Earlier this week, I came across a post by the Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, wherein he said: Happy Birthday Harry Potter. It wasn’t July yet, then why was Zuckerberg doling out wishes almost a month in advance? I scrolled down and saw that a Good Samaritan had corrected Zuckerberg by pointing out that Potter’s birthday was on July 31! I heaved a sigh of relief and (mind) jabbed Zuckerbeg for ‘his error’, only to realize few hours later that Zuckerberg was actually celebrating the arrival of the first book in Potter series 20 years ago. Oops!
But it also tells me that the one person who revolutionized the way people socialized in the ‘virtual world’ could also have grown up on the magic of Harry Potter series that had an equal if not greater effect on its readers in another part of the world.
That probably is the biggest success of the series. It managed to bring back a whole set of children back to the book stores, which in itself would need more powers than the ‘accio’ (summoning) spell. The timing could not have been more perfect – just as humans were getting into the hitherto unknown world of Internet during the fag end of the 20thcentury, with people ditching writing boards for keypads, and kids abandoning books for video stations, wonder-eyed Potter arrived on their doorsteps and gently led them back to the book shelves.
Potter, who literally has played the role of Pied Piper, could be unanimously given the title of most popular fictional character of our times – to the point some of us refuse to call him a figment of imagination!
In the series, spread across seven books, Harry Potter escapes from the clutches of his aunt’s family to realize that he was a celebrity in a world he never knew existed. From then on, he discovers the wonderful world of wizardry – as hundreds and thousands of us joined him in this magical journey.
We learned new words and even came up with our own like Potterheads (an ardent fan of HP) who can rattle away the trivia about their favorite characters. I know people who can tell you the exact number of words in each of the books and kids who know all the spells better than the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Potter studied.
We owe it to J.K. Rowling for creating something called as a reading habit in an entire generation. And 20 years after the first edition hit the stores, it is highly encouraging to see people, adults form bulk of the fanbase too, lining up for the book.
So, what changed in 20 years?
The first generation of HP readers has been replaced with a new set of millennial kids, who are equally enchanted by the whirlwind of fantasy. But there’s a catch – they sure will miss out on the hype that touches near hysteria levels before a book’s arrival – there have been reports of people sleeping outside the stores to land their hands on the first copy.
The long wait for the next book in anticipation of the fate of our beloved characters just made the book all the more dearer. Well, they just have to live with the truth – the story is already out there.
What hasn’t changed?
These are seven stories you never get tired of. I have religiously returned to the series every vacation and read the books as a whole or in parts. The ultimate story of good winning over evil and the triumph of love in tumultuous times are all reassuring themes that you can always fall back upon. When you are feeling blue and want to cheer yourself up, picking up the Potter book still doesn’t feel like an outlandish idea. A hidden connection you suddenly seem to discover between the books of the series makes the effort all the more worthwhile.
A book typed out by a single mother from a small café changed the way an entire generation looked at reading. If that can’t be called as magic, I am not sure what else falls into the category?