Like many of us, I have been typing the name “Harry Potter” and the Hogwarts House names into my Facebook feed to see the magic animations on the screen. Also, I’ve been chuckling a little at my friends who haven’t quite gotten the hang of it. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone if you’re from the UK) and while everyone was enamored with the exploits and adventures of “The Boy Who Lived”, in the interest of full disclosure, I hated him and his entire world.
The first Harry Potter book came out when I was 22 years old. I was living in Chicago at the time and working part-time at Waldenbooks, a book store in the mall. The one I worked at was both a Waldenbooks (for adults) and a Waldenkids with a hole in the entrance that little kids could climb in and out of, yelling and screaming while unattended. At twenty-one, I was not about kids at all. Couldn’t stand them and didn’t want to be around them. So, of course, I was always put in charge of the upcoming children’s events.
At the time, the biggest annoyance I had regarding children’s literature were the insipid and unending Goosebumps novellas that kept being churned out by R.L. Stine (Full disclosure. After having read some of them later in life, I appreciate them more.). It never failed to be a madhouse of screaming kids and annoying adults asking me over and over again about the next Goosebumps novel, when it would be out, how many we would get and could I put one aside. Being the a-hole I was at the time, I always promised to put one away special and never did it. Then came Harry Potter.
We used to get a trade magazine that would list upcoming novels by category. Although I primarily worked in the kids section, I never read that part. I looked for the latest in horror fiction, graphic novels and thrillers. So when my co-workers and boss started talking about Harry Potter, I dismissed it. Wasn’t my thing. It had been released that summer of 1998 in the UK and was a bona fide success. Everyone was talking about how it was going to take the world by storm. Still didn’t care.
A female co-worker told me it was about a little boy who lived under stairs, became a wizard and went to wizard school. There was nothing in that explanation that held any interest to me whatsoever. Nevertheless, when it became Fall and kids went back to school, I settled back into not having to see them until the weekends. Then it happened. My boss Andrew decided that we were going to go huge with the release of this book in September (he was bucking for a promotion).
We were going to convert the entire front section of Waldenkids into Wizard school. We were all going to dress up and entertain the kids. (I’m a six-foot four black man. I don’t cosplay on demand.) No one had read the book yet, so there was a mixture of really crappy fantasy role play going on for the launch and it was a madhouse. Kids were getting stuck in the hole left and right. All of the pre-orders were gone and everyone who couldn’t get a book either begged or tried to bribe the people who had theirs. Mothers yelled at me. Children yelled at me. Fathers yelled at me because their wives wouldn’t.
In that moment, I hated Harry flippin’ Potter and everyone who loved this stupid book. I worked at that bookstore for another two years after so I had the pleasure of going through the same routine for Chamber of Secrets and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Every year my hatred for this kid and the next book grew so much that I hated the first week in September. Then I left the store and went to school full-time. That’s when I met my future wife.
We talked all the time about topics large and small. We connected on so many levels about so many different and varying things. She was and is always easy to talk to and engage. When July of 2000 rolled around and she wanted to get a new book, I didn’t think anything of it. It was summer. I wanted a new book as well and we went to the store to get one. She picked up Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire and handed it to me. When she asked if I’d read it, I told her truth. No, those books are dumb (I know. Smooth right).
After getting our books, we went back to campus and sat in her dorm room reading. I was an English major, so I was into actual literature, not kid’s books. When I finished my book a couple of days later, she handed me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and asked me to read it. I actually cannot believe I agreed to, but I did. I fell in love with that book after the third chapter. By the end, I wanted to go to Hogwarts. I wanted to be a wizard and learn to do magic. I immediately picked up the second book and read it within a day.
After reading her copy of the third book in the series, I checked to see where she was in reading Goblet of Fire. As she was getting her degree in nursing, she had more important things she was studying and I asked her if I could read her book and keep her place until she could finish it as well. She politely told me no and directed me to pick up my own copy, which I did. This was the start of a tradition with us. We didn’t have children at that point, it was just the two of us, but whenever a new Potter book came out, there we were, standing in line to get our individual copies.
We would read them together or apart, never spoiling anything for the other. If one of us got ahead, we would keep the information until we saw the look on the others face that indicated that we were at the same point. Harry Potter became ours. I may have started off hating Harry Potter, but I ended up loving the world created by J.K. Rowling and immersing myself in the true literature of them. On our bookshelves today, there are still our matching copies of each Harry Potter novel. We have all the films and look forward to anything that comes from that world.
So I will celebrate the anniversary of Harry Potter by reading it to my two boys. My oldest already loves them and rightfully so. They are really good.
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