I was lucky enough to grow up with Harry from (almost) the very beginning.
I turned 10 on November 8, 1999, and my Uncle Dan gave me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for my birthday. I was in fifth grade, and talk of this new Harry Potter book was everywhere. Even then, I was a little bit of a snob, and maintained the opinion that if everyone was reading it, it probably wasn’t that good. I tried to be excited about it, but inside, I was disappointed to receive something that I really wasn’t interested in.
It was the first fantasy book I had ever owned. Up until then, my bookshelf consisted almost entirely of various American Girls series (Samantha, Molly, and Kirsten were my favorites) and Baby-Sitters Club books, and I had never really thought to venture into the world of fantasy literature. I even vaguely remember thinking fantasy was kind of silly, likening it in my imagination to fairy tales meant for little kids. I fancied myself a grownup, thankyouverymuch, and turned up my nose at the thought of tales of wizards and dragons and magic wands. But Uncle Dan seemed so excited to give me this book about this kid who finds out he’s a wizard, so I reluctantly began reading. I was convinced it would be a terrible book, one I would be embarrassed to tell others I had read.
I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to be wrong.
After reading and falling in love with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I was thrilled to discover that there were two additional books in the series that had already been published. By the time Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out in July 2000, I was utterly and completely hooked. I remember going to a block party in a friend’s neighborhood either the day it came out or the day after, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that I spent most of the time reading while the block party happened around me.
Goblet of Fire was the longest book I had ever read and it only took me 3 days to finish (keep in mind I was still only 10 years old at this point). I read each subsequent installment in only 1 day each, buying the book early on release day morning and only emerging from my room to eat—in which case I took the book with me anyway—or to use the bathroom.
I was 17 and had just graduated high school when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out. I was only a month away from starting college and leaving childhood behind, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was, in a lot of ways, my last hurrah. It marked the end of an era—one I wasn’t too sad to bid farewell, honestly, but an era nonetheless.
The day Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released—July 22, 2007—stands out vividly in my mind. I still remember going to Walmart that morning with my dad and starting to read it in the car on the way back. I remember toting it around the house with me all day, and I remember avoiding any and all internet contact for fear of spoilers. I remember finishing it around 9pm and breathlessly jumping on AIM (remember AIM?) and messaging my friend Jess, who informed me that she wasn’t done yet and promised she would cause me unending pain should I spoil anything for her. So instead I took to Livejournal to get all my feelings down in my first-ever proto-book-review:
On one hand, it was probably her best book – best action, better written than the rest (with the exception of the epilogue, which, in the words of Jess, “sounds like a 13-year-old fangirl wrote it” and I’d have to agree on that, but it also created a good sense of finality). On the other hand, I was disappointed that a lot of commonly-known predictions came true: Harry being a Horcrux, Snape loving Lily, etc…
Later, once I had exhausted myself discussing it with friends, I closed my laptop, got in bed, flipped back to the first page, and began reading again, this time intent on absorbing all the nuance that I had missed while tearing through it the first time.
It’s a really unique experience to grow up with a series like that. What other series has done for previous generations what Harry Potter has done for ours? Growing up, even the loneliest of us had a companion in Harry—the fact that he was a wizard didn’t save him from the pangs of puppy love or the perpetual angst of puberty. And as we grew, so did Harry. He was there for those awkward pre-teen years all the way through graduation and moving on to the “real,” “adult” world. Escaping into his fictional world was all the more comforting for knowing that, despite Harry and his friends’ magical abilities, they were experiencing the same ubiquitous struggles all teenagers face.
The Harry Potter series has remained relevant to me as an adult in a way that no other series has. I don’t still read American Girl or Baby-Sitters Club books, but Harry Potter is something I’ll continue to reread every few years for the rest of my life. Harry’s story is universally appealing, and will always hold a special place in my heart.
I owe a lot to Harry, and I hope J. K. Rowling knows just how much he means to me and to many others like me. (I’m sure she does, but it’s worth saying again.) I also owe a big thank you to my Uncle Dan, who introduced me to Harry Potter, even though I was reluctant at first. When he gave me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone all those years ago, he didn’t just give me paper and ink bound by glue; he gave me a taste for adventure that I didn’t even know I had. He gave me seven years of excitement and anticipation as I waited for the next book in the series to come out. And he gave me a lifetime of the kind of joy you can only get from curling up with a well-known, well-loved book.
Through a tumultuous adolescence, Harry Potter was one of the few reliable ways I could escape from stress and heartache, and Harry never failed to uplift me in a way that no other book or series has ever done. I only hope that subsequent generations will love Harry just as much as we did.
So—Happy birthday, Harry. And thanks for everything.