Growing up with Harry: What It Was like to Be a Teen During the Potter Craze

When I was 12 years old, my godfather gifted me a book. It looked terribly uninteresting. The title – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – evoked memories of Oliver Twist, a story I had never much liked. The cover – a black and white photo of a steam train – looked even drearier. I imagined it would be an autobiography of a poor English boy living near train tracks, or on a train. Boring.

Despite my godfather’s assurances it was “becoming quite popular in Europe” and that his children had liked it, I resolved not to read it.

Image: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Book Cover 1998

My 1998 adult edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

The problem was, I was on holiday with an often non-existent internet connection, regular power outages, and an ancient library of VHS tapes I had watched so often they had become snowy with fuzz. I had little to do to amuse myself, and so grudgingly, I gave the book a go.

It took only a few chapters.

Soon I could not put the supposedly boring book down. I was so caught up in the world of Harry Potter that I think my parents had to drag me to meals. And all too soon, the fabulous book was finished.

Was there another one? Yes? Well then I simply had to get it.

Easier said than done. I was overseas and had trouble finding it, so I had to wait till my return to Australia. As soon as I hit Australian shores I went to my local store and grabbed Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Needless to say, that was devoured in no time. Luckily for me, the third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban, was just about to be released. I only had to wait another few months and then it was out. By now the books had begun to get a lot of media attention, and the first three books were dominating the bestseller lists. Did I contribute to those figures and go and buy it in the first week? Yes.

Of course, now I had run into the problem that there were no more books available. I would have to wait for the fourth one to come out… wait a whole year.

I turned 13. I bided my time until the release date neared, and the media buzz turned into a roar. By now the Potter Craze had begun to truly take off. Everyone was talking about it. A movie was in the making, and discussions of who would play which character abounded. Queues formed for the next book release. In the first week it broke records for the number of copies sold.

I bought it at my local small town bookstore, mustering the self control to wait a day or two before I went in. I don’t much like queues.

It was, of course, The Goblet of Fire. Nice and fat, I thought, this one will last me a while. I think I stretched it to a month. I loved every page of it.

Then it, too, was finished. Distraught, I believe I read the first three books again.

The next wait was longer. Three whole years. Three years in which I believe I possibly read the first books again several times. The release of the first two movies made the wait time easier to bear. I went to the cinema with my friends to re-live the magic of the books… and no, I didn’t don glasses and lightning bolt scar. I imagine I thought I was too cool for that by then.

Then, finally, the release date of the fifth book approached. By now I was in my second last year of high school, busy with exams and friends and school… but that didn’t mean I’d forgotten Potter. With things left as dire as they were at the end of the previous book, I had to know how it continued.

Image: Harry Potter Vanilla Cake Mix

Potter merchandise in the supermarket

This time, the Potter Craze was even more insane. Footage of queues of fans awaiting the release of The Order of the Phoenix filled the news reports. Kids were dressing up like wizards left right and centre.

Fortunately, my local small-town book store got it into my hands fairly quickly, and the release was well timed with the mid-year school holidays. And too soon it, again, was finished.

Two more years. The next film came out in the mean time, softening the blow a little. I went on an exchange to France… and bought the books in French. Figured that might give them a newish feel again, and help me with my language practice.

I finished high school.

In the midst of a tumultuous first year of university, The Half-Blood Prince hit the shelves. The insanity of the release date was once again upon us. I bought it within the first week. I believe the store I went to had 10 times the number of usual staff working.

I remember where I was when I hit the dreaded page 596. I was lying in the park on a picnic blanket, reading Harry Potter while my boyfriend was reading something altogether more “grown up”. When I sat up and he saw the pillow I’d been lying on, he presumed I’d gone to sleep and drooled all over it. Then he saw my face, and realised I’d been shedding a few tears on behalf of a fictional character… and not so successfully trying to conceal them.

Two more years went by. The release of the 7th and final book approached, and I looked forward to it with a mixture of excitement and dread. When it came, Harry Potter would truly be over. There would be no more books to wait for, no more happenings in Hogwarts’ Halls for me to read about.

Image: Deathly Hallows Harry Potter Dymocks Bag

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows promotional Dymocks bag

When the date finally arrived (after copies of the book had apparently been ferried to and fro in utmost secrecy, with insane levels of security) I was in my last year of university. This time I preordered my copy, just to be sure. I even got a purple Harry Potter carry bag with the pre-order.

