When I was young, one of my sisters and I used to role-play a game we called “Adoption.” It’s name is fairly self-explanatory. One of us would be the downtrodden, lonely orphan pitted against a cruel world, and the other would play the wealthy, loving adult who would claim the orphan as family, with the full benefits thereof.
I confess that as an 11-year-old, the prospect of unlimited toys may have been the main draw of the fantasy, but I also find it telling that we never simply played “Lottery.” It was never purely about acquisitiveness. It was about belonging, being wanted, being chosen, being found, and being found worthy. It was less about having the stuff than it was about having someone who delighted in sharing the stuff with us.
I can see why I liked this game. Living in a “broken” home, raised on thrift store clothing in a town where the mark of an important person was their Guess jeans, a role-play about suddenly being delivered the motherload of family, security, prestige, and love filled a powerful psychic need for hope.
The trope of our “Adoption” story certainly isn’t new. It appears, of course, in Annie, in A Little Princess, in Oliver Twist, in the New Testament in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (and, of course, in the whole arc of the story of G-d adopting us as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ), and the Old Testament in several instances, especially in Hosea. And, of course, in Harry Potter.
That scene in the first book where Hagrid comes to tell Harry he’s a wizard is like an 11-year-old boy’s Cinderella story. Overnight, Harry goes from ignored, abused, and in-the-way to sought-after, wanted, loved (and kinda rich, as it happens). I’ve read the books through several times now, and I still choke up when Hagrid pulls out Harry’s first-ever birthday cake, kind of squashy and obviously homemade. I get all teary-eyed every time Molly Weasley fusses over him like one of her own. I practically cheer when Sirius almost blushingly asks if Harry might want to live with him as his godson.
All these moments say to Harry “I’m glad you’re here. I want to be with you. I’m happy to have you in my life. I think your life is important. Your life has dignity. I’m concerned with your safety, your happiness. You belong with us. You are welcome here.” I’m 32 years old, and even now, I need so much to hear these things myself that I’m drawn back to these moments again and again so that I can see it happening to Harry. So that I can believe it can happen. So I can renew my hope.
It’s not that my family and friends suck. They love me, and I’m grateful to them. We’re all doing our best. But life is just so much more complicated than fiction, sometimes I need a turbo-boost of hope to get through a rough patch. There’s something about identifying with Harry that jump-starts the hope center in my brain.
As a Christian, I sometimes feel that I “should” always get my hope from a Bible story. Bible stories are hard though – archaic, complex, hard to chew on and harder to digest. Harry Potter is like Hope Candy. I laugh, I cry, I cheer for the good guys, and when I’m done I’ve found courage to try again. I can’t claim that Harry Potter is Great Literature, but the world can always use another influx of hope. Viva la Harry Potter!