My oldest son is reading Harry Potter for the first time. He turned eleven this past week, and we gifted him book 1, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (as I feel I must call it, as an American, but everyone knows it should really be titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) for Christmas. He read it in about two days and declared it "the best book he'd ever read!" and my heart was happy, and I prepared to throw him his 11th Harry Potter Birthday Party Extravaganza that I've been planning for years.
At the party, we gifted him with books 2 and 3, and he predictably disappeared into book 2 with nary a backward glance. I expected feedback from him as he read, but he was so engrossed, we heard not a peep until late at night, two nights ago, when he burst into the living room, eyes brimming with happiness, book clutched to his chest, and declared, "Dobby is free!"*
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm still getting a little choked up typing this. Of all the twists and turns in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, of all the adventures and revelations -- mysterious journals, ghosts, words written in blood, kidnappings, basilisks, Tom Riddle! -- my sweet sensitive boy felt more sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden, and more cathartic joy for the release from slavery of the oppressed in the story than any other aspect that he rushed to share that joy with his parents. He didn't rush down to say, "Tom Riddle is Voldemort!" or "It was a basilisk all along!" or even "Ginny Weasley has been taken and they have to go and rescue her!" but... "Dobby is free!"
And this is why our stories are important, especially in an age when the "least of these" in society -- and in the greater world -- are so often disparaged, not only in casual language, but by our actions, on social media, and sometimes grossly by the highest levels of our political leadership. Stories matter because they have the power to rightly -- or wrongly -- orient our empathies, manipulate our emotions, and challenge our world views. Stories teach people how to think and how to feel. If you love the oppressed people in Harry Potter's universe, it is difficult to turn around and hate the oppressed people in this one.
My son was edified this week by reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. His heart expanded as he felt the joy of Dobby's release from slavery. He learned important truths about oppression and personhood. And I know he's now taken strides toward better appreciating the value of freedom.
All because of a story.
*Dobby, if you're unfamiliar with the story, is a creature called a house elf. House elves are essentially enslaved to old wizarding families and can only be freed by a member of the family offering the elf an item of clothing. Dobby belongs to the infamous Malfoy family and is horribly abused, but Harry comes up with a way to trick Mr. Malfoy into giving Dobby a sock at the end of the story, thereby freeing Dobby from his enslavement. Click HERE for more!