really kind of don’t feel like that, because I think they approach their audience with such respect. 

HALEY FULLER: She felt like the books grew with her, originally exposing her to a magical world full of moving staircases and talking paintings, then introducing more mature themes such as race and death in addition to those of friendship and resilience. 

NATALIE RARICK: The first few books really had such a sense of wonder and expansiveness to this world that the stories really leaned into, so that really appealed to my younger self that just wanted to be a wizard and wanted to have a pet dragon and all of the stuff that I felt like this was a fantastical, wonderful, magnificent world that I could immerse myself in. And then as it progressed, and I got older, it really revealed a lot of the darkness and complexity of that world, and even tackled things like prejudice. I think the ties between the Death Eaters and the KKK are really ominous and spooky and terrifying. And that’s something that kids are introduced to, which I think is important.

HALEY FULLER: The Death Eaters parallel the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremicist group that targets black Americans as well as immigrants, Jews and members of the LGBTQ community. The Death Eaters attack Muggles and Muggle-borns — wizards with non-magical parents — with the goal of eliminating everyone but pure-bloods, or wizards born to two magical parents. In fact, Jany Temime, the costume designer for the last six “Harry Potter” movies, designed the “Goblet of Fire” Death Eater costumes to resemble the KKK’s tall, pointy hats. In an interview with Elite Daily, she said “I use that Ku (Klux) Klan hat because it started in the camp site. You could just see the top of the points, that was a very frightening image.” 

HALEY FULLER: Despite Rowling’s integration of these difficult topics and the theme of good winning out over evil, the author has found herself the center of controversy due to recent transphobic tweets. Earlier this summer, she retweeted an article about menstruation and questioned the phrase “people who menstruate,” implying that all women menstruate and everyone who menstruates is a woman. 

NATALIE RARICK: I don’t agree with what J.K. Rowling is saying, but I also think that there are a lot of really problematic artists throughout history. I think it’s a personal choice whether you choose to separate the creator from their work, or the artist from their art, if you think that I can dislike the artist and disagree with their choices while still appreciating their work, or this person has crossed the line and I will not support their work anymore. That’s a personal decision. I think that “Harry Potter” has been so instrumental to my life that I don’t have the heart to just completely push it away, but I do think that it’s important to recognize her position on things and her flaws and prejudices and biases, which is incredibly ironic, considering what she deals with in her books and the level of complexity with which she approaches things. 

HALEY FULLER: Although many Northwestern students have read classic, well-renowned literature in class or on their own, “Harry Potter remains in its place of honor on their bookshelves.

HARRISON LARNER: As I’ve gotten older, and I’ve read “higher level books,” books by great authors, I still appreciate books like “Harry Potter” more even though I know the plot’s not perfect and not everything fits together. I just appreciate them because it kind of brings you into another world rather than the writing being perfect, and that’s that’s why I like them a lot.

HALEY FULLER: That was Medill sophomore Harrison Larner. As a member of a residential college, Harrison attempted to drum up support on his floor to buy a communal “Harry Potter” LEGO set with the quarterly floor money. Much to his dismay, not enough residents supported his plan. Unable to build a miniature Hogwarts in his dorm, Deering Library seems like the next best thing, but Harrison has found the library to be a let down.

HARRISON LARNER: I think every single school that I toured or went on tours with my sister, they have a library that claims to be like Hogwarts and It’s just because it’s old, and it’s stone and it’s the vaulted ceilings. And I never really bought it. And I kind of walk through Deering and I’m like, “I can kind of see this.” If you like, squint a lot and blur your eyes. Okay, maybe you’re at Hogwarts, but in reality, I don’t know. I think that’s a little bit overhyped.

HALEY FULLER: Thanks for listening to this episode of Podculture. This piece was reported and produced by me, Haley Fuller. The summer managing editors are Sneha Dey and James Pollard, and the summer editor-in-chief is Emma Edmund.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @haley_fuller_

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