There are so many things to love about this world. So much fantasy, so much science fiction, and everything else in between. Yet every time we discuss one fandom, we find ourselves somehow returning to Harry Potter. That most popular of fandoms, with a billion dollar franchise. Why? Well, partly because it was the first fandom that completely consumed us both. And in becoming part of that fandom, we became part of what has been lovingly termed The Potter Generation.
If you think of Harry Potter as something binding our generation together--and really, what else has?--that’s something really special. We all wanted to get letters to Hogwarts - who didn’t? - and may have been slightly crestfallen when we started 6th grade in a Muggle middle school. To us, it was not just a series of books. It was real. The characters were real. Everyone I knew had at least one kid who they could identify with, whether it was Neville, Hermione, Fred, George, Luna, or Harry himself.
The books grew with us. We all literally grew up with these characters--we were nine and ten years old, respectively, when we started reading these books and we were seventeen when Deathly Hallows came out, the same age as Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Their triumphs were our triumphs, their teenage angst was our teenage angst. Harry grew up as we did. The books got longer (the jump in page count from PoA to GoF, anyone?). The plots got more complicated. The issues deeper. There was more to discuss, more to theorize about. And even though both of us picked it up a few years after its British release, the span of time that they lasted was still so long.
And in the time the books grew with us, the Harry Potter world was so exciting. Not that we don’t still treasure that world, because we absolutely do (we can still quote it until the cows come home), but it there is something so different, and something so special about being held in suspense for years and years, being able to guess and wonder at what might happen next. The release parties are the best example of this. For the releases of Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, a friend’s home was transformed into Hogwarts, and as fifth- and seventh-years we all dressed up as witches and flew on our broomsticks to Barnes and Noble. Reading the books became a collective experience. We were all there to hug each other and cry the sad, sad tears that were necessary when the heartbreaking stuff happened. There has never been an instance before or since where reading a book has been such a shared activity. And I don’t think there ever will be. And though millions of people shared this experience, it meant more to those of us who had grown up awaiting these books. We knew the stakes, we understood the characters. It never crossed our minds that a seventeen-year-old couldn’t save the world - because we were seventeen as well. Regardless of whether we could see ourselves enduring what the trio had to go through, we knew that they could persevere. We weren’t naive - if anything, we were more open to possibility.
And not only were we excited by all the releases, but each book sort of taught us something new. Taught us who to be, and who not to be. The content of the books themselves formed our character to such a large extent. That we had a Hermione Granger looming large in our world--a girl who read the night away, didn’t give a rat’s ass about makeup or clothes, and was the most fiercely loyal of any of Harry’s friends--influenced us so much growing up. She was living proof that it was okay to be a bookworm, okay to be the know-it-all oddball of the bunch. It might hurt sometimes, but she was always the one who triumphed in the end. And on the subject of bookishness, the books taught us how to argue and do critical thinking better than anything we could have learned in high school debate class. That might sound a bit of an exaggeration, but put it this way: we would spend hours arguing about different theories and outcomes, and let me just say I felt so much more passionate about defending Severus Snape’s honor than I ever did about debating the merits of uniforms in a high school classroom.
But as we’ve acknowledged, these books did not just belong to us. Deathly Hallows alone sold 11 million copies in the first 24 hours. They were read by millions of people worldwide - they have been translated in 67 languages. Sorcerer’s Stone wasn’t just picked up by ten-year-olds - it was read by teens, college students, parents, grandparents. Though the New York Times created a children’s bestseller list to stop the first four books from dominating the fiction list, it was obvious they weren’t just books for children. They spanned ages and generations. Genders and nationalities. It made people who claimed they were not readers - both adults and children - read at a voracious pace. No other books, before or since, have done that.
And why? Why was Harry Potter so powerful? Well, we can’t answer that. No one can. We can make a few guesses, though. They had compelling plots. You had to know what happened next, to the extent that hundreds of online communities sprung up to discuss just that. They had fantastic characters. Even the minor characters were incredibly well developed, and in time became much more than minor characters. The strength of the books was such that you could easily read them four or five times - and most people did - and find something new every time. But on a simple level, they were books about a school for magic. About a boy who was picked on and abused for ten years by his family, who discovers a whole new world where he not only belongs, but he is destined to save. How could you not love that?
But even as the story centers on Harry’s trials and triumphs, in the end, the series is about more than him. It’s about friendship, love, loyalty, and magic--all centered around a school, of all places. One of the central tropes of the series is of Hogwarts as home. Hogwarts is something that the characters never truly leave behind. Even when the trio depart, even when they’re fighting Voldemort from a tent in the Highlands, even nineteen years later when they’ve had kids, they’ve never really left. Where did the Final Battle take place? Not the Ministry of Magic. It is not the government that holds the most sway in the wizarding world. It is the school. And Hogwarts is more than just a school. As Dumbledore says, “I will only have truly left this school when none here are loyal to me.” And it is not just the memory of a headmaster that will always remain. The school itself will always remain. Hogwarts was not only Harry’s home, it was Voldemort’s as well. And so, ultimately, it is the reader’s home. It is our home. And we will never forget it.
Joanne Kathleen Rowling began writing what was to become the first book in 1990. Seventeen years later, she published the seventh. It was dedicated seven ways, the seventh “to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end.”