Today marks twenty-years to the day that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released for the first time by Bloomsbury Publishing. Nobody could have predicted back then, including the author herself, what the series would become, nor that it would take on a life of its own. Indeed, the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected twelve times by twelve different publishers before Bloomsbury decided to take a chance on the then unknown Rowling, who had been told by multiple people “not to quit her day job.” In retrospect, it seems almost laughable. Nowadays there’s hardly a person in the world – whether or not they like Harry Potter – who doesn’t know the story of the orphan boy who was told he was a wizard on his eleventh birthday and sent off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, nor that of his creator, J.K. Rowling, who – when she first came up with the idea of the boy wizard – was a young, single mother barely able to make ends meet and wrote half of that first book on napkins.
Going back and revisiting the first chapter of the first Harry Potter book, it’s almost eerie reading one of the lines spoken by Professor McGonagall, when she, Professor Dumbledore, and the half-giant Hagrid are leaving the newly orphaned baby Harry on the doorstep of his Aunt Petunia’s house in the dead of night. She tells her colleagues: “This boy will be famous, a legend. I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future. There will be books written about Harry, every child in our world will know his name.” It’s a line that turned out to be prophetic, not just within the universe confined inside of the books, but in real life as well.
Many people online are commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Harry Potter’s publication with extremely personal social media posts about what the books mean to them. Bloomsbury Publishing has asked fans what Harry Potter has meant to them, and even writers on websites such as The Huffington Post have been reflecting on what the boy wizard and his novels have personally meant to their lives, so I decided I should sit down and write what they’ve meant to me personally in order to mark the occasion as well. I wasn’t quite sure how to tackle it. I thought about just laying it all out point-by-point in a list, but I thought that would be so impersonal and dull – especially for the book series that has had such a profound effect on my life.
Then I remembered a book that was published a few years back entitled Dear Mr. Potter: Letters of Love, Loss & Magic, which was compiled & edited by Lily Zalon. The book is made up of hundreds of letters addressed to J.K. Rowling or Harry Potter himself, written by fans of the Harry Potter series (including Evanna Lynch and John Green) that have been touched by it in some meaningful way. I found out about this particular project too late in the game to submit a letter of my own to be included for publication, so I’ve decided I’ll handle this article by writing what I’d have liked to have included in that book had I known about it far enough in advance.
So here we go.
Dear Mr. Potter,
I remember when I first met you. My mother had introduced me to you at a school book fair and told me that she had heard good things about you, and that I should try to get to know you. You were nowhere near your peak popularity at the time, but you were still popular enough that you were a hot topic of conversation throughout the school, so I decided to humor my mother by reading your story.
I didn’t like you at first.
In retrospect, I can’t really remember why. Maybe it was because of your burgeoning popularity in the classroom, and it was never cool to like a book that the teacher was about to force everybody to read. All I knew was that I had read the first part of your story, and I had no interest in reading the next (at the time) two parts of it. But then my aunt – my mother’s sister – forced the next part of your story upon me for my birthday. I know why I read it, even though I had no interest in you or the things you did; it was because I loved to read, and I couldn’t be around a book without picking it up and rifling through it. Amazingly, I began to like you a little bit more this time around; so much so, in fact, that I went out and bought your third book myself. And even though I consider the third part of your adventure one of the weaker ones, I felt myself becoming completely enamored by you.
You and I quickly became best friends. It helped that we grew up together, and that we were around the same age when each of your new adventures hit the bookshelves. You were generous enough to share your friends with me as well – Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, et. al. – which I’ll always be grateful for. At a time in my life when I was going through a rough patch in school, you guys were there for me and always beckoned me to hang out with you; calling me to come on adventures. Sure, you were much more popular than I ever was, but you were all still underdogs at heart, and I found that I was able to relate to you guys more than anyone else I knew. You helped teach me to stand up for those weaker than myself, and to fight intolerance and injustice; you showed me that no matter how bad things could get, they could always be worse, and would always get better; and you helped show me how to reach deep within myself to fight my own personal Dementors on a daily basis.
You also taught me what it truly meant to be a Gryffindor! To go out and proudly be myself, not caring about what other people thought of me; to stand courageous, and not give in to fear. Without you, I don’t think I’d ever have even thought to go overseas and attend university in England! But thanks to you, I did, and it’s because of you that I made some of the best friends I could ever ask for in life, and attained four years’ worth of experiences that I’ll never forget; experiences that helped me to grow, mature, and be a decent human being.
I met so many real life friends because of you and your story, but most importantly it was because of you that I met. It’s thanks to your story that I met not only my best friend in life, but my wife, on one of your many fan sites. I’m sorry you didn’t have more of a presence at our wedding. In retrospect, you really should have. But hey, at least Ron and Hermione were there representing you, standing proud on top of our wedding cake!
I’m sorry that we’ve drifted apart as the years have gone by. I’ve become close to some new friends, like Rick Grimes, and have become a lot closer with some old ones too, like Batman and Luke Skywalker. You’ll always hold a special place in my heart though. I’m sorry that I haven’t revisited your story lately. I used to do it multiple times a year, but I just haven’t found the time to sit down and re-read it lately; I guess life sometimes just gets in the way. It’s funny, and a little bit sad, how that happens, isn’t it? I spend the majority of my days working nine-to-five, trying to get my writing career on track (a career that I’ve deiced to pursue because of you!), and spending my free time with my wife and my family. But hey, judging from the new play about your later life, you’ve been busy with your own personal life as well!
I just want you to know that no matter how much we’ve drifted apart in recent years compared to how close we used to be, I am who I am today because of you. I’ll always carry you and the things I’ve learned from you throughout my life, I’ll always be thankful to you, and I’ll never forget you. I can’t wait to introduce my children to you one day, and for them to get to know you like I’ve known you. Hopefully by that point, you and I will have caught up with one another again, but if we haven’t, I look forward to getting reacquainted. I have no doubt that we’ll be able to pick up exactly where we left off.
Thanks for everything. It’s been one hell of an adventure.
Re-reading the letter back to myself, I don’t think it even truly begins to actually touch what Harry Potter has meant, and continues to mean, to me and my life. But some aspects of every relationship, including fictional friendships, should remain private; I think I got my point across well enough at any rate. Like so many others, I will always owe everything to Harry Potter, his story, and the incredible woman who wrote it all down, J.K. Rowling.
Here’s to the next twenty years! May they be as magical and as full of adventure as the first twenty have been!
What does Harry Potter mean to you? How has it touched your life personally? What’s your favorite Harry Potter memory? Let me know in the comments below!