This weekend Twitter reminded us it was 20 years ago this past Saturday of the US book release that Harry Potter first crossed the Great Lake (the Black Lake in the films) and Twitter was feeling extremely nostalgic with many #BackToHogwarts posts. Barnes and Noble, Simon & Schuster and the New York City Public Library (my novel has a scene that takes place there, BTW!) and other news pages all were tweeting #HarryPotter20 fandom vibes. It made me reflect on how instrumental J.K. Rowling’s magical masterpiece really was in my life and I dedicate this post to Harry and the fans that made it a wonderful journey to be a part of.
But 20 years is still a very long time. I had been there since the beginning. It was back in middle school. Would have been the 7th grade. 13 years old I was. And I found it totally by accident. Little did I know, my life would never be the same. I remember very clearly the day I found the Boy Who Lived. But it felt like, Harry and his extraordinary world, had found me. Let’s take a trip in my Pensive, a.k.a. memory lane, and see where my first steps into the most wonderful Potterhead fandom began…
So it was an English assignment, and it was one of the toughest ever. We had to pick out a BOOK in the LIBRARY in only THIRTY MINUTES! Now I’ve never been much of a reader. So this challenge was a great task for me. I remember scouring the stacks of this library looking for … sigh, a book. Well, I browsed and browsed and browsed the children’s / MG books of 1998 and found nothing. Then I browsed the rest of the library. Teacher was looking at me, so I pretended to be interested in some of the spines of books so she thought I was busy. But I wasn’t busy, I was bored!
There was a strange book with a boy riding a broom on the cover. Huh. I walked by. I was frustrated when my friends found books with fifteen minutes to spare. They started to check out their books and even started reading already! I was running out of time. Teacher even reminded us our time was almost up.
I sighed, and snatched the spine of the book with the boy riding his broom. I stared at the title: Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. Uh, okay. I didn’t have time to read the back blurb. No idea what it was about, but it was a book, I wasn’t going to get in trouble, and I was happy enough. I checked out the book and showed it to my friends. They LAUGHED at me and said that was a kids book. I stared at them: uh, weren’t WE kids?
We headed back to the classroom just in time for the next period. I managed to complete the first part of that assignment, yay!
A couple of weeks into the assignment and I was really enjoying the book! Like really, really enjoying it! Loving a book that didn’t feel like a forced reading assignment was a new sensation to me. It flew by and it was fantastical. I remember sitting at our reading times during one English class, and actually set the book down on the table on it’s spine and declared to myself loudly, proudly in my head: “I can do this. I write a story like this.” and ever since then; it’s been my dream to be a writer!
I remember when the books started to REALLY take off. It was the third book in the series that the rest of the nation was starting to catch up to the ‘Potter-Mania’. But by then I was well obsessed with the series. I was already in some roleplaying forums online (back then I was obsessed with an RP site called Twilight-Sky before it became a clique and full favoritism/cyberbullies), I was researching more about the Harry Potter world and Hogwarts. I even got in trouble with my family because my older brother caught me using the computer interacting with Harry Potter fans and saw the “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” and called my mom ASAP just to get me in trouble. “Mom, Mom, Claire wants to be a witch! Mom!” That brat!
It was very hard before people knew what the books really were about to explain I was not interested in ‘goth’ or the ‘dark arts’. But I didn’t really care. Even though the argument led me in tears and made me feel strange for liking such a book, I knew it was worth it. Because with those books, I felt apart of something. I was part of an online community that was like no other. My real life friends also slowly picked up on the series and we formed our own ‘Hogwarts’ houses. Of course: I was in Hufflepuff.
At first, I was offended because I was chosen last for the house and got stuck with it, but then I came to love it. Keep in mind, this was before we knew about Newt Salamander and Cedric Diggory. Hufflepuff wasn’t cool yet. We formed our houses in book three. But I wore my literal badge we made with pride.
