Revisiting the Highbrows

“Next time—next time, of course, we’ll be diving into Harry Potter!”

The class burst into excited murmurings, a few whoops, smiles. From my usual corner spot, I looked over the faces of my peers, sharing in their exuberance. And there, in the sea of excitement, one student rolled her eyes.

At the beginning of the year, I confessed to my undergraduate fiction workshop that the book that continues to inspire me to write is Harry Potter. I admitted it with the same apologetic tone that I use whenever I admit that I still read and write young adult literature.

However, my professor stopped me: “Harry Potter isn’t something to apologize for.”

It’s a lesson that’s been taught to me and my classmates in my Children’s Literature this semester. I took the class because it was being taught by one of my favorite professors, plus the reading list included such favorites as The Hobbit, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Harry Potter. The first day of class my professor assured us that this was going to be a “real class,” and she didn’t lie. Day after day, I have been impressed with how seriously, honestly, and academically we have approached these texts I love.

But still, even in a class like this, there are eye-rollers. There are those who make me feel like Harry Potter, or The Hobbit, or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, really are things to apologize for.

I have already written about my defense of YA literature, so I’ll try not to repeat too much. What I’ll say is, that here, at the end of my college career, I’ve learned not to apologize. I love Harry Potter. I love superheroes and Disney Channel movies and Tumblr posts about feminism. I put up lots of posters on my walls. I occasionally write fanfiction. I have a blog.

A lot of these things can be looked down upon, just as reading Harry Potter in an academic setting is. A lot of people call them “guilty pleasures,” but, honestly, things are a lot simpler when you take away the “guilty” part. You can’t help what you love. So why feel guilty about it?

This all has a lot to do with confidence and an appreciation of self-worth, I suppose, which you cannot acquire like you acquire chicken pox—but once you have it, even an ounce of it, it does wonders.

Take away the guilt and realize that your love is valid. I’ve found that these things become a lot more enjoyable when you let yourself enjoy them.

I watched her roll her eyes, and I knew. I knew she thought that the rest of us enjoying a piece of our childhood was childish, as many guilty pleasures are thought to be.

But I think she’s missing the point. As we’ve discussed time and time again in our class, children’s literature in particular is designed to transcend childhood—instead, it taps into what one scholar in particular terms “childness,” which is the essence of the pleasure and self-discovery that is inherent in childhood, yet which permeates our sense of self. When we lose our childness, scholars like C.S. Lewis argue, we lose a part of ourselves. It is important to diversify our reading even in adulthood, he claims. And, while he clearly has a vested interest in encouraging adults to return to childness in literature, I don’t think he’s wrong.

Harry Potter does inspire me to write. It connects me back with that childness. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of academic, literary merit to the series. And, most of all, it makes me happy.

I will read my Margaret Atwood and my Junot Diaz and I will enjoy myself. But I will also read my Rowling. And I will wear my superhero t-shirts. And I will drink chocolate milkshakes. And I will listen to Broadway soundtracks.

And you will roll your eyes. And I will smile.

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