On 26 June 1997, a small novel by an unknown author hit the shelves. Published by Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling’s first installment of the Harry Potter series began it’s adventure which would change the world in a way the author would never have imagined. After finishing the manuscript for what would be Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the United Kingdom, however changed to Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States when published there a few months later in the mid 1990s, the boy wizard would steadily become a best seller.
Twenty years on, the franchise which is Harry Potter has globally impacted so many including myself either via reading the seven novels, watching the eight movies or through other formats as the enterprise broke many records and started to have one of the biggest fandoms ever seen globally.
My first memories of reading the Philosopher’s Stone book was during my primary school days as an eight or nine year old during a period of quiet reading time and admittedly it did not seem to have a charming effect on me as a book I would enjoy. Previous to this the only books I purposely read were those encouraged to me to get my literacy skills to a level which were not lower than my fellow classmates along with those studied in my English literature classes.
During my childhood I never sat and properly read myself for leisure despite having various books narrated to me mostly by my father. As I got older these were later replaced by the accessibility to audio books starting on cassette then compact disc and most recently audio file on my iPod, albeit I do sometimes occasionally pick a book up and read it; I still like having an audio book to help me drift off and to absorb the knowledge subconsciously. The stories my father read to me included the following:
- The Railway Series by Reverend Wilbert Awdry
- The Famous Five / Secret Seven adventures by Enid Blyton
- Several of the Roald Dahl stories
- Tales of Winnie the Pooh and the poetry of A.A. Milne
It was not till the release of the movie adaption of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 2001 where my interest began and I actually could visualise the scenes in the book and it seemed to enchant me and encouraged me to come home and read the books in the series which had been published to the date of seeing the first film, which were Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire.
The chronicles of the adolescence wizards of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger along with the other characters finally had hooked me and I began to read and enjoy other books a little more such as the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis and eventually Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and non-fictional accounts of individuals such as Roald Dahl whose antidotes of being at Repton School filled my head as I have personal recollections of being at the school myself for a couple of certain occasions. Now I tend to read a lot wider range of different genres however I still prefer non-fiction as a main category.
As I got further into my teenage years, the world of Harry Potter was growing larger, the movie franchise with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as the young stars along with famous actors such as Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Richard Griffiths and many more had made the series escalate and pretty much everyone knew of the stories of Harry Potter written by J.K. Rowling and were whetting their lips ready for the final three books and further movies by the time Philosopher’s Stone hit the big screen. I had attended a screening with my mother who I saw all of the Harry Potter movies in the decade up to 2011 usually a few weeks after the release as we knew that numbers hoping to see the latest adaption would be unlike any other which were shown at cinemas during that period and I remember feeling a buzz when the home release versions were available along with the releases of the books which I had ordered from Amazon on the day of launch and read by the end of the weekend at a generally quicken pace due to excitement but would re-read again slower.
J.K. Rowling’s imagination had certainly captured something different which had not been seen either on page or in film before for me and many in my generation, despite criticism from many religious groups for the acts of sorcery the series of books have been highly regarded as literature which explored far more than just youngsters casting spells.
The Harry Potter series has taught me a lot about the general humanity and how we respond to society as J.K. Rowling’s depth and underlying values of each and every character or reasoning she created within the books, has their own place which is fitting towards to demands of her audience and continually despite no longer officially writing the stories – now focusing on another element of the universe journeying the life and times of Newt Scamander in the Fantastic Beasts tales, she still lets the fanbase dive further.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; J.K. Rowling’s title character shows traits of humility and modest definitions as he tries to get on with life despite being the most infamous wizard due to the events which took place before his memories really formulated. Despite being devalued by his only surviving blood relations, Harry is able to show great levels of humbleness and compassion rather than taking things bitterly or being presumptuous. Following Harry Potter through his teenage angst, we as readers see his character development and traits expand as the themes discuss more maturer concepts such as love and death.
It is clear even from chapter one – The Boy Who Lived, that J.K. Rowling had been meticulous about what she wanted to include to set the scene, something that she kept going through the Harry Potter series. She paints the description of the muggle (non-magical) Dursley family in a way which gives us the reader a great impression of how they look and treat one another as well as those affecting their status and ego and despite the obstacles of their nephew’s adolescence, Rowling shows that these aspects run deep and are unchanged for the remainder of the series.
Once the reader is introduced to the first non-Muggle characters of Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall and Rubeus Hagrid; their personalities are also very distinct. This first chapter helps shine a few speckles of what the series will develop and engages the reader to pursue.
The use of locations is as important to the story as characters; throughout Philosopher’s Stone we see Harry evolve from his claustrophobic sanctuary of the cupboard under the stairs in the Dursley household of 4 Privet Drive to living during term time at the Hogwarts castle. The fact that he is looked down upon by his aunt, uncle and cousin helps set the tone of the fact the character of Harry Potter is developed from a low point and that discovering his magical heritage gives him encouragement to explore and desire to soak in more of the environment which feels homely to him.
Readers will see a number of key themes develop through the series, these include how family plays a part in one’s development. With the orphan Harry, envious of his friend Ron Weasley’s warm embracing family unit in comparison to the treatment he suffers at the hands of those who have put a roof over his head but largely been ungrateful towards him.
Developing friendships with Ron and also eventually Hermione is one of the fundamental aspects of the Harry Potter series, the closeness of the trio and their other friendships despite the usual arguments and disagreements is one of the core principles Rowling wants to make clear is important to the development of her characters, this promotes the loyalty that every character has to other elements, be it other characters or creatures or their own pride of purpose.
