All in our heads: why we need fantasy stories

‘Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.’ – C.S Lewis

This is a post about Harry Potter, and, more specifically, why pop culture is so important to dorky teenagers (and the dorky adults they become). I’ve met a few adults who don’t ‘get’ Potter – ‘why are all these grown people obsessed with a children’s book? Shouldn’t you be reading War and Peace or something?’ – so, hopefully, this post might make them see.

I started re-reading the Potter series recently, ahead of our trip to the Warner Brother Studios. I haven’t read them for a good few years. I used to read them at least once a year, but new books are coming into my life at a rapid pace and I haven’t had time for them. What’s amazed me, in opening them again as a thirty year old, is how much they still feel like home.

Now, the context at the start of my obsession. I’d just started secondary school. An all-girls school. I’m not exaggerating when I say I hated it. Every day it felt like going to prison. A grey, blocky prison, where they made me wear a skirt and uncomfortable tights, and the hallways smelled like hairspray and Impulse and sweat. I was a loser. (I don’t particularly feel the need to sugar-coat this.) Every other girl in my year seemed prepared for Year Seven: they wore bras already, shaved their legs, read Bliss magazine, and talked a lot about snogging. I, on the other hand, was a ridiculously small, flat-chested, frizzy-ginger-haired, short-sighted, pale, freckly Mizz reader (and to be frank, I already yearned for my Girl Talk days). I also collected Pokemon cards in secret. And I still slept with Beanie Babies on my bed.

Just imagine that for a moment.

The only subject I really liked was English, because that was the only thing I was good at. We used to have free reading periods, which were my favourite: to sit in a chilly, silent classroom and read for an hour. My friend Rachel and I would sometimes swap books. One day I handed her something (probably by Jacqueline Wilson, knowing me) and she handed me a hardback copy of The Prisoner of Azkaban.

And there was no turning back.

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