How Books Can Help You

Do you know what I love about reading books?  I can enter places and times and experiences that aren’t mine.  Besides the pleasure I get from reading, I have gained valuable insights into my own experiences and the experiences of others.

There are many book genres for a reason.  Different genres appeal to different people, different authors appeal to different people, and different books appeal to different people.  And we each may gravitate toward different genres at different points in our lives.  I am going to talk about concepts from the fictional Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, but I hope you’ll be inspired to look closer at whatever you enjoy for lessons it can teach you.

The Harry Potter series is about an orphaned boy with magical powers.  His time at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has many trials and obstacles, but he learns to overcome them through practice and experience.  When he learns about creatures called boggarts, he sees the value of changing a fearful situation into a humorous one.  Boggarts are shape-shifting creatures that will turn into whatever scares a person the most.  To get rid of a boggart, you need to force it to change into a shape you find amusing.  Essentially, you take the thing that scares you and make it funny.  Laughter drains the boggart’s power.  It takes great concentration to focus on the humorous image in your mind while facing your biggest fear.  But, if you can figure out how to find the humor in life, tough situations may become less scary.  It’s a practical way to look on the bright side.

Dementors are awful creatures that “drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them” so that “every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you” if you get close to one (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 10).  The way to repel a dementor is to conjure a Patronus, which is a “positive force, a projection of the very things that the dementor feeds upon — hope, happiness, the desire to survive — but it cannot feel despair, as real humans can” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 12).  Saying an incantation is not enough to fight a dementor.  You must focus with all your might on a happy and meaningful memory or thought to conjure a Patronus.  At first, silver mist was all that came from Harry’s wand, but after months of practice, when he’s facing a life-and-death situation, Harry does conjure a full Patronus in the shape of a stag that charges into a hundred dementors, driving them away.  J.K. Rowling has said that dementors represent depression.  So, in giving Harry a way to fight dementors, Rowling is also showing her readers a vital aspect of conquering depression.

Books contain wisdom.  You can read or listen to the words of a book and come back to them over and over like a trusted friend.  When other things around us are falling apart, the books we love are constant.  We can gain new insights with every re-read.  With the words, stories, and characters in our minds, we may feel more able to face the struggles in our lives.  For me, and maybe for you too, books are a valuable way to maintain personal well-being.  They can teach us, in a memorable way, the importance of finding humor and finding hope.

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