harry-potter-paintingsHappy Birthday to The Boy Who Lived!

I’ve talked a little before on the profound effect the Harry Potter book series has had on my life, and I wish I had more time to express just how much (someday I could write a whole book on it). I have been a Harry Potter devotee since Christmas morning 1998 when my grandfather gifted me the book after I had heard about it on the news. I had no idea at the time just how much Harry Potter would come to mean to me.

Despite having a perfectly fun and normal childhood, I also felt different growing up in my small town in Central California. I knew that there was more out there for me than the life plan most of the people I knew envisioned for themselves. I had a few friends, but still spent most of my time alone, not sure how to truly relate to people my own age. On a deeper and sadder level, while I didn’t live in a cupboard under the stairs, I knew what it felt like to have extended family members who treated you less than kindly. On a day-to-day basis, I was picked on, ignored and made to feel different by my classmates (though frankly, I was quite different from the types of people I knew in my small town). But I took solace in the words of J.K. Rowling, knowing that even though Harry wasn’t real — I wasn’t alone. Aside from the bullying that many young people experience, my time as an almost teenager was made 100 times harder after my parents got divorced when I was 12 years old. But even on my hardest day, I knew that I could always escape to the world of Hogwarts. Despite knowing that it was all fictitious, I desperately longed to leave my own reality behind and trade it for the magical world Harry and his friends lived in. So much so, I even started a small “Hogwarts” in my house and invited 3 of my friends to come over and we’d write with quills and pick our Houses and make believe for hours.

Following my parent’s divorce, I was looking for an outlet for my newly discovered talent for writing, as well as a place I could connect with likeminded Harry Potter fans. I needed something that could transport me out of the turbulent world I was living in, and I found it in the form of Role Playing Game writing. No, not like Dungeons & Dragons, these RPGs take place on Internet forums, where people from all over the world can create stories together. The first one I joined was a Harry Potter site that had just launched, aptly named Virtual Hogwarts, which allowed writers to act as students at Hogwarts. At first, it was small, maybe a few dozen writers, but over the years the site boasts thousands of members and more than 12 years of continued storytelling. VH was the closest thing any of us Muggles could come to really attending Hogwarts. We could post in classroom forums led by writer’s acting as professors, post homework and even compete in Quidditch. I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing from this site and we had never even met in person. There, on the internet, I could just be myself. It was the first time in a long time that I had no fear of rejection, no fear of torment, but a sense of friendship and community.

Aside from the friendships I formed there, RPG writing is a big part of how I was able to develop my writing talents from a young age. I was writing every single day, multiple times a day. I was creating detailed backgrounds and personalities for characters I created, developing sweeping plotlines and story arcs. As I got older, my characters got more complex and single posts could be in the thousand-word range. If you’re a writer of any kind, you know how hard it can be to write every single day, let alone in such a volume. As a result, my spelling became better, essays were a breeze and my horizons in terms of exploring literature and learning were greatly broadened. I’m not sure I would have been able to have achieved the things I have without the years and years of writing practice I had as an RPer. And I know Harry Potter gave me that.

I’ve talked before about how hard high school was for me. I struggled with severe depression, body dysmorphic disorder, and a very dark time when I had thoughts of self-harm. I was lucky enough to have friends and family around me that got me the help I needed, but I also had Harry Potter. Even in my dark hours, I thought on the messages of love and tolerance and perseverance that the books had taught me. I thought a lot about Neville Longbottom, a person who had lost so much, who was picked on and awkward, but who grew into a hero. I can honestly say that Harry Potter saved my life and that I would not be here today if it were not for Rowling’s work.

Emily and Peter at Harry PotterBut through all this, there was still something missing for me. Sure, I had friends who enjoyed the books, but I never felt completely comfortable divulging the true extent of my love of Harry Potter to anyone…. until I met Peter. The Deathly Hollows: Part 1 was coming out a week or two after we had started dating and I invited him to a midnight screening (kind of to test if he could handle my geekiness or not). It was our third date and as we were leaving the theatre, I knew that I was in love with him. All I had ever wanted was for someone to accept me—and all of my obsessions—for who I was, and as Peter held my hand as I cried during the movie, I knew I had found that person.

My Harry Potter books—with their worn, ripped and even missing covers, chocolate stained and folded pages—sit in a place of honor on our bookcase. I still consider them my most prized possessions. Harry Potter has meant so much to so many people, I know that they will continue to delight and influence immeasurable people to come.

And I know that Harry and his friends will stay with me—Always.


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Co-Founder at Wrong Button Media
Emily Kelley is a writer, actress, video game junkie, comic book nerd, and future galactic war hero. She lives in Los Angeles and spends most of her time at the Disney Interactive office. Along with being a multiple award winning journalist, she is an avid RPGer, cosplay noob, and mother to two beautiful cats.
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