Sunday, July 31st is the 36th* birthday of our favorite wizard and arguably the most valiant Gryffindor, Harry Potter. Harry happens to share his birthday with J.K. Rowling, the brilliant writer we have to thank for Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Although the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published nine years ago, we’ve never really said goodbye to Harry, have we? This is partly to do with film adaptations and other projects that show us new ways to appreciate the stories and characters, including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida and Pottermore, which Rowling calls “the digital heart of the Wizarding World.” The Harry Potter series, much like The Boy Who Lived, survives and thrives today, despite changing trends and generations that grow up right before our very eyes. Any day is a good day to discuss Harry Potter, but now is an especially great time. Not only are we celebrating the birthdays of Harry and J.K. Rowling, but we will also see the release of a new project, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This new play, based on an original story by Rowling, will debut July 30th on London’s West End. Rowling refers to this as the “eighth Harry Potter story,” as it will focus on (SPOILER ALERT!) Harry’s adult life as a Ministry of Magic employee, including the struggles of his son, Albus, who tries to make peace with the family’s complicated and famous legacy. With the exception of those die-hard Harry Potter fans (and there are many!), the majority of us Americans will not have the opportunity to see the London production. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that it eventually makes a move overseas, preferably to Broadway. Until we can take a jaunt over to London or revisit our old friends on the Great White Way, fans can find the next best thing right here in Levittown: The official script book of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The LPL has multiple copies on order, so be sure to place your hold today! Books will be released to library patrons on Monday, August 1st.
Another exciting benchmark in the legacy of Harry Potter will be the adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is scheduled for a November 18th release. Starring Eddie Redmayne, the film will bring to life the tale of Newt Scamander. Readers will recognize Newt’s name as that of the magical creatures expert and author of the aforementioned textbook studied by Hogwarts students. This is part of the real magic of Rowling: The world she created was drawn with such painstaking and captivating detail that there are always new possibilities for expanding the core story.
To say that the Harry Potter series was and continues to be a cultural phenomenon would be stating the obvious. The truth is, I can’t really tell you anything about Harry Potter that you don’t already know. And to be frank, if you have questions about characters or plotlines, or if you’re one of the few who have never gotten sucked into Rowling’s Wizarding World and you’re wondering what the hype is all about, my biggest piece of advice would be to read or listen to the books. Instead of boring you with factoids, I would like to share a few of my experiences with Harry Potter, with the following caveat: While I am certainly a Harry fan (and a Harry fan), I am the first to admit that I am not the biggest fan. There are many out there who have read the books multiple times, named their pets (and/or children) after the characters, and tattooed quotes and images permanently onto their beings. There are fans who dedicate their spare time to writing fanfiction and participate in Harry Potter cosplay. These readers most likely display at least one of the ten unofficial signs that they are Harry Potter’s biggest fan, including an addiction to butterbeer. So please do not take my little anecdotes as proof of some intense fandom, as this would be an insult to those who love Harry fiercely.
I started reading the Harry Potter series when I was about thirteen or fourteen-years-old. The hype had already begun, though I don’t think it had reached the fever pitch that we would eventually come to know. Because everyone was reading Harry Potter, including my own mother, my response was typical teenager: There was no way that I was going to read those stupid books! Now, in all fairness, I had a track record of reading realistic and historical fiction; I was not a fantasy reader fan. Little did I know that these books really transcended genre, a feat that I suppose all great books accomplish. During a family weekend away in Pennsylvania, I picked up the first book (like I said, my mom was reading them, too) and just kept going. I was transfixed. They didn’t feel like fantasy books; the characters felt like real people with real hardships, and although I was (sadly) old enough at that point to understand that the magic was made up, Harry existed in such a fantastical world that I just wanted to linger there for as long as I could, drinking Butterbeer and perfecting my charms.
Once Harry’s spell had been cast, my family and I embarked on a new tradition: Midnight book release parties. Hundreds of people of all ages gathered outside the bookstore, some even dressed in costume (my personal favorite were the fans dressed in dark robes, wearing signs around their necks reading “Kiss Me, I’m a Dementor.”). We attended three midnight releases, and I happily have the giveaways to prove it, including plastic, glow-in-the-dark glasses a la Harry and a green wristband inscribed with July 21, 2007, the release date of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. These experiences were akin to attending a great concert, in that everyone present had an immediate sense of camaraderie over a shared love. We had a shorthand, a lingo, that united us: muggle, mudblood, alohomora, patronus.
I would just like to share one more quick story before I send you back out into the non-magical world. I hadn’t been working at the LPL for long when the last book was released. Despite being in such close proximity to this literary treasure trove, the books were kept–literally–under lock and key. To celebrate, some of you might remember Harry Potter Day, which remains one of my favorite working days to date. For one day, the Levittown Public Library transformed into the Wizarding World, complete with visiting owls. The best part–the funnest part–was a contest among the staff. Each department was assigned a different section of Hogwarts and asked to decorate a book truck (those noisy carts library employees have been pushing around for decades). At the time, I worked downstairs in the Media Department. Given that we were located in the “dungeon” of the building (a far more welcoming environment that Snape’s dungeon), we were assigned Potions. It might not have been as warm and fuzzy as the Owlery (Reference Department) or The Hogwarts Express (Circulation Department), but it allowed us to be very creative with mini “potion jars,” textbooks, and even some green and black mesh fabric that looked remarkably like a snake’s skin. Patrons flooded our halls, mingling and voting for their favorite truck. It still feels me with a bit of sadness (and let’s be honest–a dash of bitterness) to report that Media did not win that day (1,000 points to Circulation for their excellent work!). However, I still hold that day up in my memory as a high point because I experienced that same type of rush that we all felt at those book release parties: Unity. Despite different ages and life experiences, we came together because we shared a common love.
What is it about the Harry Potter series that inspires such fandom? Is it that we fantasize about a world where magic truly exists, a place where everything we’ve read about in fairy tales, good and bad, lives and breathes? Maybe it’s as simple as getting a kick out of a couple of ginger-haired twins. There are a lot of reasons to love Harry Potter and Harry Potter. I think at least some of this love has to do with the power these books have in bringing people together.
For those of us who have lived in Harry’s world since our most formative years, there is no escape. We are bound to Harry in an unbreakable vow of love, admiration, and most importantly, gratitude.
We look forward to seeing you when you come in pick up your copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Happy Birthday, Harry, and….
*If you are as confused as I am about how this math is adding up, read this 2015 article from Independent.