It was the third book when it slowly started to become an international sensation. And the fourth book when they made the first movie. And then no longer was I laughed at. No longer did my family think I had a secret interest in witchcraft. They understood. They finally got on the Harry Potter bandwagon and wow did that bandwagon explode!
One of my friends stopped liking Harry Potter when it took off. She didn’t want to ‘conform with the masses’ or whatever. I shrugged. I didn’t care if it was getting so popular — it made me love it more!
Dressing up for the midnight showings and midnight book releases. Getting anxious because the next book was taking FOREVER to be released! Roleplaying online what we thought was going to happen. Shipping Harry with Luna and Hermoine with Draco. Pretending we were going to the Yule Ball too and dreaming which side-character would ask us to the ball (I was practically in love with Lee Jordan and crushed he didn’t get hardly any screentime). Predicting what cruel trick Snape would do next before we knew his true backstory. Getting BLOWN AWAY by the twist at the last two books. And making new friends who shared a love for the fandom. Debating which house was the best, what our Quidditch position would be, and if we would be brave enough to sign up for Dumbledore’s Army or not.
My friends and I were also obsessed with the James Potter years, creating our own stories about their misadventures in Hogwarts. It was brilliant and even though we were well into high school, we felt like we were still kids. And with how popular Harry Potter had gotten, it became, cool. No longer did we feel like dorks. We can wear our passion with pride.
Yeah, the 90’s and early 00’s were a wonderful time to be alive as a Harry Potter fan. Granted, it still is! We’ve still got a massive fandom of almost three generations. We have the Harry Potter worlds. We have the movies that are immortal on the silver screen (and no slaughtering unicorns required!) and plenty of Merch to make us feel like a real wizard, just like Harry. But it’s not quite like before the books finished. I suppose, though, that’s why they call it nostalgia.
To be honest I still haven’t seen the last two Harry Potter films. I haven’t read the Cursed Child. And I haven’t re-read the HP books in a very long time.
It’s not that I’m over Harry Potter. Not even close! And I still declare myself a Hufflepuff with pride, even on my Tinder profile! I know the reason I haven’t seen the last two HP films: I don’t want it to be over.
I know it’s silly. But I treasure my Harry Potter memories. There’s so many! It’s why I became a writer. It’s how I met so many wonderful folks online. Some of them I even met in person from other countries! But I just don’t want the journey to be over. I know it never will be, because I’ll always have those memories in my heart. But I worry that if I watch the last two films, that it’ll be like, growing up in a weird way. Saying goodbye to Hogwarts forever, somehow. And I’m not ready for that. But I know that’s a silly way of thinking. Because Hogwarts will always be there for me! No matter how old I get.
Because as JK Rowling herself said:
“Whether you’ve come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
I simply love how supportive Jo is of her fans. I adore how she recognizes how deeply impactful the books are to us, and she doesn’t mock us. She doesn’t tell us that it’s not real or we need to grow up. No. She welcomes us home. And if you’re a Harry Potter fan, no matter on what degree, we all have shared that home together.
And that is where the true magic really lies. It lies within us.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to watch the last two Harry Potter films. Maybe it’s time to appreciate the gift that J.K. has given us, and move forward. Not grow up. I could never do that, not really. But onwards is a good place to start. Because as Dumbledore once wisely said:
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”
Thank you, J.K. Rowling, to be brave enough to publish something so completely different back in the 90’s. Thank you for giving me the gift of an interest in writing and accepting my imagination instead of being ashamed or afraid of it. Thank you Harry Potter fans for 20 years of a magical journey. Thank you to the new generation who will love the books as much as we did. And thank you for reading this post today. It was an emotional one, but I felt like my #HarryPotter20 needed to be shared.
What about you? What’s YOUR #HarryPotter20 story? I know everyone has at least heard of Harry Potter – but have you ever felt a personal connection to it? Have you ever called Hogwarts your home? Share in the comments!
I hope you all have a magical journey back to Hogwarts this week!
Thanks, Potterheads! Stay Geeky!
~A Geek Named Claire