And a little tribute to the series from me -- I just saw The Order of the Phoenix, and am loving how dark it has all become!
It is difficult for a reader to not connect with the (quite literal) magical journey Harry and his friends have embarked upon. The eternal tug of war between order and chaos that we experience in real life is reflected in the political tension of the magical world that spills into the (ostensibly) orderly world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Harry lives for most of the year.
A metaphor for the challenges of life, there are fantastic demons that plague the children in their pre-teen years, forcing them to mature before their time. We hear it all the time, how kids today are growing up too fast. Harry, Ron and Hermoine (and even Draco Malfoy) are the best examples of this. Consider one of the first barbs the children encounter. In the world of Harry Potter, non-magical people are known as 'muggles' and those with only one magical parent, 'half-bloods'. So when Draco Malfoy, a pure blood since both his parents are magical, insults Hermoine for being 'muggle born', it is especially cruel because it implies that she is not good enough to be part of the magical world. This thought is echoed by Harry's arch nemesis, Lord Voldemort, who believes in only preserving blood purity (although, interestingly, he himself is a half-blood). The parallels with history are almost as apparent as the futility of the mission.
The world of Harry Potter is as real as it is imaginary because of the relationships, between both the adult and children, and the children themselves, which are at the heart of the story. Harry, who had been brought up by an uncaring aunt and uncle, was quite unexpectedly brought into the magical world on his eleventh birthday. The people he encounters and grows to love – Hermoine, Ron and Ron's family, to the adults who become parent figures he had been sorely lacking – headmaster Dumbledore; Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwarts; Sirius Black, his godfather – are a lesson in trust and loyalty for the boy. It is ironic that a 'children's book' deals so much with death – not only is Voldemort obsessed with killing Harry but he is equally fixated on his own immortality. The utter finality of death is never more apparent to the children than with the death of their beloved Dumbledore. The Death Eaters, the guards of the deadly prison Azkeban, slowly become fixtures in the narrative.
Dark magic is also a temptation Harry must learn to resist. While it hold great power, figures such as Lord Voldemort and Lucius Malfoy are reminders to him that absolute power corrupts. But there is no judgment, it is for each individual to decide between black and white – interestingly, once there is a smudge of black, no matter how much white you put in, it will never be any other colour than grey. And that is a lesson the children learn as they grow older.
But amidst the chaos, comes the order. The order of an ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances. If Harry is caught breaking the rules, he is punished, often missing his beloved game of Quidditch. The order of just another typical family at Ron's house; the order of mealtimes at Hogwarts; the order of friendship; of budding romances; of trust; of loyalty and of faith. Of the fact that death doesn't mean the end of love. Of friendship.
This is a story of adventure. But more than that, it is a story of the family we choose to make our own. And that's what Harry and his friends have become to millions all over the world – family.