Today makes the 20th anniversary of the publication of a children’s book. That’s usually not a monumental occasion in popular culture. But in this case it’s like the release date for Meet the Beatles. On this date Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released. And this is about what a mark it made in this household.
I really didn’t notice the uproar and fuss until about the third book. You couldn’t walk into a bookstore or a library without seeing those books. I’m not a fan of children’s literature or even young adult so it took a while for the interest to simmer. Let’s face it, anytime there’s fuss about a genre book I’m going to notice it. But as John Scalzi noted in his blog today, he just wasn’t in the target demographic and neither was I. But the itch began and after a couple of months I gave in.
I thought about getting on a waiting list at the library because the idea of spending money on a hardcover copy of a kids book was just grating. But the waiting list was long and my patience was short. There was going to be no hiding reading from my wife either, not without getting one of those “aren’t you a little too old for that” withering looks. But I finally gutted it out and bought Philosopher’s Stone/Sorcerer’s Stone. And I fell into a whirlpool.
It probably took a couple nights to read the first one. I think the stigma of reading something so juvenile vanished fairly quickly because if JK knows how to do one thing (and she actual knows how to do several things rather well) it’s to stand on the damn accelerator and don’t let up. The HP canon, especially the early books, are maddeningly propulsive. You have to keep turning pages, moving on to the next chapter. I remember telling my wife, “I just have to keep seeing what this little shit is going to get into next.”
There is a certain amount of HP that is somewhat standard. A kid that thinks he’s different, that he’s meant to be in another place. That’s a very old trope in fantasy and one we’re all sick of. But the kids reading it sure didn’t know it and once getting caught in the tale, the adults usually didn’t care. The width and breadth of the world-building was dazzling and the acknowledgement that the world could be unkind and cruel but friendship and love can win the day was affirming. Voldemort was doomed to lose this battle one way or another and I was locked in.
I bought the next two books and now my wife was damn curious. She has a very hard time reading due to her OCD and it was frustrating for her that something was going on that she couldn’t appreciate. The movies changed all that.
The first two movies were a bit rote and mechanical, you could see the magic but you couldn’t feel it. Nonetheless, the actors brought it home and the source material hooked you. My wife became a believer. And with the magic that was the third movie Carjo was all in.
And here we are, twenty years of the world being assimilated by the wizarding world. A large poster of Severus Snape hangs in our house (my wife’s Rickman crush was substantive even before the movies and it only got worse). My wife has a travel poster for the Hogwarts Express, stencil letters on the wall promise that she is up to no good, a cat named Luna Lovegood wanders our yard, and all seven of by books are in a prominent place in our living room. We may be Muggles but we believe.
I also believe that these books and movies have done a world of good. I follow Rowling on Twitter and she is wonderful, slaying trolls and Internet demons, being an advocate for the less fortunate, and never forgetting that at one point in her life she was a single mother on the dole, trying to write a novel in hopes that it would better her life. She has driven kids who would never have picked up a book to not only get these books, but move on to other books. Kids who have not only embraced the fantasy of this world but also embraced the greater themes, much like my generation embraced the themes of Tolkien. Harry Potter has made the world a brighter place and that is no small thing.