I couldn’t let the day pass without acknowledging this anniversary. I woke up this morning and discovered that 20 years ago today the first Harry Potter book Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone was published, on the 26th of June 1997. Apart from making me feel quite old this also made me feel very nostalgic. These books hold a lot of significance for me. They were the first book series, other than say Enid Blyton’s creations that I was really immersed in as a child. I remember distinctly when I first discovered the books. I was about 14 years old. We had been told to go to the library to do our homework because one of the teachers was out sick. So we trooped off to the library as instructed but instead of doing my homework I decided to peruse the shelves instead. I figured there must be something more interesting for me to do than homework and I was right! I remember looking at the cover and thinking I had heard one of the other students talking about this Harry Potter character, so I decided to give it a go. I started reading and that was it. From that day on I wanted to go to Hogwarts. Frankly it seemed much more interesting than my school ever did.
I’m not sure if it was that the films were following very close behind or the fact that technology was starting to gain ground at that point but the Harry Potter series seemed to take on a life of its own in terms of popularity and fandom. I think it was two books that were out before the movies began but after that it was a scramble to read the books before the movies came out and somebody spoiled it for you. Thank God the internet wasn’t as big of a deal or we would never have reached the end of each novel without finding out who JK Rowling had bumped off this time. (Lets face it in the end it became a bit of a blood bath) I think this race ended up being good for both the books and the movies. One seemed to feed off the other in a way. When you finished the book you had the movie to look forward to. Harry Potter seemed to encourage readers and movie goers a like. A generation of readers and movie buffs were born.
This series and franchise extended into my college years and its popularity seemed to increase. On a couple of occasions I joined the ranks of very eager fans outside a bookstore late at night, some of whom were decked out as their favourite characters, waiting to buy the book the minute it went on sale. I remember being a bit dubious about those strange people at the time but now I kinda regret not joining in the fun. Nothing like a bunch of over grown children in fancy dress to brighten up your evening. Of course compared with the levels of fandom nowadays it all seems quite quant.
The second last book Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince stands out in my memory because JK Rowling had revealed that one of the major characters was going to die. There was much speculation as to who it was going to be. My sister Kate and I were reading the book at the same time, again voraciously trying to get to the end before the secret was revealed to us. I have what is now a very fond memory of sitting in my room downstairs reading my copy, whilst Kate was upstairs reading hers. At some stage late into the night Kate emerged from her room looking a bit panic stricken. I peered at her from over the top of my book and asked what was wrong. She knew I was a bit a head of her in the story so she had come to ask me if she was right about who she thought was going to die. At that stage I was pretty sure so I just looked at her sheepishly and didn’t say a word. “No, she said, she can’t kill him!”
This memory now makes me laugh because we were both in our twenties and yet we were devastated that Dumbledore, one of our favourite characters wasn’t going to make it. Thats how real those fictional characters felt. Even in our twenties we mourned their loss like you would an old friend. I suppose at that stage I had accompanied them for nearly ten years so it’s not that strange that I felt so sad. That’s the power of a good story, it lives in you no matter how old you get.
20 years ago today a world that I had lived in alone was suddenly open to others. It’s been wonderful. Thank you.#HarryPotter20 JK Rowling
Its easy to pass Potter off as just another children’s book but in reality Rowling did make some major observations about the world that still ring through today. After all in large part Harry Potter is about a group of people who want to block out anyone who is different and create a culture full of what they call “pure bloods”. That sounds familiar doesn’t it? In the end of the day it’s a story about love and acceptance where good triumphs over evil.
Its crazy to think that an idea which came to Rowling on a train one day went on to be such a huge success. To date Harry Potter has sold over 400 million copies worldwide and has made Rowling, who was almost destitute when she started, the first ever billionaire author. The movies are the second highest grossing franchise in the world. Even more unbelievable is that Rowling was turned down multiple times before she eventually got published. She was than asked to use her initials so that readers would think she was male. The publisher said that readers would never believe the story if it came from a female writer. Ironically JK Rowling through the creation of Hermione Granger, went on to show millions of little girls that they could stand out and be the smartest ones in the room. I am grateful to her not just for that but also for bringing a lot magic into my childhood. Even at the ripe old age of 32 I still fantasise that one day my acceptance letter from Hogwarts will finally arrive. It could still happen right? I mean I could be a mature student or something. After all everyone is welcome at Hogwarts!