I was huddled near my deluxe three-CD changer in was the corner of my room in the old white South Dakota farmhouse, the contraband in my hands. I had smuggled it in, zipped up inside my backpack. Somehow, I had not let on at the dinner table of my secret, behaving like the kind and dutiful daughter I had been for the last eleven years of my life. It all changed that fateful day. I was disobeying the wishes of my loving parents to do what I wanted.
What I wanted to do was read. But not just any book. I wanted to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My classmates all raved about it in the way only ten- and eleven-year-olds can, and they didn’t even like reading. I couldn’t bear that there was a book that I had not read that was popular and … GOOD. At that point in my reading life, I was reading Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, anything challenging I could find in the school library. I had seen this Harry Potter book in the store, and I wanted to read it so badly.
But I couldn’t. I don’t remember the actual conversation, but I assume, from knowing my parents, that it went something like this: I mentioned that this new book was out, testing the waters. My mother asked what it was about. Quietly, I said magic. Then my mother likely said in that dismissive tone that hid a wide variety of emotions, “Eh, I don’t think so. You don’t need to be reading that.”
My father was a Baptist minister, my mother a teacher, and while they understood the draw of a good story, they heard – probably from Focus on the Family – of the magic and sorcery contained within these British books. The occult. Spells. Wands. They wanted to protect their daughter from evil. I could have told them about the social evils I was learning from my other books, but I wasn’t old enough to express it. Instead, I just obeyed.
The book showed up in my school library. We rarely got the new books, being a small country school. Somehow, it was there. And like the book possessed me, my hand closed on it and I brought it up to the librarian. I put it in my backpack. It was all done before I could resist.
So I found myself, up in my room, feeling the adrenaline of disobedience. I rarely disobeyed my parents in fear of their faces contorting in disappointment or disapproval. I couldn’t stand those faces, so I was good, timid, shy, and obedient. Then Harry Potter came into the picture, and just like James Dobson probably said, it corrupted me.
I had the book in my hand, my back to the door. My fingers opened it to the first page. I read the first chapter quickly and hungrily, about Privet Drive and a woman who turned into a cat and a big man on a motorcycle, always expecting my father to burst through the door and snatch the book away from me. As it never happened, I reached the end of chapter, a mere 17 pages. It was like tasting forbidden cake, except my parents could never see the evidence. The perfect crime….except for the guilt.
I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear disobeying and disappointing them. I had the utmost faith in their wisdom. They had never let me down before; they must know better. And though I was eager to begin the next chapter, I could not. I had done enough damage. I closed the book firmly, a heaviness in my heart. The book went back in the bag, back to the library. They never knew.
Months after that incident, we were on our yearly vacation in Florida. Our family was fairly poor, but lucky in that my grandparents had acquired a small villa in a resort in southern Florida back in the ‘70s. My parents took advantage of these free accommodations, wanting their children to see other parts of the country and escape the curse of being underprivileged and uncultured. They wanted us to know the ocean.
So, every summer in May after school got out, Mom and Dad packed up the Suburban and we drove 31 hours from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, down to Southern Florida. My parents would drive through the night while myself and my two younger siblings slept in the back seat. The villa and hot pavement welcomed us in the early afternoon, and we rushed down to the beach, jumping in the waves. We were lucky children, to know the ocean.
I had stayed away from the demonic books, ever since my one lapse in judgment. But somehow, the subject of Harry came up again that summer while we were in Florida. I don’t know if someone we knew had read them and said they were okay. Or did I risk exposing my secret to bring it up again? Was I that brave? How did it happen?
All I know is that somehow I asked, once again, if I could read the books. I rarely asked twice. To be told no once was punishment enough. But I asked again.
We were driving in the brown Suburban. I was behind the driver’s seat. A palm tree waved outside. It was warm; I was wearing shorts. The sun flickered through the palm branches, and all was green and light outside the window.
I remember all of this because my mother said that I could make my own decision.
My eyes were wide as I turned them to her face. I was certainly old enough to be making decisions, but I understood immediately the gravity of her statement, what it meant to them and to me. My parents were letting me grow up. They were admitting they did not know everything, but they were confident in how they raised me and the God-knowledge they had helped me to find. Mom and Dad trusted that I had enough love for them and for God that I would be able to discern good from evil in these books, to read them if I felt at peace and to stop if I felt unrest.
Because I knew what they were asking of me, I did not answer them straightaway. I thought about it, and decided, that yes, I would read the Harry Potter books. The first one anyway. I would see after that.
I never told them that I could skip the first chapter, because I had already read it. But this time, I opened that book with a clear conscience and a proud heart, because my parents trusted me. And I had not betrayed that trust…much.
Eventually, my siblings read the books, and then my father did also. They all agreed that the demonic influence was slight. While she never read them herself, my mother gave me money to buy the seventh and final book the day it was released, as that morning I left my college job to visit their home in Calgary. I bought the book in the airport and read. I saw the hunger I had experienced reading that first chapter ten years earlier, children all around me with their noses buried in the giant tome. I refrained from leaning across the aisle on the plane to ask the eleven-year-old what page he was on. We were all on the journey together.
Tears ran down my cheeks as I turned the final pages. Because to me, Harry Potter is not just a character in an interesting children’s series. He was the impetus to the owning of my spiritual life, to realizing that I could make my own decisions about what I put into my mind and that my parents trusted me to do so. Because of that, he holds a special place in my spiritual journey, one symbolizing redemption, trust, and good magic, the kind only a good story can give.