The fall of 1998 came and went for me like any other year. I was just starting middle school in a new town where I didn’t know anyone (with the exception of my sister, Samantha). I was enrolled in difficult honors classes. I was just starting to notice boys and actually caring about what I wore to school. And I was still new to the wonders of The WB and MTV. I had no idea that all across the country, something was happening.
At playgrounds, schools and grocery stores, people were spreading the word and talking about the same thing. They say that word-of-mouth spreads like wild fire, and so it was, that seemingly ordinary fall when the name Harry Potter was passed in excited whispers from one person to another. For on September 1, 1998, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in the United States. And the world of pop culture and literature has never been the same.
I love to read. I always have. But I’d never been in love with a book before. I’d never had genuine affection for a fictional character, or touched the worn out and torn cover of a book with such loving fondness. I’d never much cared about when a new book was to be released, let alone obsessively count down the days until it came out. However, that all changed when I first picked up that precious Harry Potter book, which had already been passed from my mother, to my sister, and now to me.
I had refused at first. Why did I want to read some little kids’ book about a stupid wizard? However, with all the talk of muggles, Quidditch, and some guy called “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” curiosity got the better of me.
So, almost two years after it was first published, I cracked open the book and proceeded to not put it down for the rest of the day. Lucky for me, the next two books in the series were already released by that time, so I quickly moved right on to Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban. In a matter of a few days, I was officially a Potterhead, the affectionate name that fans of the series call themselves. And while it may seem silly, I can truthfully say that those few days of meeting Harry and discovering the magical world of Hogwarts have changed my life.
The first thing to know about us Harry Potter fanatics is that we will, without a doubt, try to convince you to read these books by any means necessary. We will offer you one of several copies of the books that we own. Why do we have so many? Well, because you have to buy the paperback because it’s easier to carry around (as you will not put it down once you start reading), but it falls apart with so much wear (again, with the not-putting-down thing), so you have to buy another one.
A quick search around my apartment reveals that I have at least two copies of all six books that have been released so far (hard cover and paperback) and that the most copies I have is four, including a boxed collection of the first four books that is not touched under any circumstances, as well as replacement copies for the first two books, which have been read so many times that the pages are falling out and the spines are completely broken.
Over the past few years, I have convinced every single one of my friends to read at least Sorcerer’s Stone, though most of them continued with the series. Just this past summer, my roommate read all six books in about two weeks. She holed up in her room and I wouldn’t see her for hours at a time. She would only come out for food and bathroom breaks. I’m telling you, resistance is futile.
That’s why, on July 3, 2000 and June 20, 2003, none of my friends resisted when my sister and I told them we’d be spending the evening at our local Books-A-Million, which threw huge parties for the releases of Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. We’d all already pre-ordered our copies of the books and we spent the few hours leading to midnight, when the books would officially be on sale, participating in trivia and costume contests, making wizard hats, and conversing with our fellow Potterheads of all ages and sizes. We were all decked out in our finest boarding school clothes, complete with Hogwarts badges that we’d crafted for ourselves. And when the clock struck midnight, we lined up with the hundreds of other people waiting with bated breath for their first glimpse of the always lengthier massive tombs.
For Goblet, Phoenix, and the most-recently released, Half-Blood Prince, my sister and I were always careful to plan ahead and make sure we had plenty of time to read them uninterrupted. It took me approximately two days to finish the more than 700 pages of Goblet of Fire. Order of the Phoenix was bought the night before I left on a 14-day college tour with a group of my classmates. Seven of the ten students on the trip brought the books with them and read during the long drives in between stops at campuses up the East Coast. And those that didn’t bring their own copies were asking us questions every ten minutes or so. (We all faithfully ignored them until we’d finished the chapter we were currently reading.)
Half-Blood Prince was almost a disaster, though. My mother had blindly decided to plan a family vacation for the same week that the penultimate sixth book was to be released. I was deeply disappointed – we’d planned to throw a Harry Potter party that year, which would end with everyone going to Books-A-Million to get their copies. Being in North Carolina would obviously put a crimp in that plan. When my sister initially refused to go on the trip (causing my mother to ask her if Harry Potter was more important than family time, with her answer being an insistent “Yes!”), my parents promised to drive us the thirty-plus miles to the closest Wal-Mart for the midnight release and let us invite our best friend, Shane, to come with us so that we would have someone to read the book with. We warned our mother to not plan any activities for that day of the vacation and sure enough, the three of us sat quietly in the little cabin and read all day, taking breaks every few chapters to discuss our thoughts and theories (“Snape is so not evil!”).
The obsession only got worse when the movies hit theaters. The term “Potter Mania” was popularized almost overnight. After carefully following the filming and production process (“Maggie Smith is perfect for Professor McGonagall!”), we all pre-ordered our tickets weeks in advance and showed up at the theater over an hour early to wait in line with the rest of the Potterheads. We’d be wearing our costumes yet again, complete with plastic wands and Hogwarts ties. And while nothing can hold a candle to the books, these films were like little pieces of magic, giving us a glimpse of what this fantastical world could look like.
For every film, it was the same story for us. Months of anticipation and weeks of planning. Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire were even released in IMAX theaters, so we would all carpool up to Tampa and spend the evening oohing and aahing at the spectacular show before us. Goblet actually came out after all of us had gone away to college, so even though it premiered on November 18, 2005, we all loyally waited until Thanksgiving break, when we would all be home and could make the drive to the IMAX together.
This summer, in about a month to be exact, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will hit theaters. Eight days later, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, the last book in the series, will be released. My sister and I are planning a 10 day extravaganza, with friends coming in from out of town, complete with a Yule-Ball themed party, British food, a trip to the IMAX in Orlando, and attendance at the UCF Bookstore for their Deathly Hollows midnight release party.
And while we know that there will still be two more films to come, and that the recently-revealed plans for a Harry Potter theme park right here in Orlando will still give us something to look forward to, it still seems like an era is ending. The very last book is being released – the story is ending.
Just like when the last Lord of the Rings hit theaters, I predict that there will be a sense of withdrawal. Maybe even a sense of grief, of loss for this very special part of my life that is ending.
Because it’s not just an obsession anymore, you see. It’s a tradition. It’s something precious that I have shared with the people I love most in the world. It’s something we all have in common and that we can all understand.
In time, Harry, Ron, and Hermione will be remembered with the likes of such great fictional characters as Dorothy and Toto, Luke and Leia, and even Frodo and Sam. It’s one of the stories that touch a special place in your heart, show hope when facing fear, friendship when there are many enemies, and love when there are so many evils in the world. Everyone should have the pleasure of being a part of something as special and dear as Harry Potter.