On the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter

A quick summary of the Harry Potter thoughts I had today before I get into the thing:

1. “Twenty years? Gosh, I’m old.”

2. “Aww, what a nice tweet from J.K. Rowling.”

3. “Oh, so that’s why Freeform did a movie marathon this weekend.”

4. “Wait, what’s my contribution to this going to be? I don’t own any of the books anymore, so I can’t post a cute, nostalgic Instagram photo or anything.”

5. “Oh, right, words.”

NOTE: Spoilers below. You can never be too careful, I reckon, even today.

Photo via Amazon

My mom must have started buying the books for me in 1998 (they didn’t start synching UK/US release dates until Goblet of Fire – doesn’t it seem unfathomable now that books 1 and 2 were out in the UK before Sorcerer’s Stone came out here?), because I remember having them in the house very early on. In fourth grade, we took photos sometime in the first month of school as part of a “get to know your classmates” assignment, and in mine, I’m beaming with my copy of the newly-released Prisoner of Azkaban.

But here’s the thing: I don’t remember actually reading a Harry Potter book until early in high school. My sole memory of interacting with the books, aside from presumably touching them every once in a while on my bookshelf, was when my sister was assigned a book report in third grade (to keep up with dates, this would have been 2001 or 2002) that had to be about a mystery. She chose Chamber of Secrets, and sometimes, my mom would read it to us as a bedtime story. I remember the story being immensely engaging, but I never actually read it for myself until later.

Actually, you know, that last part probably isn’t true. I definitely did read the books in the way I’d always read books growing up – lots of skimming, and not a lot of comprehension. So I’d read the previous Harry Potter books when a new one came out, but I hadn’t really read them – I’d absorbed the words and maybe formed a few of the scenes, out of order, in my head. I remember being outraged when the Sorcerer’s Stone movie omitted the Potions scene at the end, but until later, I couldn’t have told you any of the other differences between the books and the movies.

(The “my reading comprehension is terrible” thing is a whole other story that extends from being assigned books way beyond my skill level just because I could read in first grade, to having my lowest SAT score come in critical reading. I won’t go into it further here, but JSYK.)

And then there was a winter break, or spring break – some non-summer break from school between 2003 and 2005 – where I decided to sit down and try to get through what would be the longest book of the series, and the newest at the time, Order of the Phoenix. My dad’s coworker had read it upon release, and the message that my dad (who’s never read the books) relayed to me was a simple, “Things are getting darker for Harry.” I remember buying it at an airport and, as a result of the previous summary, being too intimidated to start reading until I got home. As I read, I found that as engaged as I was with the story, there was still so much I didn’t understand because of my casual attitude toward the previous books. Wasn’t Sirius Black a bad guy? Why was the Ministry so anti-Harry? And what was that special spell Harry used that got him in so much trouble? (That last one despite having seen Prisoner of Azkaban in theaters. Sigh.)

So using whatever break time I had left, I dove into the previous four books. I learned about and connected to the characters, memorized the spells (even making a Word doc of all of them), and vowed to figure out a way to play Quidditch someday. Harry Potter became the deepest damn books I’d ever read, and probably the first book series I ever became attached to, aside from Little House on the Prairie or Narnia (which I was told to read in first grade and so diligently skimmed, so…you get the idea).

I didn’t go to the Half-Blood Prince book release party in town because I was sleeping over at a friend’s house, but when I got home the next day, my sister – who’d already read it by staying up all night – insisted I had to read it immediately. She even used a Post-It to cover up the chapter photo for “Flight of the Prince” (it’s of Snape) so I wouldn’t inadvertently be spoiled before the big reveal.

Then, in 2007 – a super goddamn Harry Potter summer, with the Order of the Phoenix movie and the final book both coming out in July – I attended my first and only release party for Deathly Hallows. My sister and I, of similar enthusiasm, each bought our own copy so we wouldn’t have to decide who would read it first (though, uh, she stopped reading about 100 pages in and, to my knowledge, never finished. No matter). I stayed up until 4 a.m. to read the first 70% or so, all the while texting the friend I went to the release with for his play-by-play, and then woke up just a few hours later to devour the rest. We had family in town that day from the East Coast who were anything but Harry Potter fans, so I again resorted to texting everyone I could to get their thoughts on the book.

It didn’t sink in until a few days later that the series was over. But really, I was so satisfied by how Deathly Hallows ended that I didn’t care to the extent that many I knew did. (Also, probably, the rumors of a Harry Potter encyclopedia at the time kept me hopeful that there would be more. Sigh.) And as time passed, I managed to get my Harry Potter fix in some way, whether it was rewatching a movie or two one weekend, rereading a book, taking dozens of themed Sporcle quizzes, riding the Pottermore hype before it got comically boring, or reading Mark Oshiro’s “Mark Reads Harry Potter” series as he read the books for the first time (how he managed to stay completely unspoiled until 2011, I will never, ever know and I will forever be amazed).

As only the cheesiest people say – and me, happily – the magic never really ended. I am incredibly grateful to J.K. Rowling for sharing this world with us, and between that and the previous sentence, there’s not much more I need to add to this beautiful, rambling thing.

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