When I was in fourth grade, I discussed “Harry Potter” with my fellow classmates during a bus ride. We attended a conservative Christian school, and like many conservative Christian schools, “Harry Potter” was seen as the product of the devil. But to me, “Harry Potter” was a story of friendship and courage, of love and the fight for good over evil.
Twelve years later, J.K. Rowling received an award commending her for her bravery to write the series, which earned her the title of most challenged author in 2006, according to the American Library Association. The award? The PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service award is given to the “critically acclaimed author whose work embodies its mission to oppose repression in any form and to champion the best of humanity,” according to the NPR article, “PEN American Center Awards Free-Speech Prize To J.K. Rowling.”
“Through her writing, Rowling engenders imagination, empathy, humor and a love of reading, along the way revealing moral choices that help us better understand ourselves,” explained the President of PEN, Andrew Solomon. “Through their experiences with Rowling both on and off the page, countless children have learned not only the power of speaking their own minds, but the critical importance of hearing others.”
However, Rowling receives the award not only for her courage as an author, but for her work with two charities: Volant and Lumos. The first works to “alleviate social deprivation, with a particular emphasis on women’s and children’s issues,” and (the mission statement) the second, fights for children in institutions.
“Rowling uses all of the tools at her disposal to create a better and more just world for our children,” Solomon stated.
Pick up a “Harry Potter” book, and this is just what you’ll find. College students and those who’ve recently graduated are called “The Potter Generation” for a reason. We grew up with these stories, fighting in duels with Harry, goofing off with Ron and studying with Hermione. Luna helped us be ourselves, even when we’re a little weird, and Neville showed us bravery comes in all different shapes and sizes. The Potters taught us about the sacrifice of love, and the Weasleys taught us the importance of family. We learned what true friendship looks like. And we watched good continually triumph over evil.
This award shines some light in the lives of Potterheads mourning the loss of Alan Rickman. PEN’s timing in rewarding Rowling is perfect. She is extremely deserving of this award, because it thanks authors who use their freedom of speech to change the world. She could easily have written a silly fantasy novel that was entertaining to read but lacked major life lessons. Instead, she poured her heart into a thrilling series that shaped a generation. I wonder how different the world around us might look, should Rowling not have written Harry’s story all those years ago. Without the boy wizard, how many people would never have learned the importance of being a champion for the oppressed or the value of standing for what’s right, even when it’s the unpopular choice?
People on my bus in fourth grade may have looked at me judgmentally when I shared my love for “Harry Potter,” but I’m forever thankful to Rowling for writing the books that changed my life.
The magic never ends. Always.