By Anusha Bhagat 

Twenty years ago on June 26, 1997, the world opened its bookshelves to a bespectacled boy wizard from 4 Privet Drive in Surrey and allowed him to sow the seeds of imagination, wonder and dreams in their minds and hearts. Since then, there has been no looking back. We have grown with Harry Potter and dreamt with him. Joanne K. Rowling has indeed blessed the world with this adventure of a lifetime which is so magical and real, that it has etched an indelible impact on literature, cinema and culture.

Twenty years later, the series has spawned a successful franchise of films, theme parks, video games and merchandise. Looking back on her “rags to riches” journey, Rowling tweeted, “20 years ago today, the world that I had lived in alone was suddenly open to others. It’s been wonderful. Thank you.”

A global cultural phenomenon

The Harry Potter series has sold more than 450 million copies worldwide and been translated into 79 languages. Deathly Hallows holds the record for the fastest-selling book in history, moving 11 million copies in the first 24 hours of release. Spin-offs just last year include a West End play, Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, and a new film series–Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them.

Figures, of course, are one way to enumerate the scope of the lucrative entertainment business that the Harry Potter series has given rise to. Yet, they fail us when we try to determine the sentimental value the series has added to the readers’ lives. The enchanting tale of the boy wizard and his friends–Ron Weasley and Hermoine Granger–has shaped innumerable childhoods.

The series has blended the themes of friendship, family, dreams, wisdom, love and compassion beautifully and has managed to resonate with millions across the globe.  Harry Potter means way more than an international bestseller to many. It serves as an alternate world to carelessly immerse oneself into. Children who read it begin to wait for their own Hogwarts letter, wonder what house ‘The Sorting Hat’ would assign them, what kind of wand they would buy from Ollivanders, how Butterbeer and Pumpkin Pasties would taste and how well they’d fare in the Quidditch team.

In addition, the widespread fandom has given rise to a whole new parlance like ‘Pottermania’, ‘Potterhead’, ‘Potterverse’, ’Muggle’, etc. Sites like Harry Potter Fan Fiction and Fiction Alley are still active with writers contributing new stories to the existing chapters every day. Some people theme their weddings around Harry Potter. There is now a music genre–wizard rock or “wrock”—dedicated to the series.

A universal appeal

“Children and adults can see themselves in the stories,” says Amy H. Sturgis, an assistant professor of liberal studies at Lenoir-Rhyne University. “The moral dilemmas, the decisions that Harry and his friends are faced with, the big themes of doing what is right and not what is easy—these are timeless. Everyone can identify with them. It’s not a story that has a limited shelf life.”

Harry’s story provides readers with lessons that are very relevant in the real world, despite operating in a magical realm. Rowling emphasises the gift of friendship when Harry, Ron, and Hermione have each other’s support even in the hardest of times. Rowling also imparts an important lesson of pragmatism. She lauds Hermoine’s intellectual abilities but makes sure to communicate that academic excellence can only take one so far. The series communicates the power of bravery to defy the odds, looking for more than what meets the eye and about finding happiness and light in the darkest of times. All of these are lessons for a lifetime.

Celebrating 20 years

Popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter stepped up to help fans celebrate Harry Potter’s 20th Birthday in their own special way. Facebook has now created a feature that adds a magical touch whenever one writes the words ‘Harry Potter’ or types the name of any of the four houses — Slytherin, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw.

Bloomsbury, the publishing company, took its own efforts to commemorate the series. A few days prior to the anniversary, they organised a gathering to break a world record. They invited local kids of Bolton, UK to gather at Town Hall and asked them to dress as Harry Potter with a robe, glasses and a wand. With at least 700 kids in attendance, the Guinness World Record of the “Largest gathering of people dressed as Harry Potter” was broken. Bloomsbury is also set to release four new editions of the first Harry Potter book with each one decorated in the colours and crest of each Hogwarts’ house. Moreover, an exhibition is set to open later this year at the British Library on October 20 to celebrate the series and its fantastical elements.

The wide influence of Harry Potter on popular culture will ensure that it remains in cultural consciousness even in the future. There is no doubt that ‘The Boy Who Lived’ will continue to inspire generations to come. Perhaps J.K. Rowling put it best when she said, “No story lives unless someone wants to listen. The stories we love best, do live in us forever. So whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” 

Featured image credits: Pixabay