I am a huge Harry Potter fan. This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s known me for even the briefest time. So, I can’t quite believe it’s been 20 years since the Philosopher’s Stone came out, and I only realised via Twitter!
In my defence, I was a little late to the Harry party anyway. The Prisoner of Azkaban was already out by the time I was even aware of the series. I’d won a prize in English at school (yes, the geek is strong in this one) and had some book tokens to spend. How quaint does that sound??
I vividly remember standing in WH Smith with my mum, looking for a book. I can’t remember what I was wanting to get, but my mum was pushing Prisoner of Azkaban on the premise that it had won a Smarties Award. I distinctly recall scoffing as I read the blurb, and telling my mum that I was too old for books about wizards. Sylv is not easily deterred however, and as I wasn’t making a decision about any other book I’d seen, we struck a deal. I would get Prisoner of Azkaban with my book token, and if I hated it, Mum would buy me a different book.
And so began my Harry Potter journey. Not only did I love it, I went back for the first two as soon as possible, and devoured them. I blazed through Goblet of Fire on a plane to Tenerife, much to my sister’s disgust. Her idea of a family holiday and sister time did not include talking to someone who’d apparently gone temporarily deaf, and refused to look up from their book even for a second.
My Dad came with me and queued at midnight to get the next one. Gig tickets? No. Out underage drinking with my friends? No. Newest Harry Potter release? Just try and stop me. I finished school, sixth form, and went to university. There, a mutual love of Harry bonded me to the friend I’m travelling the world with nearly a decade later.
For the final bittersweet instalment of these books which had become so much more than a story, I left a night out with my friends to go to good old WH Smith in York. I remember having it clutched tightly in my hand, feeling excited and wary of where the story would end. The unsettling knowledge that this would be a goodbye of sorts. When I got back to the bar, my friends got hold of the book. I couldn’t stand them joking about telling me the ending, to the point where I had to leave.
I read it that night and the next day. I tried to savour it, knowing it was the last one. I cried. I laughed, I felt vindicated. It was a book that I have reread more than any other. There was a time when my mum could open it at any page, read the start of a sentence, and I’d be able to finish it.
For me, the phenomenon of Harry Potter is that it creates a relationship not just with the characters, but with the books themselves. The ideas of love and loyalty, bravery and cowardice, what it is to be human, to be flawed, to keep going anyway; this is what draws you back again and again. There are so many quotes I love, from the funny to the heart breaking, and back again. The fact that it doesn’t matter whether you identify as Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff or even Slytherin, you can agree that Umbridge was a certain insidious kind of evil which makes her quite possibly more ferociously hated than Voldemort himself.
J.K.Rowling created this beautiful, complex world, and graciously invited us all in. In Hogwarts, she provided a home and a sanctuary not only for Harry, but for all of her readers too. In some of my absolute worst times, these books have provided a comfort blanket and security net. A place to switch off. A space to breathe.
I’m now nearly 32 years old. I cannot wait to introduce the next generation of my family to this world. I truly think it’s important. It is so much more than a story about a boy wizard. It’s life, love, and the choices we make.
It’s knowing that Dobby was a free elf, you don’t call Snape a coward, the ones who love us never truly leave us, don’t trust anything a Weasley twin hands you to eat, and when everyone thinks Harry is wrong, he’s probably absolutely right.