The book came out at an inconvenient time – I had assignments to finish and exams to study for. Still, I bought it and left it on my shelf, determined not to read it until I had the time to truly enjoy it. I had to block my ears every time inconsiderate people decided to discuss it around me. I had to avoid websites that reviewed it. I had to look away every time I saw or even heard whisper of the name Harry Potter for fear of a spoiler.

Finally, university commitments behind me, I sat down to read it. I parsed it out to last as best I could.

And then, after much drama and excitement, and more than a few tears, it was over. I was 22 years old, and my 9 year relationship with the Harry Potter series had come to an end. Of course, the final film was released, giving me one last fresh glimpse into that world… and then the era of Harry Potter was truly at an end.

Was I sad? Yes. But also satisfied that I had finally reached the end of the story, and it was a good one. I slid the last book onto my shelf, and looked fondly at my complete and now slightly dog-eared collection.

_____

So when people ask me why I love the Harry Potter books, it’s because they’re imaginative, gripping, well-written, fun, intricately plotted and enchanting. There’s a reason the story has captured millions the world over. But it’s also because I grew up with them… and it feels like they grew up with me.

As each book became more adolescent and adult, so did I. For me, each book represents a different period of my young life, and is entwined with so much nostalgia and emotion that this series will always hold a special position in my heart and on my bookshelf.

Anyone who’s around my age, and a Potter fan, will probably understand what I’m talking about. You probably all have your own Potter stories to tell, and your own memories of each book release.

Image: Harry Potter Books

I always loved fantasy novels, and I read them before, during, and after Harry Potter. But it’s probably safe to say that the wonder and excitement of reading the books as a teenager is in no small part what made me want to write fantasy myself. I figured if I could give anyone even one small fraction of the joy I got from reading Harry Potter, it would be something magical indeed. They are still on my list of all time favourites.

And I know some people will roll their eyes at this, because Harry Potter is now such a cliché. Because everyone’s read it, because it’s so popular, because every man, woman and their dog loves Harry Potter (except my husband who says he really doesn’t care). And that’s okay… let them roll their eyes.

I loved it back before I knew about the queues and the movies and the media, when it still had that boring steam train cover, from a few moments after I grudgingly opened that first page. I still love it, and probably always will.

_____

For now though, I’m letting Potter rest. I haven’t read a Potter book in years, and truth be told, don’t feel the urge to. I have been enjoying getting into other great fantasy novels, and being inspired and excited by new worlds and characters and ideas.

That said, I look forward to a day when I can dust my Potter collection off again, and read them to someone for whom they are all still new. And while it won’t be the same as it was in the heat of the Potter Craze, when I waited with baited breath for each book and I still didn’t know how it would all end… I don’t doubt it’ll still hold a lot of magic.

_____

Some related links:
The Books – JK Rowling – information on release dates of all the Harry Potter books
Retrospective of the Harry Potter Book Covers – Harry Potter book cover images
The Phenomenon of Cross-over Fiction – Information on the 1998 adult edition, and on cross-over fiction in general

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8 thoughts on “Growing up with Harry: What It Was like to Be a Teen During the Potter Craze

  1. Oh how I can relate! My sister began reading me these books when I was 11 years old and it was truly as if I was growing up with Harry and his friends. I will never forget the feeling of waiting to get my hands on the next Harry Potter book, or waiting first in line at the theater on the release date of each movie. I can’t imagine when I’ll ever see lineups like that again. Still, the magic is never-ending. I have read and re-read those books a million times and the feeling never quite goes away.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was skeptical at first, thinking any book that got so much hype couldn’t be that good. But I read Sorcerer’s Stone (as it was titled here in the US) and fell under Harry’s spell. My kids were too young to read, so I read it to them. It became a family event that we shared, for each new book and the movies.

    Rowling surely set the bar high for the rest of us children’s writers.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I totally understand this! I had a similar first experience – my aunt gave it to me and I didn’t touch it for weeks as I thought I was too old for this children’s book. I was 12 at the time! But I gave it a chance and then I was hooked forever after! Great post! x

    Liked by 1 person

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