Harry Potter Turns 20: What two decades of witchcraft and wizardry has done for readers around the globe.
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, complete with the coming release of awesome new 20th anniversary covers for purchase. At this point, nothing I can tell you about the series is new, as it has acquired perhaps the largest devoted fandom of any book, ever.
So instead, I thought I would share my short history with the series. Feel free to comment your own!
The Boy Who Got Books for Christmas
When I was in third grade, I opened a box at our annual family Christmas Eve gathering from my grandparents. It contained the first three Harry Potter books, hardback and heavy. I had never heard of them. How my grandma did, I’m still not sure. Perhaps they had appeared on a talk show as popular children’s books. She has a way of finding the right gifts at the right times.
Previously accustomed to shorter fine fiction (Captain Underpants and the Magic Treehouse) I tore into the first volume. I was hooked. Harry was a wizard! He was 11! I was almost 11! I begged my mom to let me continue reading at midnight mass–no go, since, you know, witchcraft and wizardry isn’t really welcomed among the pews at church. I convinced my third grade teacher to read the books a loud to our class–which she did, and which I promptly had to be told not to spoil for everyone else.
Finally, the fourth book came out. Even bigger than the first three! I was dying to know what happened, but somewhere along the line got distracted over the summer. It languished for almost a year until spring break the following year, when I spent the entire trip reading on the beach instead of swimming and running around in the ocean. How had I put it down?! Voldemort was back! [Spoiler] What was going to happen!?
The following books rolled out over the coming years I was in middle school and high school. I read the Order of the Phoenix, hating Dolores Umbridge. I bought the Half-Blood Prince at midnight and read until 8am, finishing it in one go. I couldn’t sleep. Dumbledore! Snape! Horcruxes!
Finally, by the time that the 7th book released, I had taken AP Literature and boldly declared that because Harry was on the “hero’s journey” he would have to die. I hypothesized that he was the final horcrux, as Rowling had only accounted for 6. The book released, and I devoured it, triumphantly celebrating the correctness of my obvious prediction, though thrilled at the idea of the Deathly Hallows and how Rowling had executed the close of the series.
The Gift that Harry Potter Gave to Readers and Writers:
Today, Harry Potter lives on in 8 movies, a play, and countless merchandise and figurines. Universal Studios opened a train, bank and castle that are stellar. The series still has a cult following among millenials–my fiance included. She just recently finished a Marauder’s Map puzzle and I got her a set of Slytherin book jackets last year. They were somewhat of a consolation prize…she refuses to admit that she’s bitter that I am, consistently, a Gryffindor . (You can find the Slytherin, or Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw book jackets here if you’re interested)
But more importantly, Rowling’s work shows that there is still a [big] market for someone who has a great story to tell. Her world of witches and wizards captivated a new generation of fantasy readers in a way that maybe hasn’t happened in the main stream since Tolkien and Lewis all but invented the genre.
I have no doubt that as time ticks on, many new and fantastic authors will fondly recall the start of their affair with reading and writing as having happened in line at a bookstore, waiting to see how Harry’s next year at Hogwarts would go. And that has been the real magic in the series. So keep at it Harry, and next year when you turn 21, the beer will be on me.