Harry Potter has been a big thing in our house these last few months. Lyra, who is now ten, has been engrossed in the books and inevitably films, spells and wands have followed. It has turned into a family affair and Hogwarts role play features heavily in the girls’ day to day life at the moment.
Maybe somewhat obvious due to the fact I have a child called Lyra and a cat called Pantalaimon, I really get into books. I am a proud Potter nerd too, and have been a faithful Ravenclaw ever since first reading the series. “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure”, Ravenclaw’s motto – right up my street. Not brave enough to be a Gryffindor, not kind enough to be a Hufflepuff and not power hungry enough to be a Slytherin. A quirky, clever person. That’s who I want to be.
Have you ever heard of Pottermore? It is a kind of virtual Potter Universe, originally created by J.K.Rowling and Sony in 2012.
You can go through a sorting ceremony online, a quiz, that will sort you into your relevant house based on the answers you provide. There is no wrong or right answers, you do not require any knowledge of Harry Potter or magic or toads.
Anyway, where am I going with this? As I said, I thought of myself as a Ravenclaw, and indeed was sorted into this house in Pottermore. Naturally Lyra wanted a go and she too was sorted into Ravenclaw (to her utter dismay and I had to swear not to tell any of her friends that she is not a Gryffindor, so this shall remain between us, ok?). Next was Ray, who had never actually read the books. Ravenclaw. Alys, at a mere five years old, too, was sorted into Ravenclaw. The family was almost complete.
Now, I have dumped this Potter/Cancer theory on anyone that was unfortunate enough to have a coffee with me in the last few weeks and I will grace you all with my ramblings too. Please bear with me, I think I have a point.
Harry Potter essentially is a story about good and evil. However, rather than having a clear distinction between who or what is good or evil, the reader is continuously challenged to reassess one’s opinion, alongside the characters themselves who are dealing with complex issues of ethics and morality. After being attacked by Voldemort as a child, Harry “absorbs” some of Voldemort’s characteristics, and throughout the books, issues of this identity frequently occur.
This is not really about Harry Potter. This is about Vega feeling just that little bit different to the rest of us. How, in a Potter quiz, we all would choose our greatest fear to be hunger or pain- something quite physical- and Vega chooses boredom. Or that we would all chose the most interesting magical artefact to be a book of runes and Vega chooses a pointy dagger. This is the child that has spent so many boring days in isolation while being tortured with needles.
And hence, the Potter analogy has somewhat struck a cord. That I have spent the last four years blogging about poison and the symbol of Slytherin house being a serpent is merely a fitting coincidence.
I have been spending a lot of time recently thinking about how Cancer, and the subsequent poisonous chemo have changed my daughter’s identity. The Pottermore quiz being an example of how her character and her likes and dislikes might have been influenced by experiencing such invasive treatments as a young child is one thing. But I also wonder about changes that have happened much deeper. On a level of blood and bones, of cells and in her soul. How does an aggressive illness such as Cancer and the even more aggressive treatments of chemotherapy or radiotherapy affect our bodies? Does it change the make up of who we are? Who we would have been without it? Does it improve us? Or break us? I guess the same questions could be asked for any kind of trauma that we go through.
I can see that having Cancer and being subjected to so much poison has changed Vega. In more ways than her character. I do not necessarily mean in negative ways, but as a mother I often have feelings of alien-ness, maybe like an animal whose young has been removed and returned but the smell is not quite the same anymore.
From the first book and Harry’s sorting ceremony, Rowling instills a powerful message- that we can choose who we want to be. That how we act can overwrite our biological presets, whether those are acquired from birth or from an evil killing curse or from Cancer. Vega is a proud Slytherin- she feels unique and special. I absolutely grant her that.