In 1997, I was an elitist college student. Pretty much, if I’d been willing to deign to read Harry Potter when it came out, I’d have been pegged as Hermione Granger, the early years. Hearing about Harry Potter’s 20th anniversary made me feel old, but it also showed me how intertwined in my adult journey Harry Potter has been.
Who is Harry Potter?
In fact, I didn’t read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when it first came out. I was too busy reading important literature. I was busy learning about urban renewal, economics, and the history of urban architecture. As a college first year, Harry Potter wasn’t even on my radar. I was too busy trying to be the ideal college student. My college professors and peers only reinforced this elitism. We would read Jack Kerouac or William S. Burroughs. We would sit drinking coffee and esoterically waxing philosophical about Basquiat and politics. Something as plebeian as a children’s book wasn’t on my radar.
Why would you read a children’s book like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?
My post-college years initially continued on the elitist trail. Imagine if Hermione had never met Harry and Ron. Imagine if no one had questioned her annoying know-it-allness. Imagine if no one had believed in her bravery. You have me at twenty-one. I was the Girl Who Did School. So, I kept doing school, and because of law school, I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 2000.
After my 1L, I needed some brain candy. My mother, who had seen something about Harry Potter on Good Morning America! found a copy of Sorcerer’s Stone on sale at Marshalls. She brought it over to my apartment, much to my very adult, very law school, very elitist chagrin, and told me that I might as well try reading it, “even though it’s a kids’ book.” As someone still young enough to listen to her mother, I snorted derisively and thought about it. After all, as my mother pointed out, “what is there to this kids’ book for an adult?”
There’s Magic in Those Pages
If you’ve ever gone to law school, you know that the first year is a misery. If you ever went to law school at night while working full-time, then you know it’s more than a misery. It’s a daily walk through Lucifer’s fiery pits. What better escape than a book about magical middle school kids?
I don’t even remember the first full reading. I couldn’t tell you where I was. I couldn’t tell you how long it took me to read. What I can tell you?
It was magical.
I hadn’t felt the pull of a book in this way in a long time. I was Hermione. Everything about her was me. I loved her. I loved that she answered things through reading. I loved that she was smarter than the boys. I loved that she turned out to be braver than she realized.
I loved that Ron’s chess was what helped them get to the Sorcerer’s Stone. I loved that the character portrayed as weakest had this amazing moment of strength.
I loved the mythology. I loved that there were shadows lurking in the wings of the story. I loved that there was suspense. I loved that there was darkness and a hovering cloud of doom.
I loved everything. I went out and immediately bought Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I found it at Marshalls. I finally had to buy Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire in bookstores because they were just new enough to not be in second market sale racks. I blew through them in the span of a few months.
Who stands on line at midnight for a kids’ book?
This girl. I stood on line outside the Barnes & Noble up the street. I was twenty-five-years-old during the summer that Order of the Phoenix came out. My husband was studying for the Bar exam, so he studied late while I waited on line for a kids’ book. If you think about 2003, the world was still in that hazy transition to digital. Where I live, people mostly bought books in stores. Kindles were still four years away. People ordered books in person from stores, and they waited on line outside stores because it was the best way to get the book fast.
I waited on line, embarrassed at being the only full-fledged adult type person without a kid on the line. This was still the pre-Twitter and pre-Facebook era. I had no words to describe being a geek. I had no community in which to geek. I was just the weird lady on line.
We all had raffle tickets to claim our books by number. They slowly let us in, grouping us by ten or twenty at a time. All I remember is entering, buying my book, clutching it to my chest, and coming directly home.
Back then, we had this chair. It was a chair I’d taken from outside a college dorm my last year in school. It was this big, wide, comfortable, broken, ugly chair. I curled right up in it, and I started Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I didn’t move from that chair for thirteen hours. I finished that book in one sitting. The last time I had done that, I was in sixth grade and finished Les Miserables in one sitting.
How Harry Potter, MuggleNet, The Leaky Cauldron, and fandom changed my life
In 2003, I didn’t have the word “fandom” in my lexicon. I knew that I loved the books. I knew that there had to be other people. I had the internet. I found other people online who posted theories and stories.
I was not alone.
I discovered that there were people sorting themselves into houses (I’m a proud Ravenclaw, btw). I discovered fan fiction. I discovered a whole world that existed and that thought like me. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone started this, but the fans finished it. They made this magical world bigger and more beautiful. I could be a part of it.
I didn’t post much. I read a lot though. Whenever I wanted to test a theory, I turned to one of the two fan sites. I looked at the pro’s and con’s. I became part of the dialogue in my way.
Why is Harry Potter‘s 20th anniversary important?
To a lot of people, it probably isn’t. However, to a lot of us, Harry Potter‘s 20th anniversary represents a chance for our youth to intersect with our children’s. With continued upgrades to Harry Potter theme parks, the series doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. The continued expansions such as Fantastic Beasts and Cursed Child offer more reasons to theorize.
As the original Harry Potter generation grows older, we want to share our love of this magical world with our kids. When my child was three, they became fascinated with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Today, I can’t get them to read the books, despite buying up every illustrated Harry Potter book published. However, they know I’m a Ravenclaw and that they’re a Ravenclaw. We’ve taken the house quizzes together.
Harry Potter‘s 20th anniversary matters because the books are still alive, still evolving, still helping people imagine. Hybrid houses (I’m a Ravendor btw) have been confirmed and offer more ways for people to identify with the characters and the world.
More than anything, this magical world has endured. It has endured in the hearts and imaginations of two generations of readers. It continues to inspire and engage children. Harry Potter‘s 20th anniversary proves that everyone needs magic. Everyone needs a world where plants come to life, where the seemingly insignificant can help win a war, and where good will win.
Harry Potter may be flawed. It may have literary, representation, or narrative flaws. However, I’m flawed. We’re all flawed. Harry Potter‘s 20th anniversary matters to me because I see my own evolution. I started out as a Sorcerer’s Stone Hermione. However, in the same way that the books evolved over time, so have I. I am no longer that hand-raising, must-be-right girl that I was in 2000. In the way that the books have become cultural touchstones, have deepened in mythology, have become something more than they were at the start, so have I.
At the end of the day, my journey from one-dimensional elitist intellectual in my early twenties to my Ravendor multifaceted self in my late thirties is similar to how the books have evolved from the their start twenty years ago. I’m not of the generation that grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I’m of the generation that got to mature as the books matured. There’s a difference. And that’s what matters to me.
Check out our other posts celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Harry Potter: