This has been a difficult post to write. I wanted my sparks to be inspirational while being books that not a lot of people had heard of. That way, they'd be inspired to try something new and moderately obscure. I didn't want to talk about Harry Potter, because at this point, everyone and their mother has read it and probably has something to say on the subject. But I really can't finish out Sparkfest without paying tribute to the Boy Who Lived. He was (and still is) such an integral part of my life, and I owe a lot of things to him and his universe.
I started reading Harry Potter with the first book. We got it out of a Scholastic book order for less than five bucks. I didn't think I was going to fall in love with it, since I was already 11 and beyond most of the middle grade stuff (read my earlier post on Dr. Seuss for info on how accelerated my reading was). Much to my own surprise, I was sucked into the magic of the story. Harry was 11 too, and he got a letter to Hogwarts. He got to experience all these things that I desperately wanted to experience: magic, adventure, and boarding school (yeah, I was weird). He also met some really funny kids, studied subjects that were way more interesting than pre-algebra and world history, and found a place where he belonged. I was desperate for more.
As Harry grew up, so did I, and I learned a lot of really important lessons from him. I learned that standing up to your friends is a lot harder than facing your enemies. I learned that the right thing to do is often the hardest. I learned that you choose your own family by surrounding yourself with people who matter, and that blood ties are not always the strongest. I learned a lot about self-discovery, and that being a teenager was hard, with a lot of complicated emotions. But through all the difficulty of adolescence, I always had Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
I learned a lot about writing from Harry as well. I learned that the best characters are real ones, with wants and needs and feelings. I learned that the best stories have lots of adventure and mystery and intrigue, but underneath it all they have love and relationships, because that's what makes the world go round. I learned that you don't have to go to a whole alternate universe to find magic. You can find it right in your backyard.
Last month, the Harry Potter franchise finally ended. It was bittersweet for me, as I sat there in the theater with tears streaming down my face. In the last thirty minutes of the final movie, all I could think about was the end. It was the end of 13 years of my youth, the end of one of the greatest book series of all time, the end of Harry. But really, it was only the beginning. Harry Potter gave me the tools I needed to not only be a successful writer, but a successful person. He taught me the value of good friendships, how to listen to my elders and be respectful, and the benefits of hard work.
I think of my books as close friends. They were the constants in a childhood filled with change. We moved every two to three years, and even though I lost touch with a lot of childhood friends, my books have always remained. I don't know the influence Harry Potter has had on all of you, but for me he's been one of the very best friends I've had. Even though there probably won't be any new material from Harry's universe, I fully plan on introducing my children to him at some point in the future. After all, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone else who can play Quidditch like a pro at the ripe old age of 11. ;)