… in a generation’s hearts. As Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone celebrate its 20th anniversary, Preeja Aravind goes along on a Pottermania ride
Every once in a while, someone comes along that takes the world by storm. This was what happened with a skinny boy with green eyes and a lightning scar on his forehead who first appeared on June 26, 1997. Never mind that he was a figment of imagination, this boy snuck up on a generation of readers and turned them into believers.
When the young eponymous wizard first appeared in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone two decades ago, no one could foresee the fanaticism that he would spawn. The world simply hadn’t seen the likes of him before.
And to think that he might have remained unknown and undiscovered. JK Rowling has famously talked about how her manuscript was rejected by a dozen publishing houses in England. She carried three chapters of what would become Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with her for two years before Bloomsbury—then a relatively obscure publishing company—picked it and printed a thousand copies. No one at Bloomsbury knew that the book will become a golden goose for so many, including the publishing house itself.
The final book in the seven-book series may have been released in 2008, but Rowling’s world of magic has continued to thrive and grow—whether in the film adaptations of the original seven books that were targeted first at children and later young adults, the very adult play in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, or the Fantastic Beasts spin-off.
The Potter films also took three unknown kids—Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson—and turned them into household names. As in any fandom worth its salt, Potterheads were polarized by the films: some loved them, others hated them, but everyone knew of them; much like Harry himself.
A generation celebrates
Harry Potter’s pull is still so strong that Bloomsbury has released a ‘Hogwarts House Edition’ to mark the 20th anniversary of print of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Available in both hardcover and paperback, the anniversary special has the four Hogwarts School of Wizardry house colours — scarlet and gold for Gryffindor, yellow and black for Hufflepuff, blue and bronze for Ravenclaw, and green and silver for Slytherin — and house crests on the cover, along with special house features within the book.
Pottermore, Rowling’s official website, announced that it would open the official Wizarding World Book Club for all Potterheads on June 26, to celebrate the two decades of Harry’s existence within book covers.
In India, the British Council has planned events at five different locations—Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Pune and New Delhi—with different magical activities and a fan-fiction competition to celebrate the anniversary. In Bangalore, the event, open for anyone between the ages of nine and 30, will be held on the eve of the anniversary and will include a dramatic reading from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Chennai will experience a ‘conjuring magic show’, while at Ahmedabad, Pune and New Delhi, fans can compete in a Harry Potter quiz.
The celebrations do not end there. Potterheads across the world have lined up private celebrations to mark the milestone, with hundreds of events being planned on Facebook alone.
Bloomsbury, too, is running campaigns across its social media platforms for the 20th anniversary. Said a source at Bloomsbury: “We are tying up with all major retailers for in-store displays with cutouts of Harry Potter, Hogwarts house colour posters and bunting banners. We are also supporting events happening across the country — both private and public — and helping them with any content, creatives and party packs they require.”
Growing up with Harry
A professor of English at Delhi University who grew up with Rowling’s stories, but did not want to be named in case her students were reading this, said, “I think Harry Potter characters have become part of a whole generation’s personal mythology. They grew up with the characters. Hermione, Ron and several other characters in the book aged along with readers, creating a powerful and enduring connection.”
She adds that Rowling’s continued engagement with fans may have helped solidify fan loyalty. “This connection was encouraged by Rowling, who unlike many of her peers didn’t go for the ‘cease-and-desist formula’ with what is today being heralded as fan fiction. Being able to write and create stories in that universe allow the readers a chance to relate to important life lessons—good versus evil, being an outsider, dealing with familial and social issues.”
Rōmal Lāisram, a proud Potterhead who first began reading the books in middle school, said: “The books are right up there — there is nothing to compare them with. I keep going back to them as often as I can. But Goblet of Fire, both movie and the book, is my favourite. The cinematic way it was made, and a lot of emotions in the book were captured in the movie. Also because the three lead actors had matured enough to understand the Harry Potter characters better. From there I started to see Daniel Radcliffe as Harry. Before that he was just a child who could play Harry Potter very well. But after that Radcliffe became Harry for me.”
After all this time? Always.
Lāisram is also one of the hosts of the British Council’s Harry Potter anniversary event in Bengaluru. “The Harry Potter books are the only place where, by the end of the series, every reader has a favourite who is not Harry. This speaks to the absolute relatability of the characters. Most of us still have a best friend, and we’ve all had a first crush or a teacher we adored who we wish were around even today,” he adds.
While Harry Potter will turn 37 (he was 12 in The Chamber of Secrets when Nearly Headless Nick, who had died in 1492, celebrated his 500th death day, remember?) on July 31—a birthday he shares with Rowling—he will forever be remembered as the boy who outlived a killing curse, and is still protected by the magic of love.