In Honour of Harry Potter’s 20th Anniversary

I was not intending on making a post today, but when I got online and saw that today marked the 20th anniversary of the release of the first Harry Potter book, I knew I couldn’t just let it pass by without commenting. For anyone who has been following my blog for a while, it is no secret that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. It is the one series that seems to sneak its way into just about every post I make, in one way or another, and one of the only series that I can constantly re-read and never get tired of. In honour of the 20th anniversary, I wanted to share 20 memories of the series, including stories from my Harry Potter history, some of the most memorable moments, and reasons why I think the series has remained so powerful. I apologize in advance if the order is a little scattered and all over the place.

1) My first exposure to Harry Potter – I believe I have told this story before, but I actively avoided reading Harry Potter for a very long time after it came out because of all the hype. I was convinced that anything with that much hype couldn’t possibly be that good. I was in fifth grade (if I remember correctly) at the time, and my school hosted a Book Chat where our former school librarian visited to read us a page or two from some of the most popular books at the time. As soon as he started reading Harry Potter, I was hooked and I knew I had to get the book for myself! I’m so glad I didn’t miss out.

2) Reading the books to my dad (and struggling with character names!) – My dad used to come home from work very tired, so I would read to him instead of him reading to me. I had already read the books myself and decided I wanted to share them, so I started reading chapters of it out loud to him whenever I could. Actually, the most distinct memory I have was my struggle to pronounce Hermione’s name, so I asked my dad if I could just call her something else instead. He wouldn’t let me because he said “But that isn’t her name” and asked me if I would have liked to be called some other random name instead of my own. I think I figured it out before J.K. Rowling helpfully explained it during Goblet of Fire, but it took me a while! (I also never knew how to pronounce Seamus’s name until the movies).

3) Watching all of the movies with my best friend and coming out of them complaining about everything that they had done “wrong.” Although we loved the movies, we constantly complained about how they didn’t do much justice to the books. We came out of each movie listing everything that had been changed or skipped, anything that had been added, and just generally comparing the books to the movies. We both liked the books a lot better!

4) “You’re an excellent prophet” — The time Half-Blood Prince got spoiled for me – I think I have told this story before as well, but just before HBP was released, we all knew that a major character was going to die by the end. My friends and I spent hours talking about who we thought it would be, and I had a pretty good idea of who it was. Before I’d even had the chance to read the book myself, a friend of mine who was reading it came over to me and said “I just want to say, you’re an excellent prophet!” I was so upset with her! I didn’t care about whether I was right or wrong, I just wanted to find out for myself. I was still interested in seeing how it happened, but why would she think I’d want to know in advance?!

5) Smudging chocolate on my copy of Prisoner of Azkaban – Prisoner of Azkaban has always been my favourite of the series, and for some reason, I decided it was a good idea to eat a chocolate granola bar while re-reading it. I was very upset to discover that I had smudged chocolate on the edge of many pages (kind of like a thumbprint) when I picked up the book without checking if my hands were clean first. I hate damaging my books, and I was especially upset since this was such a favourite. Ever since then, I’ve avoided eating or drinking anything while eating.

6) Sirius Black going through the veil – Sirius was one of my favourite characters, and I was absolutely devastated by the scene in Order of the Phoenix where he falls through the mysterious veil. It seemed so sudden and so hard to understand exactly what happened. I was shocked, and it was one of the first times I really strongly remember literally crying from a scene in a book.

7) The experience of reading each of the books for the first time – I can still remember eagerly awaiting each new release, and getting so absorbed into the story every time. I was genuinely surprised by many of the plot twists (ie. the diary in Chamber of Secrets, the Shrieking Shack scene in Prisoner of Azkaban, etc). It is not very often that a book can catch me so off-guard since I have a tendency to predict what might happen next pretty accurately. This was one of the rare cases where, aside from the HBP example above, I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen and I was so excited to find out!

8) Buying a copy of Deathly Hallows with missing pages/some pages repeated – If I remember correctly, I got my copy of Deathly Hallows from the bookstore. When I picked it up, I noticed that there was a section of 30 or so pages that weren’t lined up properly with the rest, but I assumed it was just bound a bit strangely so I didn’t think anything of it. While reading the book, I got to that section and realized that it was actually a complete misprint — my book was missing a chunk of pages, and instead another chunk from earlier in the story had been repeated instead. I have no idea how that happened, but I was so frustrated! Not to mention I always have a bit of anxiety about returning things at a store because for some reason, I always think they will give me a hard time about giving things back. Luckily I was able to get to the store pretty quickly and make the switch.

9) Dolores Umbridge! – Need I say more? What other book or series has a character that feels so real and so genuinely scary? I have written about her in the past, so please see this post if interested.

10) Hermione Grangerone of the first characters I ever truly related to – It is not very often that I can completely relate to a character, but Hermione was definitely the first. From the moment she was first described with her “bushy brown hair” (which I had), her tendency toward being a know-it-all, and the fact that she practically lived in the library, I related very strongly to her. I am nowhere near as confident/out-going/bossy as Hermione, but I can relate to her in a lot of other ways. When I was younger, I genuinely enjoyed learning and even homework, and I was always a bit of a teacher’s pet. Even her Yule Ball transformation was relatable to me – I had a drama assignment in seventh grade where, as part of my costume, I straightened my hair for the first time ever and showed up to my (male) friend’s house to work with my (all male) group dressed in very feminine clothes for the first time. Even though these guys were all my close friends, they were in shock when they saw me! It definitely reminded me of everyone’s reaction to Hermione at the ball.

