Hal is now eight and being read Harry Potter books at bedtime is important in many different ways – and not just for Hal. His father, psychodynamic counsellor Roger Mills, explains.
Ever since we got back from our summer holiday Hal and I have been having a Harry Potter fest. He knew all the books up to and including the Order of the Phoenix from the films. Because of this, and because the new film had just come out, we started reading the Half-Blood Prince. It took us a couple of months and as soon as we had finished it we moved straight on to the Deathly Hallows. We are now half way through and at our current rate of progress will conclude, I reckon, some time around the end of January. After that I don’t know what we will move on to. I am a bit worried that life is going to feel rather empty when we get to the end of Harry.
I’ve read, and heard, critical or slighting things said of J K Rowling. The quality of the prose is bad, Philip Pullman goes so much deeper etc. But I think (and Hal thinks) that the Harry Potter books are wonderful. The creation of such a complex and complete world is an amazing feat of imagination. And the drama of the books is powerful and compelling with, for my money, the many transferences from World War II history – an evil dictator, racism, the all powerful ministry, state controlled press etc – key reasons why the narratives are so tense and so powerful.
But it isn’t just the fact that the books are such a good read that makes me enjoy my evening sessions with Hal. There is something that I absolutely love about the fact that, the books being so long, it takes us months to get through each of the later Potter titles. It feels like something that Hal and I have been building together. Something that has evolved slowly and painstakingly over time.
It may seem an odd thing to say, but when I think of our Harry Potter evenings, I always see them as contributing to Hal’s sense of inner security. What could feel more safe? You are tucked up in bed, warm and cosy listening to the next part of a long, long story. The story builds over weeks and months. You look forward to each session. Little by little, over time, the book, and the nightly ritual of listening to it, accumulates in the mind in a way that wouldn’t happen with a title that is shorter. To my mind experiences like this are part of what makes life feel predictable and predictable means safe. A sense of safety built up in the early years becomes a foundation that helps you not to be phased by much more stressful bits of life later on.
But maybe I’m being a bit fanciful. There are certainly autobiographical forces that steer my thinking about this. Being someone who was sent off to a prep school at the age of eight, my personal experience did not feel like one of security and continuity. Going away to school changed my feelings about my home. Home went from being a place that I felt warmly connected with, to one which felt rather empty and lacking in real meaning for me. Because of this one of my greatest imperatives in bringing up Hal has been to ensure that he never has a psychological caesura of this kind. And I tend, as a consequence, to zoom in on features of his life which I imagine contribute to his emotional security.
But even though I have a bias, it doesn’t mean that I’m wrong. Most therapists would probably argue that emotional security comes, not from big dramatic events, but from the minute rhythms of daily life. The slow accretion of repeated, daily happenings like a reading session is part of what make us feel secure in our core selves. So here’s another reason to be grateful for Harry Potter, and particularly for the longer books. As I said, life is going to feel very empty when we get to the end of Harry.
The Harry Potter books are published by Bloomsbury.