Trauma and tragedy play a role in a lot of children’s literature. But it was J.K. Rowling’s series that helped me cope with almost dying.
Like many people who grew up in the ’90s and early aughts, my youth was indelibly shaped by J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series—by attending midnight-release parties, getting my hands on the latest books, and lining up to watch the new films. To a generation of fans, Harry can sometimes feels more like a childhood companion than a fictional character. Starting in 1997, Rowling followed the boy wizard and his friends through their teenage years, paying as close attention to the mundane (crushes, school dances, exams) as to the magical (potion-making, Quidditch, house elves). But, crucially, the series was unafraid to grow darker and more serious as it wore on. The later books, especially from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix onward, show what it’s like to carry the weight of awful things; they go further than most children’s literature, doubling down on the guilt, fear, violence, and, ultimately, death that the young heroes face.