20 Years of the Boy Who Lived

June 26 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Harry Potter series first entry into publication, and while “Pottermania” would not take hold of the world until the eventual release of the third book,  those who picked up the story on a whim where already being enchanted by the tale of the Mr. Potter and his early trials at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone (Ironically wondering if such a thing was like a philosophers stone, because despite what localizes think, there are those of us in the US who know what that is, and even recognize the name Flamel.) at the start of Christmas break in 1997, I then read it five more times before the three week long break was complete, every time I completed the story I simply reopened the book and started from page one…

The first scene still stays with me as one of my favorites, a quiet street draped in midnight blue, the normalcy of a sleepy suburban neighborhood, interrupted so silently and completely by the appearance of a house cat and an elderly man that we will slowly find out are so much more than a “witch” and a “wizard”.  As Dumbledore carefully pulled the light from one street light to the next, I knew that I was in for something different, a world where magic was so integral, so ingrained, that life without it was considered backward and absurd. Returning to the initial narrative now, my heart aches as Dumbledore leaves the sleeping Harry on the Dursley’s doorstep, knowing the years of pain and the dangers the child will face as he grows up.

What followed after was as an enchanting a story as I had yet to read, comparable to Patricia C. Wrede in it’s wit and charm, with the honest observations and human cruelty/resilience of Diana Wynn Jones. I could barely read fast enough to get Harry away from the Dursleys, and I cannot even begin to tell you how in love with Diagon Alley I was. I felt as nervous as Harry when he found he had to board the train to Hogwarts by himself, and as relieved too, when a kind Mrs. Weasley directs him to Platform 9 and ¾. I wanted chocolate frogs and helpful tentacled lake monsters, wands with dragon heartstrings and phoenix feathers, sorting hats and magical feasts, I had joined the legions of other muggles who wanted The Letter, who wanted the train, who wanted Hogwarts.

Obviously, I was quiet taken with the first entry into the series, and waited with bated breath for the subsequent releases. In later years I would consider Chamber of Secrets to be my least favorite entry into the series, but at the time I had none of the other tales to compare it to and loved it immensely. The chilling image of school walls painted with blood, the hidden Chamber below Hogwarts, the deepening mythology of Hogwarts and it’s founders and the mystery of Tom Riddel, all of those were spectacular takeaways, but are hard pressed to compete with Prisoner of Azkaban or Order of the Phoenix for sheer excitement.

Without a doubt my favorite entry into the series is Prisoner; The characters of Sirius and Remus are still two of my most cherished members of the cast, and I’ll admit to being one of those who firmly believed in their love for each other until the end of the series. The liberation of Buckbeak is still a triumph; like Frodo traveling to Mount Doom, I find myself still filled with doubts as to our heroes success until it happens. Prisoner also does an excellent job introducing later plot elements of the series as elements to it’s specific narrative; werewolves, the Marauders Map, and the fear of fear itself all play important rolls later on. Here to, we are given our first glimpse into Snape being more than just a bully, though he pulls it off in the most Snape-like manner possible. We learn about the Marauders and the legacy they left in their wake, as well as the true purpose of the Shrieking Shack and the Whomping Willow. Such nods to earlier elements is one of the reasons I love these stories so much, you can take nothing for granted, almost everything is done with a reason.

Some other standout characters and scenes for me include:

Professor Mcgonagall: How can you not love this women? Stern, yet with a sense of fairness and humor that allow her to make an excellent headmistress to Hogwarts. She is brave, intelligent, and somewhat frightening, and reminds me very strongly of my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Truman, a women who’s classes loved her as much as they feared her.

The arrival of the other schools for the Triwizard Tournement. Those ships coming out of the lake! The carriages pulled by pegasi! Really, Goblet of Fire is full of amazing scenes like that, the Horntail, the maze- and who doesn’t want the prefects bathtub?

Lee Jordan: His quidditch commentary alone is worth it’s weight in humorous literary gold.

Luna Lovegood: Having been “the weird girl” more often then not growing up, I often wondered if her outward serenity hid a lot of inner turmoil. I know what it’s like being the odd one out, the one who doesn’t “like the same things”, who is uncoordinated and given to strange styles of dress. I’m not sure I’d be in Gryffindor, but I know for a fact I would be Luna’s friend.

“Kill the spare.” Enough said.

Kingsley Shacklebolt: Powerful, brave, smart, and kind, what more can you say? Oh, that and his is patronus is a lynx, a LYNX. That is so cool. *swoons*

Dark though it may be, The Quidditch World cup and the subsequent attack by the Death Eaters is amazing and chilling, it is disturbing to find the wizarding world is a far darker place then it first appeared, and that it shares a reflection of hate and prejudice that our own world has.

Few books can claim to have the same effect on the world as the tale of the lightening scarred hero and his two best friends, and just as few can claim the pedestal that so many have placed The Boy Who Lived upon. And while it’s easy to point out the flaws of the series, doing so disregards it’s yearly release and the feeling many readers had that they were growing up alongside Harry, Ron, and Hermione. For many of us Dumbledore was as trusted an adviser as any we may have encountered in the physical world, and we have all faced the Malfoys, Snapes, and Umbridges of life. Maybe we had friends like Harry,  and maybe that was where we turned to feel as if we did when we didn’t. Like Harry, we had found a place that we wanted to return to, year after year, and when it was over, it left a hole in our lives that took many years to finally except, and move on from. But the cycle continues; now those children who came of age with Potter and the gang are doing the same things they are; having children and sharing the tale of the Boy Who Lived, always.

 

I’ve gone about collecting what I feel like are some of the more important quotes from the stories, reflecting the strong themes of bravery, hope and loyalty that run throughout the series.

  • “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • “Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.”
    Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • “It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  • “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals”
    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • “It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.
”
    Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
  • “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
    Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • “Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows
  • “Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels, but old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”
    The Order of the Phoenix

 

Hope your day treats you well, let’s be kind and strong for one another, and even if the world feels narrow and grey, know there is some magic waiting, even if it is just in our hearts, and between the pages of a beloved story.

 

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