Mr and Mrs Vernon Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first Bloomsbury publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK. (The US had to wait until Scholastic published it in September of 1998. I read it that year.)
I couldn’t have known it then, but when Dad started reading it aloud to me and my sister in 1998, he set up a path that we continue to walk down, individually and as a family.
If you need proof, you can look at my room. On my bed — currently with me under it — is a blanket with the Hogwarts crest on it. Across the room, on a self, is a picture of me ‘running’ toward the barrier at Platform 9 3/4 in the actual King’s Cross Station next to a replica of Hermione’s wand.
I chose my grad school partially (a small part, but still a part) because they filmed bits of the first two Potter movies in Durham. At the cathedral, specifically, where my Durham University experience began with convocation and ended at graduation.
We went to Universal Studios in Orlando specifically one year to visit the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was 7am on Christmas morning and I looked up and…there was Hogwarts. I broke down and cried happy tears, with my mom laughing at me.
I learned to ‘fly’ at Alnwick Castle in northern England, where Harry had his first flying lesson. I recited the ‘There will be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations in this class’ line that Alan Rickman delivered so perfectly during a visit to Lacock Abbey, which served as the set for the dungeons in Sorcerer’s Stone. I’m pretty sure I figured out which reptile cage was used at the London Zoo.
I’ve had tea at the Elephant House, the cafe in Edinburgh where JK Rowling wrote the early books.
I spent 8 hours at the Warner Bros Studio Tour just outside London.
The first purchase I ever made for my kindle was e-book editions of the entire seven book series so I could take them with me to grad school. I’ve read — agonisingly slowly — Prisoner of Azkaban in Arabic.
I’ve done midnight premiers for movies and books. The only things I’ve ever stood in line for hours for.
In 2007 I took the next day off from my summer job so I could get my pre-ordered copy of Deathly Hallows home and finish it that same night. I read it in 9 hours and 37 minutes.
Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, Fred, George, Sirius, Dumbledore, and, yes, Voldemort shaped me.
These books…oh, these books. They taught me about love, sacrifice, hardship, friendship, fear, bravery, cruelty, mercy, loyalty, hatred. I learned to make hard choices and easy decisions and to recognise the grey areas where no one wins.
This isn’t to say that I’m not critical of the series. I am. Loudly. Honestly, the epilogue is the worst. And why is Dumbledore the only canon gay character but it’s never actually mentioned? And it’s not like the writing is super great itself. I could go on. But that doesn’t mean I love it any less. It actually means I love it more.
Harry has had an incredible social impact on the world in 20 years. The word ‘Muggle’ is in the Oxford English Dictionary. There are 8 movies; at least 3 theme parks; parody plays and performances galore (A Very Potter Musical, anyone?); websites and podcasts; spin-offs and Broadway/West End shows; international Quidditch tournaments! Not to mention my personal favourite…Harry Potter Puppet Pals. (Snape. Snape. Severus Snape. DUMBLEDORE!) The Potterhead fandom is one of the most active, welcoming, dedicated groups of people in the entire world and I have been lucky to be a part of it for two decades.
Sometimes I wonder if Rowling thought, during a long night of being a single mum on benefits, that she could become the most successful author in modern history?
Did she realise that kids like me would grow up reading her words and later ink them on their skin, literally and figuratively?
Did she know that her characters would save so many of us, myself included, when things seemed so dark we thought we were fighting our own Wizarding War?
Did she ever dream that her creation would be the thing that defined a generation?
Someday I’d like to ask her.
But in the meantime, thank you, Jo, for what you gave us 20 years ago. My life is infinitely better for it.