11) Playing European handball in gym class, and everyone comparing it to Quidditch – I’m pretty sure it was the one and only time we played that game, and I barely remember how to play anymore, but I remember everyone commenting about how similar the game was to Quidditch but without the brooms.

12) The incredible world-building – I have never read another series where the world that was created was so magical and yet so plausible at the same time. It is so easy to believe that the wizarding world of Harry Potter really could exist in parallel to our own, exactly the way it is described in the books. I loved the idea of the wizarding world co-existing alongside the Muggle world, and how the magical elements were nothing too elaborate. It made it so easy to imagine ourselves in the world, and I think nearly all readers at some point wanted to go to Hogwarts.

13) The fully-developed and wide-ranging cast of characters – This is a series that has a huge number of characters, but unlike other books that have so many people in them, I never had any problem keeping track of everyone. Each character, even minor characters, had a unique personality and seemed to be a fully developed person with a backstory, relationships, and their own strengths/flaws. Even characters in roles that are usually pretty one-dimensional (teachers, parents of main characters, random classmates) seemed real, human and often very interesting.

14) The way everything got tied together eventually –  One of the most memorable aspects of this series for me is how interconnected everything is. Things or people mentioned in passing in earlier books often show up again and take on a much more significant role later on. Even storylines that seem like fairly throwaway or one-off plots come back later one (Horcruxes being a main one). Items that are casually mentioned while the group is cleaning out Sirius’s house, for example, are actually essential later one. It is a real talent to open up all of these threads and have them come together logically and naturally, even several books later. Even character names (Mrs. Figg, Mundungus Fletcher) who are mentioned in passing early on later become much more important. It really taught me to pay attention to everything, and it also made the books fun to re-read to see how everything connects.

15) The humour! – I absolutely loved J.K. Rowling’s snarky sense of humour which came out often in the books. There were so many lines that were hilarious, even some that seemed unintentionally funny. For example, I’ve always loved Ron’s line “Of all the trees we could have hit, we had to get the one that hits back!” To this day, I have no idea why I found that line so funny but I’ve always loved it. I often find jokes/clownish characters tend to fall flat or be annoying after a while, but Fred, George and Peeves were all hilarious! I also loved the sarcastic humour spread throughout, especially Harry’s interactions with Dudley. Aside from the brilliant plot, the books were fun to read because they were just so funny!

16) The amazing bits of wisdom naturally interspersed throughout the story – There is a good reason why so many of the quotes from this book  have become so well-known. This is a series that contained some very powerful lines and messages, and these were blended into the story so naturally. It never really felt like characters were preaching or moralizing to you, but it was still easy to pick up on what J.K. Rowling was trying to get across. Even from the first book, we have so many great quotes about friendship, courage, standing up for what’s right, etc.

17) The way the series grows up with you – I was probably 10 or 11 when I started reading the series the first time, so approximately the same age as Harry each time a book came out. I literally grew up with these characters, and I appreciated how the series as a whole grew up with them as well. I loved how the writing style evolved a bit each time as the characters aged, and how the story got progressively more intense. My favourite authors have always been those (like Roald Dahl or Lemony Snicket) who don’t talk down to children, and I think Harry Potter definitely fits in with those. The books can get quite dark at times, but I never felt it was more than I could handle, even when there were some very creepy moments.

18) The community that surrounds the series – As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been overly involved in any “fandoms” but Harry Potter comes pretty close. This is one of the only series where I’ve actually been very interested to go online and read what other people are saying. I love reading Harry Potter fanfiction, reviews of the books, and especially loved reading essays people posted online analyzing various characters and aspects of the book. It was a lot of fun to read different people’s views, and get new perspectives on the books and the characters that I loved.

19) The way so many of the characters defy our expectations – A huge part of the strength of this series for me was the way that it very quickly showed us not to judge a book by its cover. There are so many examples that it is hard to name just a few — Hagrid is one of the first examples that comes to mind. He is a half-giant who looks wild and enjoys keeping dangerous pets, so it would be easy to assume that he is scary and possibly even violent, but he is actually very gentle, friendly and loyal. The Dursleys do their best to seem normal, but they are actually abusive and mean. Neville starts out as a seemingly weak, talentless coward, but ends the series as a very powerful character. Just about every character in this book has shades of gray, and that is a huge part of what makes them so powerful and so memorable.

20) The fact that the books stand up so well to being re-read, no matter how many times I read them – I think this one pretty much speaks for itself. I have read and re-read the series so many times over the years, and I think there is a lot to be said for the fact that I can do that without getting bored. Even the first book, which I have probably read close to 20 times, still generally feels fresh and I still enjoy it each time. It is rare for me to find a series or even a single book that I can re-read so often, and still enjoy just as much as the first time I picked it up.

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