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Harry Potter at 20: The series’ legacy at West

With the Harry Potter series’ 20th anniversary having taken place this fall, three enthusiasts from West High detail their experiences with the franchise and the impacts it has had on them.

Edward Keen, Reporter

Whether you’ve read the books, watched the movies or have not done either, it is very likely that you’ve heard of the Harry Potter franchise at some point in your life. This year, the series will celebrate 20 years since it kicked off in the United States with the release of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in 1998 and became a massive financial, as well as critical, icon. In the 20 years since the novel’s release, it has spawned a franchise that has not only become a huge pop-culture phenomenon but has also had a long lasting impact on the lives of many.

To commemorate the series’ achievement, three fans at West students Emma Caster ‘21, Emma Gibson ‘20 and English teacher John Cooper give their perspectives on the series, messages they believe play a part in why Harry Potter has endured and impacts it has had on them.

 

Mr. Cooper

John Cooper, an English teacher, is one of the biggest Harry Potter fans found at West. It is easy to notice his passion for the series just upon entering his classroom.

“I have my room set up in a similar fashion to the Great Hall, because they have the tables lined up and have banners. So that was kind of an inspiration for my room outline,” said Cooper.

In addition to that, he rewards students in points, given to four different houses in a way similar to the system at Hogwarts.

“I like to keep points on the board,” said Cooper. “So I have Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin and points for each house, and I try to reward kids for different stuff.”

I like the concept that you can write a story that’s about unreal life and unreal situations that can still reflect so much of what people do and how people treat each other.”

— John Cooper

His dedication for the series started when he was 11, around the time the second book was released. Already a fervent fantasy reader, he was fully pushed into reading the series due to the book’s use of blending magical situations with real life issues that people face.

“I like the concept that you can write a story that’s about unreal life and unreal situations that can still reflect so much of what people do and how people treat each other,” said Cooper. “It really [helps] reflect on how the world works together.”

After reading the entire Harry Potter series, he found that his expectations prior to reading were surpassed, especially due to the series’ themes and messages.

“I loved it; it’s about inclusion, it’s about living up to your strength and it’s about treating others well,” said Cooper. “I still hold that praise today.”

Another aspect of the series that he appreciates is that it encourages diversity in its characters.

“[I liked how] in the books everyone has different strengths,” said Cooper. “So Luna Lovegood, she’s considered kind of an outcast to a lot of the school, but her strengths make it possible for actual turns in the story to occur.”

It’s about inclusion, it’s about living up to your strength and it’s about treating others well.”

— John Cooper

Cooper isn’t the only member of his family to become a devotee of the series. With the exception of his eldest brother, his seven redheaded siblings (whom he compared to the Weasley’s) have all read the books and share his stance on the series. One thing that they all liked in particular about the series is how the characters have components that everyone is able to relate to.

“One of the things that my brother [David] and I have in common between the stories is that there are elements to characters that relate to us,” said Cooper. “He relates scientifically to Hermione, I very much relate to Ron, and so there are elements to all characters that lead to a productive school and a productive society and we kind of emulate those differences.”

To this day, Cooper continues to be a fan of the series, as shown in his choice of classroom decor. Despite the amount of time that has passed between his initial reading of Harry Potter and today, his passion for the series has not wavered.

“I [just] want to say it has really helped me develop myself as a person,” said Cooper. “It’s taught me a lot about courage and bravery, and I just think, if I get the chance at some point in my life to teach a class entitled ‘Harry Potter 101’, I would definitely do that.”

 

Emma Caster ‘21

Like many Harry Potter enthusiasts, Emma Caster ‘21 began her experience with the series at a young age. As per the recommendations from a close friend and her older brother, she read the entire saga in second grade.

One of her initial reactions was how unique the series felt compared to what she had to read for school.

“It wasn’t the type of book that we were supposed to be reading in second grade, we were supposed to be reading these books that idealized certain qualities that Harry Potter drifted away from,” said Caster. “So my first impression of the book was it was very different than what we were advised to read.”

The series has the reason I strive for good grades and I’m not afraid to stand up for myself.”

— Emma Caster

As time went on, her fascination for the series lingered. Many choices she has made in her day-to-day life have been influenced in part by the series. Her desire for good grades and her sense of bravery are some examples of how the books have impacted her.

“The series has the reason I strive for good grades and I’m not afraid to stand up for myself,” said Caster. “Take Hermione for example, she’s a powerful female character who’s smart and independent that I can identify with in many ways today.”

The books have also helped her develop more close friendships.

“Most of my close friends are Harry Potter fans,” said Caster. “So the series has really helped me in my social life as well.”

She has not hesitated to be open with her enthusiasm for the series. Since reading the books for the first time she has taken part in numerous fan parties related to the series and attended several premieres of the movie adaptions. She can also give a plethora of ambiguous and interesting facts related to the books.

“By this point, I have read the books countless times,” said Caster. “Even if I’m not as enthusiastic about reading them in the future, they will always have a large impact on my life.”

 

Emma Gibson ‘20

For Emma Gibson ‘20, the Harry Potter series sparked her passion for reading. Swayed by the overwhelming popularity of the series, she put the time into pursuing them in elementary school. While the novels did not have have a profound effect on her as a person at the time, they did end up kickstarting her enthusiasm for reading which has gone on to the present.

“I had enjoyed reading before the Harry Potter series, but after reading the books I started to read way more,” said Gibson. “Because of the books, I got on the track to be that ‘person who reads all the time,’ rather than just occasionally.”

In addition to making her a more avid reader, the series also energized her interest in the fantasy genre.

“The books got me into reading more fantasy novels, which is one of my favorite genres today,” added Gibson. “So I have the series to thank for getting me into that.”

I really like the themes of finding family in your friends and not conforming to the norm, and how you don’t have to be a great student to do amazing things.”

— Emma Gibson

As for the messages in Harry Potter that she now believes are noteworthy, the themes of friendship, family and individuality stood out to her.

“I really like the themes of finding family in your friends and not conforming to the norm,” said Gibson. “And how you don’t have to be a great student to do amazing things.”

Additionally, Gibson’s etiquette and study habits have been positively influenced by the books. Like Caster, she believes the books helped make her a more productive student.

“Because of the books, I strive nowadays to be a good student,” said Gibson. “Similar to how Hermione and other characters are demonstrated in the books.”

One reason she still finds herself rereading the books to this day is because she can look into them further. When she first read the novels, it felt like a simple story to her, but when she rereads them, she is able to pick out deeper points and small details that went unnoticed to her in the past.

I like the books in the fact that I can read them over and over again and still find something new in them.”

— Emma Gibson

“Lately, I’ve taken a slightly more adult perspective about [the series] and I can read into it further,” said Gibson. “I also like the books in the fact that I can read them over and over again and still find something new in the books and find details that most people who have read the books don’t know.”

According to Gibson, everyone should give the Harry Potter novels a chance, regardless of the reader’s age or inclination.

“I think everybody should read it,” said Gibson. “It has a really good story and while lots of people view it as a children’s novel, I don’t agree with that belief.”

She elaborated, “Harry Potter allows you to identify with the characters and it shows how your life could’ve been if you were a witch or wizard, so that’s fun to imagine.”

 

 

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About the Writer
Edward Keen, Reporter

Edward Keen is a junior at West and this is his first year on staff as a reporter. When he isn’t writing for WSS, he enjoys reading fantasy novels and watching movies. Contact him at [email protected]

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