20 years ago today, a little book was released by an unknown author known only by two letters and a last name.
The book, which had been given a mountain of rejections before it was finally accepted by Bloomsbury Publishing, went on to span six sequels, 10 movies, one theme park, a West End show and more merchandise than anyone knows what to do with.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released in the UK in 1997, which means that on top of Pocahontas turning 22, Beauty and the Beast turning 26 in December and Mulan turning 19, it is the final nail in making 90s kids feel old.
So for its 20th anniversary, I found it only fitting to discuss the importance this series has had in my life.
I wasn’t allowed to read the novels originally. I grew up with very conservative parents, and discussions in our church had convinced them that the Harry Potter books were the Devil’s work. It was only when my mom’s former student persuaded her to read the first one that she decided I could do so.
But, when I was finally able to read the series, I didn’t like it. The first 10 pages of the first book bored me, and I decided to not give it a further chance. However, that was the year that the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone movie came out (and the first Lord of the Rings,) so of course I still went to see it.
The movie so enthralled me that I gave the book a proper chance, then read the second one, then the third and then waited for the fourth to come out. My first midnight book release was Order of the Phoenix, and it wasn’t until Half-Blood Prince that I would have my first midnight premiere.
Like Hermione, I was an avid reader. My decision to dive into novels instead of play with the other kids resulted in merciless teasing, and besides Belle in Beauty and the Beast, there weren’t many characters I could relate to. Claudia Kishi and Mary Ann Spier from The Babysitters Club seemed most like me, but only slightly so.
Enter Hermione Granger, the girl who would rather spend her time in the library than do anything else, the girl who raised her hand in class as often as I did and didn’t think anything of it, and the girl who knew she was brilliant and didn’t care what anyone thought.
And in addition to Hermione, there was Ravenclaw House: the place for the geeks, the nerds, the people who loved to spend hours upon hours discussing the latest thing they had read.
I became a proud Ravenclaw, which I remain to this day. I fell in love with the Potterverse and the majority of its characters, and especially the story. I bought every companion piece, including An Interview with J.K. Rowling.
My fifth grade “boyfriend” and I discussed Harry Potter daily. My sixth grade “boyfriend” called me Hermione, I called him Krum and we renamed our ordinary Muggle courses as if they were Hogwarts classes.
Later, in adulthood, I would purchase many Harry Potter things from Hot Topic and Penneys. I would move to Florida in five months during college to work at Walt Disney World and visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as often as I could while I was there. I would visit King’s Cross Station and take a photo in front of Platform 9 3/4 the first time I was in London.
And I would manage the Harry Potter section of Fangirlish, and write for another site about Harry Potter.
Thank you, J.K. Rowling. Thank you for having a dream on a napkin and persevering through endless rejections to share your story with the world.
Thank you, Harry and Neville, for showing us strength and courage. Thank you, Hermione and Ginny, for giving us strong women who stand for what they believe in. And, thank you Luna, for proving that weird and different is an awesome thing.
Most importantly, thank you J.K. Rowling for creating the fandom where I have found a sense of belonging and formed many friendships over the years.
Even when we disagree on the Potterverse ships.