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It was at one of my day jobs teaching kids that my students introduced me to the story of Harry Potter. I picked up the first book skeptically, but as I read that first chapter, something shot through me and I said out loud, “This book just changed my life.”
Since college I had been thinking about the power of stories to transform individuals and, collectively, to inspire social change. I wanted to be the instigator of a movement that had multilevel storytelling—personal, collective, and mythological—at its core. But I didn’t have a story to work with until I found Harry Potter.
The first sentence of the first book is at least tied for most subversive sentence in the history of literature: “Mr. and Mrs. Durstley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” That’s when I started laughing. To be subversive against the concept of aspiring for normalcy is about as subversive as it gets.
The fact that J.K. Rowling used to work for Amnesty International was also apparent in the books. There are a lot of parallels to our world. We see discrimination against so-called “mudbloods,” a derogatory term for wizards that don’t have “pure blood.” During a time of terrorism, Harry’s godfather is falsely imprisoned and tortured—a clear parallel to Guantanamo and the ways governments act under panic. In the later books, we see Harry and his friends form Dumbledore’s Army, a student activist group that fights for justice in a world that is ignoring a real threat: the return of the villain, Lord Voldemort.
I thought, why couldn’t the Harry Potter community become Dumbledore’s Army? I wanted there to be a message to this movement that fantasy is not an escape from our world, but an invitation to go deeper into it.
Have we perfected the model of using stories for social change? Definitely not. But we’ve come further than anyone else."