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Harry Potter's 20th anniversary: Of magic, Muggles, and the spellbinding power of stories

On 26 June this year, it has been 20 years since the first Harry Potter book, The Philosopher's Stone, was published. Any Potterhead born in the 1990s must be feeling incredibly old.

I was just two-and-a-half years old when the first book was released, so I didn’t read the series until several years later, when I was a teenager.

Twenty years of Harry Potter, and much more than a decade of my existence spent reading and re-reading the books — finding new meaning in them each time. I suppose the effects are the same on any ardent Harry potter fan, no matter where they are in the world. Each time a child read the story of 'the boy who lived', what might it have meant to them... To non-fans, all this sounds ridiculous. Perhaps it is, for JK Rowling's story is filled with magic, fantasy and all that "fluff" we are told to discard as 'adults'.

The first Harry Potter book, The Philosopher's Stone, was published on 26 June 1997

The first Harry Potter book, The Philosopher's Stone, was published on 26 June 1997. A promotional still from the first Harry Potter film: Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Emma Watson as Hermione Granger, and Rupert Grint as Ronald/Ron Weasley.

“There exists no Lord Voldemort; that’s fiction, not reality,” someone told me. But to a 10-year-old girl who had just seen the movies, magic did exist. So much so, that the wooden toolbox she got for her birthday found no use in “carpentry”, although the screwdriver in it worked fairly well as a substitute for a wand. It fit into the pockets of her dress and she could unleash it at any time — point it at a spider crawling over the bed and utter: ‘Reducto’. Of course nothing happened to the spider. But as she concentrated with all her might, clutching the “wand” tightly and clenching her muscles, she hoped a red spark would just burst out of its tip and prove she was really a witch born to Muggles.

The wand would become her security blanket for a few years; she wouldn’t go to bed without it next to her pillow. It created a whole new world for her. With a sibling, the fight for the “wand” would intensify. The list of curses hurled would grow longer as one played Voldemort or a Death Eater, and the other — Harry Potter. The books opened up her mind, they opened up her world, they opened up her imagination. Maybe that stray cat eyeing her through the window was indeed Professor McGonagall? Perhaps Dumbledore was nearby, but had the invisibility cloak on?

The years passed, and she recognised the stories were fiction. Their magic, however, persisted. Magic not just of the wizarding kind, but also of friendship, love, knowledge, fun and games. Dinner table conversations were a chance to test one's Harry Potter knowledge, and without recourse to the internet, it was much trickier to find out what the initials J and K stood for, before the Rowling. Harry Potter posters were bought and hung on the walls. Lego blocks were put together to create Hogwarts castle.

The books opened up her mind, they opened up her world, they opened up her imagination.

Unsuspecting grandmothers had to meet the demands for stitching “Harry Potter clothes” (read: baggy, full-sleeved shirts and trousers). Haircuts would resemble that of Hermione, Ron or Harry's, and the objective was to spoil one's eyesight by sitting as close as possible to the TV — just so one could get those round-framed glasses. A scratch on the forehead (preferably lightning bolt shaped) would be the perfect accessory! And then there were the black robes that would make you look like a Hoogwarts alumnus — so mother had to be badgered incessantly until they removed black woolen shawls from steel trunks on sweltering summer days. But when the empty goldfish bowls crystal balls were shattered as we ran around the living room Department of Mysteries, then her wrath was unleashed.

Friendships were formed based on how much the other knew about Harry Potter. Harry Potter movie CDs were exchanged, and as one became more familiar with social media, online quizzes were taken to figure out which house one belonged to. In the absence of the all-knowing Sorting Hat, one could always manipulate the answers in a way that the results proclaimed:  "Congratulations, you're a true Gryffindor!" Meanwhile, "you're such a Slytherin" or "you're more of a Ravenclaw" were delivered as insults, with the recipient sitting sullenly in a corner of the classroom. Teachers were nicknamed after Hogwarts’ professors, and the one most disliked, was of course, Snape.

After Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it was unsettling to actually believe it was over...this world we had inhabited for ever so long. With an epilogue, to remove all doubt. Voldemort was dead. Snape was the new hero.

JK Rowling, and her story continued to inspire her fans. And a shared love for Harry Potter brought us together, even in college.

Nothing, however, quite matched the feeling of travelling to London and heading to King's Cross Station, where between platforms 9 and 10, was half a trolley, sticking out of the wall. We (20-year-olds all) took turns to pose for photos, clutching onto the handle of the trolley, hoping secretly that we'd magically vanish and appear on the other, 9¾, side. In the absence of that, the adjacent store selling Harry Potter memorabilia had to suffice.

So... 20 years of Harry Potter. Something tells me, we Potterheads will be forcing the future generations to read it, even 60 years on.

Updated Date: Jul 02, 2017 10:24 AM

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