20 years ago today, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released.
I didn’t read it straight away. A friend recommended it about a year later, just after Chamber of Secrets had been released. I say recommended but actually she just would not stop talking about it. She seemed obsessed! I read both Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets over that summer holiday.
And I was hooked.
These books were an escape. In a sense, all books are an escape, especially fantasy books. But this was actually a story of an escape. Harry was living this rather miserable childhood of neglect and loneliness that I could relate to. I wasn’t shut in a cupboard, of course. But I felt trapped, certainly. I’d always felt the odd one out (in fact, I still do most of the time). But Harry escaped. He discovered a whole other life was available to him.
Now, obviously I never expected a giant to knock down my door and tell me I’m a wizard. But I suppose it gave me hope. Hope about a potential life after the miserable years spent at my childhood home.
From Prisoner of Azkaban onwards, I read each one pretty much as soon as it came out. I never went and queued at midnight to get my hands on a copy as soon as possible (now I wish I had!) but I always managed to get them pretty quick and then be engrossed for days, even weeks as they got a bit longer.
The later books provided more than just an escape for me. They were probably the first books I read about that darkness in humanity: intolerance and prejudice. The fear and subsequent hatred of anything unlike ourselves. They can certainly teach a few things about friendship, loyalty and love.
The last book was released about 10 years ago. I was 17. I had left home and was sleeping on a friend’s sofa. I’d left those miserable years of childhood behind but at the time, I was feeling like adulthood wasn’t really shaping up to be much better (don’t worry, it got much better!). A new Harry Potter book was just what I needed! It provided that escape again (even if it did have me weeping on a few occasions).
My copies of books 1-6 were left at home when I ran away. Even the copy of The Deathly Hallows that I bought after I left was lost somewhere during the years of moving from place to place. In bouts of depression, I often found myself wishing to read them again.
Last Christmas, my husband bought me the full set of books. I read all of them in about four months. They made me remember the good bits of my childhood. Sitting in a rare hour of peace and solitude and happily reading my favourite stories. The funny bits still make me laugh and the sad bits still make me cry. I expect they always will. I’ll certainly be reading them again at some point.
The Harry Potter series also got me interested in fantasy as a genre. It got me interested in writing stories myself. J.K Rowling’s personal story is pretty inspiring itself, especially to me now, being 27 and still not having written a complete novel! But also because she found herself in a difficult situation and pulled herself out of it through writing.
It isn’t just me she inspired with her books either. I’ve heard countless accounts of people who’d had tough childhoods (much tougher than mine), people who’d lost parents or really lost anyone and found that these books helped them.
So from myself and everyone else who found hope and joy in the story of The Boy Who Lived, thank you Joanne Rowling. You have my eternal gratitude.