The magic of literature

My stack of Harry Potter books, with an inscription that has since become priceless.
My stack of Harry Potter books, with an inscription that has since become priceless. Photo by: Katie Burt.

I received my first Harry Potter novel at the age of 10. It was Christmas of 1999, and my Grandfather Malcolm knew to get me a book. I was a vivacious reader who often plunked down at the feet of my father as he lay on the couch to read for hours before bedtime.

The inside cover of my edition is inscribed in my grandfather’s handwriting, “Presented to Katie Duncan on Christmas 1999 from Grandpa Boddy.” As it was and has been with so many kids, that first book was a hit. That first read took me little more than days to devour.

Every year since 1999, I was gifted the next books in the series by my loving grandpa and each year he inscribed them with the date and occasion. Birthdays and Christmases passed; 12, 13, 15, 16, all the way until I was 22-years-old, finally snagging the final edition. In the years leading up to this moment, I had read and reread the entire series more times than I could count.

Today, I am 26-years-old and re-reading the Harry Potter series again. Looking back through old interviews with J.K. Rowling, a beloved author, something she said clicked with me. Harry Potter and the world of Hogwarts and magic had been a refuge for so many children; just imagine what the stories had become for her.

A refuge is exactly how I would describe what these novels did for me. As the characters in my favourite novels grew, so did I. I read the series during my teenage years, seeking out hope that these tumultuous years with my parents (despite them reminding me of the Dursleys) would soon be over.

I began re-reading the series when I moved away from home for university, homesick and missing my father like crazy. I re-read them again when I returned home in my final year, more certain than ever of my place in the world and the home that had left a mark on me in the same way Hogwarts had marked Harry.

Now falling apart, with pages yellowed, I opened the books again upon finding out I was pregnant with my daughter. I continued reading them upon her birth, when everything went less than planned. The characters carried me through her disability and post-partum depression, forming the shape of my own Patronus.

I sought the refuge of the character who most reminded me of my dad, after his sudden death. I took comfort in knowing my father would have agreed with Dumbledore saying, “Death was but the next great adventure”.

This past May, my grandfather who gifted me my first Harry Potter novel, passed away. Seeking a way to honour him, I cracked open my adored books and found comfort in the pages. I gave his eulogy telling the Tale of the Three Brothers, sharing it with those who loved him. It stood as a reminder that after a long life, our grandfather had lifted his proverbial cloak and welcomed death on the other side, handing the cloak to the next generation as he left.

Each time I’ve opened these books, I am reminded of how they change as I grow. I’ve seen these characters through the eyes of a teenager, a homesick kid, a grieving child and now, a mother.

As I crack the pages of the first novel again, my hand skimming over the uneven handwriting of a man since passed, I am reminded of what is to come. For one day, I will be sharing these books with my daughter, passing them on to her like a cloak. They will offer a refuge should she ever need to escape, all the while reminding her that, “It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” I know her grandfather and great grandfather would agree.


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