(Warning: Contains Spoilers)
No one could’ve predicted the astronomical impact Harry Potter would have when The Philosopher’s Stone hit bookstores worldwide. To date, each of the seven Harry Potter books have been translated into 68 different languages and sold approximately 65 million copies each worldwide. Its influence was so great that after eight films, two theme parks and an entire franchise, the British Library has opened its doors to welcome a ‘History of Magic’ exhibition, celebrating 20 years of magic and wonder.
What made Harry Potter stand out from literary rivals wasn’t just the wizarding world that Rowling meticulously hand crafted. Each character woven into the story suffered their own social injustices, and Potter himself was exposed to a number of trials and tribulations that we all experienced with him.
One of the prominent issues that Rowling explored in her series was racism, and moreover, the institutionalised discriminatory structures that had existed for centuries. Prejudice against house elves, muggles, squibs and half-bloods was rife in her wizarding world. Even the term ‘mudblood’ was coined as an offensive insult to muggle borns, an eerie echo of the hatred and intolerance that exists in real life. Eventually, the social hierarchy that had been created led to war, and Voldemort’s obsession with ridding the world of non ‘Pure Bloods’ can be compared to some of the deadliest dictators in history.
Speaking of Voldemort, his complex character proved we’re all shaped by our environment, which can lead to emotional trauma in the long term. Rowling’s in-depth exploration of Tom Riddle’s ancestry told readers of his problematic family and his troubled years spent in alone in an orphanage. Even when he travelled to Hogwarts, a place that prided itself on welcoming all magical beings, he still felt like he didn’t truly belong. Voldemort became a product of his own experiences, proof that often many people in society are left to slip through the cracks.
The theme of death and grief was also present in the shadows throughout Rowling’s series. Harry Potter was introduced to readers as an orphan, and we witnessed his struggles without the guidance of his parents. When he finally found a father figure in Sirius, fate cruelly snatched him away and Harry was once again left to navigate his path alone. But Harry found solace through his mentor Dumbledore, and his two best friends Ron and Hermione, who provided support in his darkest moments.
But it wasn’t all bad for Harry Potter. He taught us how to fight for our beliefs, the power of friendship and the time-old message that love will conquer hate. Despite his status of privilege, he sacrificed himself for the greater good, and was rewarded for his selflessness with a second chance. The Harry Potter series will always hold a special place in our generation’s heart, as through mythical creatures and potions classes it taught many of us about myriad difficult issues that affect society daily. There will always be Voldemort’s lurking in dark shadows. Luckily the Longbottoms, Weasleys and Granger’s outweigh them. So to Rowling, I thank you for teaching me to persist in the face of adversity.
Watch the trailer for the ‘History of Magic’ Exhibition here.
Tickets are available until February 2018.