Life Lessons Harry Potter Taught Me by Jill Kolongowski

“After any loss, when a person is faced with a new and terrible kind of knowledge, we can see two different parts of ourselves - who we were before, and who we’ve become.” -Jill Kolongowski, Life Lessons Harry Potter Taught Me


There are many things that shape a person. Each of us are defined by countless complexities, including the decisions we make, how we interact with others, how we interact with the world around us and the ways that we treat each other. In Jill Kolongowski’s book, Life Lessons Harry Potter Taught Me, the author examines the characters in the notorious Harry Potter series. She delves deep into what defines them as characters and draws parallels between the fantastical wizarding world, and our own world. This book not only gives us insight into the intentions and personalities of J.K Rowling’s fictional characters, but also goes several steps further and teaches us a bit about our own personalities, and our own places in the world. Through short essays and literary criticism, Kolongowski investigates the universal themes and lessons presented within the Harry Potter books, such as “drawing strength from friends”, “learning from mentors and heroes”, “challenging conventional ideas”, “overcoming obstacles and setbacks” and “trusting yourself when others don’t”. Life Lessons Harry Potter Taught Me maintains an easy-to-follow, fluid pace and remains engaging and thought-provoking from cover to cover. From the perspective of an avid Harry Potter fan, this book is a wonderful way to revisit special moments throughout the series. This text also tackles smaller but equally important moments throughout the series that you may not have considered before reading Kolongowski’s riveting analysis.

One of the ideas that Kolongowski explores within her book is the notion of what makes a hero. She describes Harry Potter, the iconic protagonist himself, as “flawed and ordinary” (72) while driving home the point that this does not mean he is not a hero. In fact, Harry is one of the greatest heroes in literature due to the choices he makes and his willingness to sacrifice his own well-being for the people he loves. “Perhaps this is what we should hope for: not a superhero walking through a storm, but the chance to find an ordinary hero, doing the difficult thing when it’s needed most” (72). In this way, Kolongowski makes it clear to us that we can all be heroes. She presents the possibility that being a hero doesn’t always mean achieving epic feats, it means having human flaws and making brave choices anyway.“Perhaps we can become like Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and we can learn to become this kind of hero ourselves, among all our ordinary days” (72). Chapter after chapter, Jill Kolongowski makes intriguing book-to-life comparisons that enlighten and remind us all that there is real magic present in our daily lives and within ourselves.

In the chapter, “IMPERIO: ON BREAKING THE RULES AND THE DANGER OF POWER”, Kolongowski compares the concept of power as it exists in the Harry Potter texts to her own interpretation of power and the role that it plays in her personal life. Kolongowski describes her own struggle with feeling powerless in the classroom and “as a quiet writer and introvert in [her] daily life” (126). She then goes on to discuss what she does to make herself feel powerful again. She recounts her experience volunteering at a National Park Service and breaking a rule in order to enter an “off limits” beach area. Kolongowski describes this moment of breaking the rules as making her feel “great and powerful”. The chapter continues by detailing the seductive dangers of power and the relationship between power and rules, as they exist in the wizarding world and in our own reality. Kolongowski compares Lord Voldemort, the villain who doesn’t obey any rules and is entirely consumed by dark power, to Percy, who is wildly obedient and obsessive over the rules. Kolongowski then poses a question to the reader and asks us to consider where we might fit into this spectrum.

Life Lessons Harry Potter Taught Me is a thoroughly enjoyable and compelling book whether or not you’re a die hard Harry Potter fan. Although “potterheads” would definitely get an extra kick out of this read, it is accessible to anyone, as it deals with the all-inclusive human condition. The author eloquently examines the internal battles she has experienced in her relatable struggle to navigate through her life. By comparing these moments to scenes and characters in the Harry Potter series, Kolongowski makes her points and her analysis incredibly approachable and illuminating. These insights will, without a doubt, lead you to your own discoveries, about the series and about yourself.