How do you look back on a series that has, for decades, given your family memories filled with magic? Here is a tearful look back on 20 years with Harry Potter.
Twenty years. Has it really been that long since the first Harry Potter book was released? My eldest child would have been almost two years old and my youngest child not even born. Now, they are both adults and Harry Potter is 20?! Shut. Up.
When I think back about my family’s time with Harry, it puts a little something in my eye. When my now adult children and I talk about our time with Harry… No! We’re not crying, you’re crying!
My family’s story of 20 years with Harry Potter begins with the movies. But to begin with the movies, we need to start our story at the end.
It still feels like yesterday that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 hit theaters. On opening day, Kid1 took Kid2 and me to see it, his treat. This was such a bitter-sweet experience for me and I’m not sure I could ever truly articulate why. But I am going to try anyway.
Sixteen years ago, on opening night, I took Kid1 to see the first Harry Potter movie. Kid2 was not yet old enough. And if my memory is serving me correctly, it was the first movie I had taken him to see in the theater. We arrived at the theater a couple hours before curtain, waiting in a huddled mass with loads of other people. I had never done that before. Up until the first Harry Potter movie, I found the idea of standing in line for hours to be ridiculous. Harry and his cohort of friends changed that.
“You’re a wizard, Harry” – Falling Into 20 Years With Harry Potter
It wasn’t until Harry Potter mania had started to build around the first movie that I read the first two books. I had heard the name in the media and how it was supposedly the next best thing since sliced bread, but it wasn’t a thing in my small town. I knew no-one who had read the books or even cared to. The third and fourth books were already published as well, but I wasn’t going to purchase any of them until I had read the first two books, which were given to me to read by my mother.
I had decided to read them first, alone, to decide if this was even something my children would enjoy and to help me decide if it would be appropriate to bring my then six-year-old child to see. I was immediately hooked.
It wasn’t because it was a splendid work of fiction. The books are not exactly literary works of art. But they were magic nonetheless. When I would talk with other adults who had read them, they would complain about how childish and simply written they were. Without trying to show my anger and snobbishness, I would politely try to remind them that it is because they are children’s books. They are supposed to be written that way.
Heated debates would begin, which went something like, “When we were children, we read Lord of the Rings in grade school. Those are considered children’s books. Is this the best authors can come up with now for youth?” I would smile and say, “Ah, yes. But we also had The Secret World of Og and Charlotte’s Web. Those are considered great classics and cannot be compared to Lord of the Rings.” But I digress. I suppose the main thing my friends had an issue with is that I, someone who can be quite a snob at times, adored Harry Potter. But as I already said, there was magic in them.
“Books are like mirrors: if a fool looks in, you cannot expect a genius to look out.” – J.K. Rowling
I can’t even begin to go into everything I ended up taking away from the story when I would sit down and read each book. That would require a novel. But outside of the emotional and personal journey these books took me on, these journeys were shared with my boys.
After I finally finished the first two books, I sat down with Kid1 and read them to him in preparation for the movie. I will never forget how freaked out he got when I would do the voices for the basilisk in the walls. One time, I made him cry and he begged me to stop using that voice when I read and instead, to use my normal voice.
These moments were wonderful. We would be curled up on the couch, under the blankets, as I painted the story of Harry Potter within my child’s brain to see. There were many nights of, “Ooooooh. Just one more chapter. PLEEEEEASE!” I would give in, only for the next, “PLEEEEASE, one more chapter. I promise, I’ll go to bed when you are done.”
These stories were also the cause of many wonderful talks about how to treat others, about what is fair and isn’t, about never giving up no matter what you are facing, friendship, sacrifice and more. These stories caused us to cry together, laugh together, get angry together, cheer together and mourn together.
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
After the first two books and the first movie and the successful indoctrination into the Harry Potter world, Harry Potter and his friends became a regular fixture in our household. I would immediately purchase the next two books.
As Kid2 got older, I would later read the books with him and watch the movies with him. Soon, Kid2 was old enough where, when a movie was released or a book was released, all three of us were waiting in line together, reading them together, watching them together, talking about them together, crying together, laughing together, getting angry together, cheering together and mourning together. I read each book to them, out loud, even when they were into their teens.
The exception to experiencing it all together was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, which Kid1 took Kid2 to see, his treat, just the two of them, as some brother bonding thing.
(No, I’m not bitter about that. I think it is sweet that the older brother wanted to take the younger brother on a bro date… Well, maybe I’m a little bit bitter, even to this day.)
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter was also the source of many games. We fashioned our own wands made from bamboo and would have wand duels in the backyard or on hikes. For years, I was accused of having the ability to apparate because I would suddenly appear in the same room with them and they didn’t see or hear me coming. That is when I would have to remind them that if I could in fact apparate, there’d be a definite cracking noise every time I did.
Up until the final movie release, for 10 years, Harry Potter had been a permanent fixture in our household. My boys and I had grown-up together, alongside Harry.
After those first 10 years, Kid1 became old enough where he took both his brother and me to see the final instalment. We had come full circle. It was, and remains, bitter-sweet. Now, at 16 years with Harry Potter, thinking about how much we had grown together and had bonded together in those first 10 years, all thanks to Harry Potter; thinking about how now, years later, we as a family cannot reminisce about those years without all of us getting weepy… in those pages were magic.
Sixteen years is a long time to share something with anyone, especially your children. Out of everyone I know, most families still have young children. It has only been in the few years that my friends have poured all things Harry Potter down their family’s throats. Some of my friends’ children are still too young and it will be a few more years before they introduce them to Harry Potter. And when they do, it will probably be in one large dose, instead of a constant stream of sharing and learning more about Harry and his friends.
“‘You’ll stay with me?’ ‘Until the very end,’ said James.” – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
We didn’t know what we were going to do when we reached the end of our Harry Potter journey. Both my boys were really excited about the final movie but they were also both sad. The entire household was in some weird state of mourning. Yes, for the hardcore fans, there is Pottermore and other things have been released since the final movie release. But, for this house, Harry Potter isn’t about J.K. Rowling or witches and wizards or being geeky or a fan-culture thing. If nobody else in the world loved Harry Potter, we wouldn’t care because that does not diminish the experiences we had, thanks to these stories, over the last 16 years.
We continue to talk about Harry Potter. We will probably continue to re-read the books and re-watch the movies together. If I ever have grandchildren, I can see the introduction of Harry Potter involving all three generations with my children enjoying listening to me reading the books to my grandchildren. But I will always miss the shared anticipation and the newness of it all; the sense of complete joy and excitement that we were about to embark on the next installment of the journey, together.
Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for writing these books and giving something constant that my boys and I could look forward to together. Thank you for giving something to share; something we could rely on and escape into together when other things in our lives were crazy and scary. Thank you for allowing us to create our own magic in our family. Thank you for this gift.
I looked back on my social media from the night we watched the final installment of Harry Potter. This is what I posted on Twitter and Google+:
3 tickets to Harry Potter: $18. Snack $16. Kid2 saying he’s thankful Sheldon isn’t in line with us and causing a fight with Wil Wheaton: Priceless.
Also, Kid1 and Kid2 holding my hands while I sob like there is no tomorrow… there are no words.
In your 20 years with Harry Potter, what gifts did your family receive?
Check out our other post celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Harry Potter: