One day in mid-June 1997 my dad brought home a strange hardback book for my 8th birthday. Much like Vernon Dursley, I was initially skeptical and unfairly prejudiced. This book looked weird. On the cover was a bespectacled teenage boy wearing a rugby shirt and what appeared to be a crimson cape riding a… broom? With his arm outstretched it looked like the kid was trying to Willie Mays a… golden tennis ball with wings? Is that a unicorn? Wolves in a castle? So many questions.
I soon put my skepticism aside and had read this mysterious book once, twice, three times until its sequel arrived about a year later. The Mandrake seeds had been planted and over the next 20 years, they would continue to mature until they became an inexorable part of who I am.
I had a sixth-grade history teach named Mr. Andrews. He was old and gray, very close to retirement, yet he exuded a youthful energy that belied his age. Mr. Andrews would stalk around the classroom hurling rapid-fire questions to the class with impunity. If you answered incorrectly he would gently scold you with a wisecrack and a quick tap on the head with the stub of his middle finger (Note: No one really knew how he lost his finger, but the legend went that he lost it in the Civil War).
Mr. Andrews was an important figure in my early school life and while Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire would not come out until 2005, Mr. Andrews embodied many of the same qualities of the ex-Auror Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody. Graying, grizzled, marked by a unique and terrifying physical injury (of unknown origin) Moody and Andrews could have been brothers. Rough and biting one moment, gentle and considerate the next both of these men had soft rumbling voices that commanded a room. They inspired a heady mix of fear and respect while teaching with a zeal and urgency that would stick with any student forever. CONSTANT VIGILANCE.
All of this is to say that fiction often mirrors real life. Even many years later, I still relate many of my life experiences to characters, events, and themes that fill the world J.K. Rowling scrawled down on a napkin in the back of a train to London in 1990. Today is the 20th anniversary of the initial release of that mysterious and weird book my dad handed me.
The initial volume and the six books that followed have become more than a fantasy series to me and many of my peers. They are now an invaluable part of not only literary history but of global culture. Each successive story contains an increasingly serious set life lessons told through the eyes of a complex young boy who experienced untold and unnecessary suffering. Every child that grew up with this series will forever keep them as a piece of who they are and how they see the world. These books will continue to have an impact on new generations for as long as they are in print. Which I can imagine will be a long, long time.
Harry Potter is the reason I love to read. Harry Potter is the reason I love to write. Harry Potter is the reason I value imagination and creativity so highly. And as Albus Dumbledore said, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”