In the spring of 1999, a friend of mine told me to read a fantasy book. I was an avid reader at the time, no surprise there, but I hadn’t really read much fantasy. I was much more interested in American Girl or The Boxcar Children.
“Is the book scary?” I asked. Most fantasy novels that I had seen featured a dark mysterious character holding some sort of menacing weapon on the cover, and were frequently about some sort of epic war that was bound to be bloody and/or scary. So I wanted to know what I was getting into. “There’s one part that could be scary,” my friend told me, “but you should read it.”
So, when spring break came around, I brought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with me on vacation. I devoured the book over the course of two weeks and couldn’t find “the scary part” that my friend had mentioned. And with that I was hooked.
Once my family got back from vacation, I immediately ordered the second book. It had been released in the UK at this point, but was not scheduled to come out in the US until that summer – which was just too long to wait. I devoured the second book as well, and the rest is history.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published this week (yesterday, to be exact) in 1997. It was then released in the US in the fall of 1998.
I was lucky enough to be the perfect age for Harry Potter. As I got older, the books got darker and more complex, but still maintained the same magic and wonder that was introduced at the beginning of the series.
Since the series lasted for such a long time, and since each book was fairly hefty, I feel like I know the characters of Harry Potter more personally than the characters in any other book I have read.
I know Harry, Ron, Hermione, their friends, teachers, and families, and the the world that they live in. I know the halls of Hogwarts, the classes that they took, the rules of Quiddich (which I still would love to play), and the parameters of the magic that Rowling’s world is based on.
I have reread the series and listened to the audiobooks countless times; it is a story that I always feel that I can return to. When I was younger,I frequently had the audiotapes of Sorcerer’s Stone playing in the background if I was ever just hanging out in my room.
It got to the point where I had a good portion of the first book down by heart, and could recite the first line, (Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number 4 Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much), in a British accent. To this day, I still hear Jim Dale’s voice in my head if I read parts of the first book. I was obsessed, to say the least.
Rowling’s personal story is also hugely impressive in my opinion. As a young writer, it has always been one that stuck with me throughout the years. Being able to go from a divorced mother living in welfare, to being richer than the queen is no small feat.
To add to that, Rowling is no longer considered to be a billionaire because she has given so much of her money away to charities such as Lumos, which she founded to help children living in poverty. So Rowling’s personal story in itself is pretty amazing.
The Harry Potter books were much longer than many other Young Adult novels at the time, and they proved to teachers and parents alike that young children could in fact stay engaged throughout a long book.
Summers were defined by a new Harry Potter book or movie release. Kids who didn’t normally read were reading, and other young adult fantasy series, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, became more popular again.
The New York Times Children’s Book Review started around the time the third book was released. This was both to promote reading for children, and to free up the top 3 and 4 spots of the best seller list that Rowling was dominating.
To say the least, J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series has had a huge effect on my childhood, my imagination, my writing, and my life.
I am currently rereading the series for its 16th anniversary, something that I have not done since the last book was released in 2007, and I am thoroughly enjoying myself. Currently, I am in the middle of the second book. While I love returning to the world of Harry Potter, I have also been noticing how Rowling really constructs the books as an overall series, which is something I could not do before reading the seventh book.
As a writer myself, I have really been able to see how a world that I know so well is constructed and developed throughout the series. The amount of detail, plotting, humor, and strong characterization that Rowling puts into her world is impressive to say the least, and it’s these factors that make Harry’s world become real for its readers.
As J.K. Rowling said during her speech at the premiere of the second Deathly Hallows movie,
The stories we love best do live in us forever so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.