Or rather Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is Twenty, because Harry himself is my age (ish). Oh the shock I had when, at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it is revealed that Harry was born in 1980. Of course! No wonder he felt like a kindred spirit, he’s a fellow born-in-the-eighties member of Generation Y! It does explain why the books never troubled with explaining the internet. Can you imagine what Mr Weasley would make of wifi?
Regular readers will know that JK Rowling is one of my muses. I don’t like snobbery about writers, I especially dislike snobbery about popular writing. JK gets it a bit, for the quality of her writing, her popularity, her prolific output and her liberal views. But I don’t doubt that Harry Potter will endure.
I came to Potter late, Book Three, in fact! I remember devouring the first three Harry Potter books on a train to Durham, on my way to a Classics Summer school. I always loved school stories – Blyton, Chalet School, The Worst Witch, and Harry Potter was to me as comforting as a blanket, nostalgic as crumpets, and sweetly inventive as a sherbet lemon. I’d never read The Lord of the Rings, but I had been obsessed with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. And had I mentioned I studied Latin? I was already a nerd, I was bound to like Potter!
That summer, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released, and that was when the phenomenon kicked off and got really really massive. I worked in our local Asda over the holidays, and the front table was piled high with thick hardback books. Everywhere you went, people were reading that brightly coloured brick, and Potter suddenly became part of the national lexicon. In the winter, the first film came out. I went to see it three times, in a north London Cineworld, when the matinee tickets cost about three pounds each. Potter, along with His Dark Materials, is one of the reasons I chose to study Children’s Literature – both series were, to my mind, part of a resurgence of a genre with the power to change and influence like no other. Scientists have conducted studies on the effect of reading Potter on readers. Less likely to support Trump apparently…
I think back to reading Potter for the first time. (I’m jealous of people who’ve never read it, who have that pleasure ahead of them – I feel the same way about all my favourite books). I remember, through the lens of Potter, what it was like to be nineteen. To have watched my friends go off to university for their first years away and taste of freedom, while my life was also changing but not in the ways I had expected. To have experienced my first romance, my first heartbreak, my first failures. Reading Harry Potter that summer was one of the ways I coped with my grief and deep sadness, with loss, with frustration, with powerlessness. The scene when Harry stands before the mirror of Erised, and see his parents, well, I still cry now when I read that. The deep inner sadness that comes from losing a parent… when I read about JK Rowling losing her mother to MS before she wrote the Potter books, so much of it makes sense. I am sure that is why she is one of my people. It’s a long and varied list and subject to change at times, because I’m fickle, but she’s up there on the laminated, permanent part.
By the time the final Potter book came out, I was more grown up, living in my second-to-last houseshare, in my second ever real job. I woke up early and drove to a local 24 hour Tesco to buy my book from a pile on a table in the entrance of the supermarket, and I read until my eyes were red and sore and I was hoarse and snotty with tears. I love that book so much. Not because good triumphs over evil – although that’s great – or because I realised that Harry would have been in the year above me at school. It’s not Snape’s death, either, although when we went to Harry Potter Studios we looked for Alan Rickman’s wand in Ollivander’s, to pay our respects.
The part that resonates is when Harry brings out the resurrection stone from the Snitch. He is about to meet Voldemort and he is prepared to die. The spirits of his parents, Sirius, Remus and Tonks appear. Rowling doesn’t call them ghosts, not like the ghosts who inhabit the castle. These are something different – and as the scene takes place, it’s clear that the spirits were always there with him, he just didn’t know it. And they won’t leave him, even when he drops the stone to the floor. Just thinking about that scene gets me. We can’t bring back the people we love, but they never leave us. It’s a paradox; beautiful, sad and true.
***For those of you who so kindly got in touch to ask why I’ve been so quiet – just busy, is the honest answer. But I’ve made a list of all the things I want to tell you about, so I hope that there will be more regular posts again in the coming weeks.***