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The power of words


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In reflecting on the events of my life that have impacted me, I returned to the night of August 1, 2006. I found myself in Row G of Radio City Music Hall in New York City sitting by my mother, not at all tired, although we had flown from Las Vegas to Syracuse the day before, and my family had driven five hours to the city for “An Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp,” a charity event with readings by three authors. The excitement rushing through me kept me awake and alert; I was standing and applauding a tiny blonde woman with amazing silver snake shoes as she prepared to read.

The Harry Potter series was my gateway drug into my intellectual puberty. I was so fascinated by the Harry Potter world that my mother began taking me to academic conferences focused on the books. Beginning with The Witching Hour in 2005, through Lumos, Prophecy, Portus, and Azkatrz in 2009, I have attended presentations about the Latin etymology of terms and spells, the mythical tales of the artifacts, and the idea of literary alchemy. These books opened my eyes to the whole world, and to knowledge itself. They were the stimulus that kept my brain working over the summers. More importantly, they helped me adopt the philosophy useful in school and beyond, that there is always another way to do something, or to perceive an issue. With uncertainty and doubt, comes innovation and new ways to look at problems that may result in new, different, faster and easier solutions. And all this came from a little “magic,” from a book that many people see as a series for children.

Along with fans and students from many countries, I attended lectures about Ms. Rowling’s ability to beautifully craft the saga, with every painstakingly small detail connected to something else. For example, Dr. John Granger, a “Potter Pundit” who has written several critical and religious-based analyses of the books, reminded the audience that Harry’s (and his mother Lily’s) green eyes owe a literary debt to Dante’s Beatrice. From Jonathan Swift to Chaucer to Dickens and Austin, I learned that like all great books, Rowling’s stories fostered a connection across mind, body, and soul. Although the series has been criticized by those who believe it corrupts children and teaches witchcraft, I was able to hear discussions by those who purported that, like the Bible, these books teach wonderful messages if one goes beyond the literal level to the allegorical. It is my generation’s shared text; all college freshmen are familiar with the stories, and that gives us a set of common beliefs and ideas that can serve as a springboard to new learning.

As I sat surrounded by avid fans and scholars of John Irving, Steven King, and J.K. Rowling, it gave me hope that this country will not be consumed by the mundane. With so much emphasis on physical aspects of life, and the material and sexual focus of the messages thrown at us by the media, it would be easy to become jaded or depressed. But I am not worried. I have been surrounded by 6000 people, all of whom paid good money, not for a sporting event or a concert, but to hear authors read their work. I have evidence that words on a page can change not only my life, but the world.



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This article has 156 comments. Post your own now!

tinman said...
Jan. 17, 2010 at 12:28 pm
Wow! I wish more authors would do readings - it sounds like a great experience. I wonder why others don't do it more often? Great essay.
 
gammy said...
Jan. 15, 2010 at 7:14 pm
this was great - lots of well written phrases!
 
10things said...
Jan. 15, 2010 at 5:06 pm
This essay is really interesting. I didn't know Rowling came to NYC and read.
 
cathyjets said...
Jan. 13, 2010 at 5:43 pm
Made me want to go back and reread Rowling's work!
 
kittycat said...
Jan. 7, 2010 at 11:58 pm
Be sure to check out John Granger at hogwartsprofessor .com and Travis Prinzi at thehogshead.org - some of the best writing related to HP
 
HPFan said...
Jan. 7, 2010 at 11:53 pm
Be sure to check out John Granger's webpage at hogwartsprofessor .com and Travis Prinzi's page at thehogshead.org - some of the best writing related to HP.
 
TechMan said...
Jan. 7, 2010 at 8:57 pm
I found this essay delightful! It really made me feel like I was with the author at Radio City. This truly does show the power of words.
 
KathyTeacher said...
Jan. 4, 2010 at 10:34 pm
I think this author has learned the power of words well from his reading and can now paint his own picture using the words he has come to value. Nicely done and a great tribute to learning from reading.
 
Professor M said...
Jan. 2, 2010 at 2:12 pm
This is a wonderful tribute to JKR and her gifts.
 
RebJ said...
Dec. 31, 2009 at 8:15 am
A fellow potterhead!! :)
 
Turkeyman said...
Dec. 29, 2009 at 11:56 am
Way to go! I love the way JKR opened a door to other books and stories! A person who reads can always go on adventures right in their own imagination.
 
cathyjets said...
Dec. 29, 2009 at 11:52 am
I am so proud of this author - this essay, along with his other accomplishments, resulted in Early Action acceptance to Fordham University. That really is the power of words!
 
YanksDJ2 said...
Dec. 17, 2009 at 8:38 am
Incredible essay. The author writes at a level far beyond his years. His words are powerful and enlightening and it is something I will share with my own students and colleagues' students.
 
Sthi45 said...
Dec. 16, 2009 at 9:16 pm
Question + suggestion:
1.What else do you read?
2. Sentence two of the last paragraph, "With so much emphasis..." sounds cheesy and clique, I think if you modify it a bit you will have a stronger essay.
Overall quite nice! I liked your case for Harry Potter, I personally went from avoiding those books like the devil to loving them once it occurred to me to actually read them before I judged. =]
 
cathyjets said...
Dec. 11, 2009 at 10:23 am
When I read this, it takes me back to my childhood and my favorite books. The characters were my "friends" and I can still go back to those days in my mind any time I reread these books today. Thanks for reminding me of the power of words.
 
TomtheWonderDog said...
Dec. 7, 2009 at 11:39 am
I really enjoyed the closing sentence! Not just because it was over.....
 
LouieC said...
Dec. 2, 2009 at 8:56 pm
Great essay! Really brings out the power of a good book.
 
cathyjets said...
Nov. 30, 2009 at 2:56 pm
This essay brings tears to my eyes, as I think about all the young readers whose reading and writing lives were changed by J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter. One never knows what the magical key for a particular individual will be, and that is why eachers need to keep trying many different things.
 
joeslover said...
Nov. 30, 2009 at 11:23 am
joe...
I like waffles too<3
 
thrdgrd4ever said...
Nov. 29, 2009 at 8:22 pm
This beautifully written and insightful article gives credence to the idea that great writers who write incredible stories share a gift with their audience. Can a well written fictional story change our lives or impact us in a powerful way? Can it alter our thought processes and, as Joseph so eloquently stated, enhance our problem solving capabilities? The answer to both questions is an obvious yes! Joseph has proven with his passionate writing that a story meant for “children” can ... (more »)
 
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