With the main three characters being placed in Gryffindor house at Hogwarts, J.K. Rowling clearly sets out that courage and bravery is far more significant than being able to get a feather to float. With this bravery, the author sees that being able to face fears and despite difficulties continue to fight on for the power of good is far more important than taking easier routes.
Death is also certainly a theme and by this Rowling is keen for her readers to be aware of the way it affects us achieving this without too much sugarcoating. In the first novel, Professor Quirrell loses his life in the battle with Harry after failing to obtain the Philosopher’s Stone for Lord Voldemort; Harry is no stranger to death despite minimal memory after the main character’s parents were killed in a prequel episode before the Philosopher’s Stone story begins leaving Harry in the fate of the Dursleys.
Rowling herself knows the difficulty of coping and coming to terms with lost family as only a few months prior to the publication, her mother passed away, which helped sell the points and opinions the author has on death. Harry Potter only starts to really understand and grieve for his parents when he is made aware of the magical aspects of his backstory. In Philosopher’s Stone, Harry finds the Mirror of Erised which comforts him showing him what he feels he is missing, the love from his deceased parents.
J.K. Rowling’s main villian Lord Voldemort’s sole aim is to cheat death despite coming close to it in the events which Harry unearths through the series and helps the hero accomplish greatness in his own style. She uses the abstract aims as a way of explaining that we all must accept the closure of death and not fear it as well as to accept our own mortality.
She also helped develop the website Pottermore which allows those like me who adore the series find their own sense of pride and place within her universe, creating a sorting hat feature allowing people to see what their own traits resemble based upon her expansive knowledge of the world she has created. This feature on the website, placed me in Ravenclaw house rather than joining Harry in Gryffindor, or being part of Hufflepuff and or Slytherin. The house of Ravenclaw has members which are take prize in their wit, learning and wisdom as well as having a creative mindset.
Also one can find out their Patronus or guarding charm usually when cast successfully take form in an animal which inhibits the traits of that character on the website. Mine is the otter, which I am thrilled about; this is the same Patronus as Hermione and generally displays signs of the witch or wizard of being bright, adventurous and fun. Always looking for something to do or something to think about (hence my blog posts), you want to learn and explore. They’re people orientated and become lonely and jealous easily and it’s likely that you also have good problem solving skills and a depth of knowledge across several subjects.
Another important part of being a witch or wizard is gaining their wand, as again the wand foresees the individualism based on the components which create the magical inventory. Mine according to the website, would be composed of English Oak wood, with an unicorn hair core, 10 inches in length and has a quite bendy flexibility. Which again is described by Rowling as the following:
English Oak wood – This is a wand for good times and bad, this is a friend as loyal as the wizard who deserves it. Wands of English oak demand partners of strength, courage and fidelity. Less well-known is the propensity for owners of English oak wands to have powerful intuition, and, often, an affinity with the magic of the natural world, with the creatures and plants that are necessary to wizardkind for both magic and pleasure.
Unicorn Hair core generally produces the most consistent magic, and is least subject to fluctuations and blockages. Wands with unicorn cores are generally the most difficult to turn to the Dark Arts. They are the most faithful of all wands, and usually remain strongly attached to their first owner, irrespective of whether he or she was an accomplished witch or wizard.
Most of the wands are between eight and fifteen inches in length however the shorter the wand, the more lacking in character depth rather than their actual physical height. Wand flexibility or rigidity denotes the degree of adaptability and willingness to change possessed by the wand-and-owner pair – although, again, this factor ought not to be considered separately from the wand wood, core and length, nor of the owner’s life experience and style of magic, all of which will combine to make the wand in question unique.
One of the main strengths of J.K. Rowling’s work is her way of being detailed about the choices she made for each character’s journey and their strengths and weaknesses within their own abilities to be human, bringing together a series of books which have far more than meets the eye by exploring myths, themes and knowledge of psychology and animal theory.
Admittedly, the series can be a challenge to see the tones when distracted by elements of witchcraft however the core ethics and notes which the author wished to establish are certainly present and for those who still criticise it for being a series too fictionised are trying to read too much into that aspect.
The fandom of the Harry Potter series is immense, with many different things to come from it, such as podcasts such as Alohomora, YouTube vloggers like The Bakeey and Harry Potter Folklore and a tonne of other artistic creations for showing off the phenomenal impact that these books have had on many in the last 20 years.
The Harry Potter series has helped shape who I am and given me confidence in my own abilities and made me make personal choices I’m grateful for as well as a hunger to learn more about the world around me along with how I treat everyone I come into contact with on a personal level. Over the years of re-reading the books, listening to the audio book versions narrated brilliantly by Stephen Fry, watching the movies on DVD/Blu-Ray, attending the Cursed Child play last year only weeks after it launched, going to the Movie Studio Tour as a birthday day out earlier this year (https://fjdg.me.uk/travels/day-trips/2017/05/magical-day-visiting-harry-potter-movie-studios-tour), both of which I would happily do again, among other things, I cling onto this element of my life as a place I feel I can escape to when I feel I’m struggling as the nature of J.K.Rowling’s writing has offered more than just a book for children.
Harry Potter for me, is a valuable fandom and one I could happily share more about with anyone who wishes to discuss it with me at any time and I feel there are many who feel that feeling too. Also to celebrate this 20th anniversary since the first publication date of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I have written a review of the book which you can read here.