With the unfortunate death of legendary British actor Alan Rickman today from cancer at age 69, I decided to focus my first Throwback Thursday article, which celebrates nostalgic things from childhood, on the Harry Potter book and film series and its effect on my life.
Sowing the seeds of fandom
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone book cover. From Scholastic.
The first Harry Potter book by author J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was released in 1997 in the U. K. and in the U. S. as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone the next year.
It reached the top of The New York Times’ best sellers list in August 1999. That was the same year I read the book.
Like most kids around my age – 11, the same as Harry’s in the first book – I was fascinated by the world Rowling created. It introduced me to modern British culture and the amazing fictional wizarding world of the main characters. My mom would read the books to me and my younger sister Kelly every night.
Every kid who read the books desperately hoped that a letter would come in the mail alerting them they were really a wizard or witch and would attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Everyone wanted to learn how to ride a broom and play Quidditch and wanted loyal best friends like Ron and Hermione.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire book cover. From Scholastic.
I remember vividly a special trip to the mall with just my mom and I to purchase the fourth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Unfortunately, that book also has an emotionally scarring memory. In November 2000, as my mom was reading aloud to us from the book, she suffered her first stroke. That was the last time she read out loud to us, and I never picked the book series back up on my own.
The height of the hype
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone film poster. From Warner Brothers.
A year later, in November 2001, the first Harry Potter film was released. It was the first movie I waited in line for and saw in a packed theater. It was astonishing seeing my favorite characters on the big screen.
Around this time, I first noticed the backlash from religious groups to the Harry Potter book and film series because it involved wizardry. In 2002, the religious comic book manufacturer Chick Publications released The Nervous Witch which said “the Potter books open a doorway that will put untold millions of kids into hell.” This made me glad I was raised in a family that supported education, reading and freedom of expression and made me sad that some kids weren’t allowed to experience the awesomeness of Harry Potter.
As each subsequent book and movie was released, the hype got more fervent. Although I never picked back up the book series again, I was an avid fan of the films.
Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint before the filming of Sorcerer’s Stone. From Google Images.
It was interesting to see the leads Harry, Ron and Hermione, played by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, become famous Hollywood actors and see the progression of their age and acting talent ad each movie was released. I loved seeing all the veteran English actors they got to play the adults, especially Alan Rickman as Professor Snape, Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, and my personal favorite, David Thewlis as Professor Lupin.
David Thewlis as Remus Lupin in Prisoner of Azkaban. From Warner Brothers.
The third movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban, was my favorite because of its elements of time travel and interaction between Snape, Black and Lupin. I also loved the fourth film, Goblet of Fire, because of its darker, more adult themes and casting choices such as Robert Pattinson as Cedric Diggory, David Tennant as Barty Crouch, Jr. and Ralph Fiennes as the evil Voldemort.
David Tennant as Barty Crouch, Jr. in Goblet of Fire. From Warner Brothers.
As every film came out, I started to see more and more Harry Potter merchandise being sold at places like Hot Topic, Books-A-Million and Hastings. “Potterheads” became the term for fans of the books and films.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book cover. From Scholastic.
The final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released in July 2007, right after I graduated high school. It became the fastest selling book in the U. S., with 8.3 million copies being sold in the first 24 hours. I went by the crowded release parties at Books-A-Million and Hastings that night and knew I was witnessing an important part of history. I’d never seen people get so amped up and excited to read a book before.
The release of the Deathly Hallows films was no different. Both films’ premiers had some of the biggest crowds at a movie theater I have ever seen. Deathly Hallows Part 2 was the highest grossing Harry Potter film with $1 billion in sales, and both the best reviewed and highest grossing film of 2011.
The future of Harry Potter
Harry Potter is now nearing its 20 year anniversary, and although the hype has died down a bit, fans still eagerly celebrate all things Harry Potter related.
Author J. K. Rowling in 2013. From The Telegraph.
J. K. Rowling is now one of the best selling and wealthiest authors of all time. She is active on Twitter and shows great appreciation towards fans of her work.
Pottermore, an interactive website for Harry Potter fans, was created by Rowling in 2011. The site allows fans to interact with each other and explore unreleased parts of the book series.
Universal Studios opened the Harry Potter section of its Islands of Adventure theme park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, in June 2010, which has recreations of Diagon Alley and its shops featured in the books and films, as well as rides through Gringotts Bank, on the Hogwarts Express train, and even through Hogwarts itself.
Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander. From Entertainment Weekly.
A film adaptation of the Harry Potter spinoff book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be released in November 2016. It starts Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as wizard Newt Scamander and takes place in the U. S. In 1927. When I recently saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening night, this was the only trailer that received applause after it was shown.
It was an exciting experience growing up seeing the success of the Harry Potter books and films. It’s amazing how it is still a huge part of pop culture. This shows its enduring legacy and the wonder and excitement the series inspires in people around the world. I am excited to see where the Harry Potter series will go next, and, even at age 28, still hope for that letter from Hogwarts. (I know I’d be in Hufflepuff.)