On 26 June 1997, a novel for children was published without any great fanfare. It was the first in a planned series of books featuring a boy with wizarding powers called Harry Potter. Ten years later the 7th book in the series was published and by that time there cannot have been many people in the world who had not heard of the boy, the books and the author, J.K. Rowling. I came to Harry Potter after the third book had been published. My daughter was loving them and she pushed me to read the first one. I was also curious to see what all the fuss was about. From the first chapter I was hooked and became nearly as ardent a Potter devotee as she was (and still is). From that time, we bought the books on publication day, almost fought each other over who read them first, discussed the characters and watched the film versions together. I even read out a passage from Harry Potter at her wedding.
The success of the books was quite phenomenal. Translated into dozens of languages, filmed (the 2nd highest grossing film series of all time), parodied, turned into an incredible range of merchandise, the inspiration for theme parks and games, and winners of many literary awards, the books have been loved by children, but also by adults, around the world. J.K. Rowling was runner-up for Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2007 – ludicrously, she lost out to Vladimir Putin!!!!! She achieved something remarkable in showing children the joy of reading and in making millions of boys realise that books could be cool and fun (boys had been turning away from fiction in worrying numbers).
However, the books have been controversial and many schools in the USA have banned them from their libraries (they are high up in the list of most frequently banned books in the country). This infuriates me!! They are banned because they have ‘witchcraft’ in them and many religious groups therefore disapprove. But do these same groups ban The Tale of Peter Rabbit, I ask? Is Harry flying on a broomstick any more magical or sinful than showing a talking / cooking / apron-wearing rabbit? Do they ban the Narnia novels – they are full of Christian symbolism, but they have chatty fauns who serve cakes to guests, lions who fight in battles, and a witch who tempts with Turkish delight. I am one of those who thinks that the Bible should be shelved in the fiction section of a library, and I firmly believe that unless you ban that book about a god, devil and angels, then you should not be banning one about wizards and flying broomsticks either. The Harry Potter books should be in every library!
I celebrated 20 years of Harry Potter by listening to the whole series on audio, superbly read by Stephen Fry. I feel grateful that J.K. Rowling, waiting at Kings Cross for a train that was late, dreamed up a fabulous series of books that brought a very real magic into the world.
Will you be revisiting Harry Potter as he turns 20 this month? Or perhaps you might take this opportunity to delve into his wizarding world for the first time. Tell me your thoughts in the comment area below.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, read by Stephen Fry
Susannah Fullerton: Robert Galbraith’s books
Susannah Fullerton: J.K. Rowling is born
Susannah Fullerton: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is first published
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