If I look at my life to date, it seems odd that the two symbolic events that will mark the end of my childhood occur within a week of each other.
Last Friday, I left school, having finished my A-levels, with the whole summer ahead of me, and on Thursday night I shall be attending the first possible screening of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part II, the last in the series. Friday 15 July brings the end of an era. There are many adolescents, of whom I am one, who have not only read the Harry Potter books and seen the films (repeatedly), but have also grown up with the characters. It’s safe to say that my childhood and the world of Hogwarts have developed side-by-side, and without Quidditch, Transfiguration and Horcruxes, I would probably have been a different person.
Since 2001, when The Philosopher’s Stone, was released sales figures for the films have added up to an estimated $3.5bn (£2.2bn) and the seven novels are now thought to have amassed up to £400m. But it’s important to remember just how smallscale a phenomenon it was, seeing as the print run for the first book was limited to 500 copies. As I recall, people only began to realise how big it would get after the third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban, was released; after that, the thing went global.
So when did Harry first come into my life? The first three Potter books were published in quick succession in the space of a couple of years. Five years old when the first book emerged, I became aware of them after the third one was published. Being only seven or eight years old at the time, it was a pleasant break from the continuous barrage of Pokémon and daytime children’s television my brain had been subjected to, so I was instantly hooked. I can remember where I was and what I was doing on the day of each of the later Harry Potter publication dates, but that’s because those days seemed so important to me. However hard I try, I simply cannot recall what I was doing when I heard about the 9/11 attacks, or what my reaction was to them, but with Harry Potter, everything is so much clearer in my mind. When The Order of the Phoenix was released in 2003, for example, I remember attending the launch at what used to be Ottakar’s in Norwich and seeing hundreds of the yellowbound books stacked on the floor made to resemble a spiral staircase. It was a big book; more than 750 pages long, and bigger than most of the adult fiction on the shelves at the time, but I didn’t care – the longer it was, the better, because it meant I never had to stop. It was like a drug. Seriously, why people inject heroin when they could just sit down and read Harry Potter, I will never know.
When The Half-Blood Prince, the sixth in the series, was published, I was on holiday in France; sun, sea, sand and no foreseeable way of getting my hands on the book. Eventually realising that France had bookshops, I hurried to the nearest town. On arriving at the bookshop, we found already waiting a small crowd of fellow tourists, and relief washed over me as we found out that an English language version would be available the next day. I read it in two days. I was only 12 at the time, and I was having to share the single copy with my younger brothers, so I consider that an achievement to be proud of.
When the final book was released, The Deathly Hallows, I was stranded on a Scout camp in the middle of a field in Jersey – I must have been cursed. As I sat next to my tent, I glared at the boys who had been sneaky enough to pre-order a copy and have it delivered on site by a postman. Luckily, it wasn’t long before I felt so ill I couldn’t participate in any of the activities, which meant I was able to read someone else’s copy. Everyone wanted to know what was going to happen; would Voldemort be defeated? With Dumbledore gone, who was going to take over Hogwarts? And most importantly, who died? Even the Harry Potter haters were secretly dying to know.
I remember watching the news around the time The Half-Blood Prince was released, and seeing that someone had actually made a banner stating which character dies at the end of the book, and had hung it from the top of a bridge on the M6. Luckily, the police took it down almost immediately, so not too much harm was done, but my heart went out to those poor children being driven to school that morning. The films came out after the fourth book was published. The first (named Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in America – I never understood why they did that; do Americans not know what a philosopher is?) being released in 2001 and the second just a year later. I was a little apprehensive to see the first film when it first came out, I think because I had my own set of images in my head of what Harry Potter and his world were supposed to look like. Professor Snape seemed in my mind to have bright green skin, a hooked nose, which curved down beyond his mouth, a long black cloak and a hunchback. Now compare this image to Alan Rickman’s straight-backed, pale-faced portrayal of the character, and you’ll see we have a problem.
After enduring the whole of my school talking about how brilliant the film was, I finally went to see it. It was good, it was nice, it was lovely, but it wasn’t exactly how I imagined, which left me slightly disappointed. However, as the films went on, I began to view them as separate from the books – as someone else’s representation. I’ve really enjoyed them, but I still have my own images that I conjure up whenever I read the books. While Dumbledore didn’t look right to me, Richard Harris played him in a warm-hearted sort of way. I’ve often thought about why most children love Harry Potter, why some people obsess over it and why J K Rowling is richer than the Queen. On the one hand, the books touch on adolescent issues that make them relevant and appealing to a huge amount of people, but Rowling also draws elements from a lot of previous best-selling fantasies; it’s not hard to find similarities between the Potter series and Tolkien, or even C S Lewis’s Narnia, with its quests, magical beasts and Christian symbolism, and I think this has to be the overriding reason that attracted me and so many other readers to them. Rowling’s writing isn’t as brilliant as some more illustrious authors, but if you’re looking for brilliant writing, go away and read a Brontë novel.
Meanwhile, as Deathly HallowsII day looms, there is some consolation in the fact that none of this is going to go away for a long time. Pottermania has embedded itself too deeply into our culture for it to vanish completely, and with even more pieces being added to the franchise, such as Pottermore (an interactive website which also allows fans to download ebooks) and the release of an encyclopaedia, it seems as though Harry Potter is here to stay. I’ve even heard a rumour that there’s a Potter fan club at the university I hope to attend, where the main event is Horcrux hunting, so it looks like Harry is set to remain in my life for a long time yet.