I can’t believe it’s been 20 years exactly since Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone came out in 1997 and changed the world. It’s mad to think that a little book about a boy wizard has gone on to become one of the most well loved and read children’s books of all time.
In the past 20 years, a lot has happened. For starters, I’ve aged a fair bit, had numerous disastrous haircuts and hundreds of misadventures. But, like most of us, I’ve always gone back to Harry. For comfort, for solace, for a friend. These books mean an awful lot to me. Settle in friends, it’s about to get emotional.
It’s hard to pin point how old I was when I started reading the books. The first one came out when I was four and a half and a family friend bought the book for my older brother. The only problem was that he has never had any interest in reading for pleasure, especially not fiction. So, naturally, the book became mine. I was, and very much still am, known as the family book worm. I don’t think there was anyone else in my family who consumed books quite like I did.
I first experienced the book with my mum, who read a couple of chapters to me every night before bed. I can still remember this vividly, especially as later on when the films came out we discovered we’d been pronouncing Hagrid and Hermione wrong the whole time. After the fourth book came out, I received the audiotapes for Christmas, read, of course, by the inimitable Stephen Fry, and listened to them past bedtime every night. I would lie in the dark and see the story unfold in my imagination. I used to get in trouble for crawling out of bed to turn the tape over, desperate for the story to continue late into the night.
Eventually, I could read them myself without tripping over all those strange, magical words. So I did. Over and over again. I felt like I knew the characters personally and I felt, in some ways, like I was Hermione, with my brown hair, love of books and frequent tendency to come off as a bit of a ‘know-it-all’. My friends and I were ‘Potterheads’ before it even became a thing, running around the playground on our ‘broomsticks’ and using found objects from the school field in our potions. I made friends with people based on their Potter credentials, a battered copy of So You Think You Know Harry Potter? becoming our Bible as we quizzed each other to see who knew the books the best. Even now, as a grown adult, ice breakers on nights out or even dates consist of questions about our Hogwarts houses (Hufflepuff, of course). And if someone doesn’t know their Hogwarts house, you better believe I’ll be the first one whipping my phone out for them to take the test.
Most people I meet will have, like me, boarded the Hogwarts express, visited the Burrow and found the Room of Requirement. We have all cast spells, brewed potions and ridden broomsticks. We have favourite classmates, professors and lessons. We have all cried for Dumbledore and cheered for Fred and George as they departed Hogwarts in a defiant blaze of glory.
We’ve got this strange sort of shared history because we were all there. We’ve lived it all. Together. The highs, the lows; the soaring successes and heart breaking disappointments. We confronted Quirrell. We saved Sirius Black. We walked with Harry and his ghosts into the Forbidden Forest for one last fight. And we waited. Potter fans are good at waiting. We waited years for books, films and even a theatre production where a new story is now being told. And we will wait some more. For another scrap, another piece of the story. Another way back to Hogwarts. Even if it takes another 20 years.
We didn’t just read Harry Potter. We lived it. And what’s that thing Dumbledore once said?
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”