20 years. Wow. Time has flown. It was 20 years ago that, while driving across to Ireland (via ferry) for a summer holiday (in very un-summery weather), I sat in the back of the car with my younger brother while our mum read aloud a strange new book from the school library about a boy called Harry who discovered he was a wizard. At this point the book was barely known about among my friends and classmates, but I felt like each page brought with it a cauldron full of fascination. I had no idea just how big it was all about to get.
In the following years, Harry Potter books would become both my reason for and my first experience of pre-ordering from Amazon, and cause an excitement around waiting for the post to arrive on release day morning similar to that of waiting for Christmas. And the delivery always arrived with a smiling postie, like they knew exactly what magic they were delivering. The series would become my gateway to spending hours scouring the Web for theories, rumours and speculation about what might come next, as I found my own impatience for more reflected in the posts and comments of thousands of others out there across the world. The audiobooks, read beautifully by Stephen Fry, would become my go-to listening material when sleep evaded me for many, many years.
But the thing that these books really did, which underlies all of these changes and experiences, was to awaken my imagination. They made me excited about a fictional world in a way that nothing apart from Star Wars has come close to doing, but whereas Star Wars already had a long history by the time I was born, the Potter universe felt like it was coming to life and growing around me, spurred on by people my age, growing up with the books.
The impact that this world has had does not show signs of abating, either. As I sat watching The Cursed Child earlier this year, every bit of excitement, intrigue and wonder that I had felt as a child came flooding back. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Harry Potter is a story just for children. Don’t let them be that boring.
The curiosity and fascination that Harry Potter sparked in my imagination is, I am certain, one of the things that inspires my own ideas for writing today. Who knows if I would be finding joy from writing now had I never read the series.
There’s only one part of the story I haven’t yet absorbed: the Fantastic Beasts film. Tonight, on this anniversary, I think it’s time to plug that gap. And then I’m going to start reading through the books again. It has been a while since I read them, but I have no doubt that their magic will shine through just as brightly as ever before.
It does not feel like it has been 20 years since that summer in Ireland, and my first experience of the Harry Potter universe. It’s a holiday I won’t ever forget. And who knows, maybe one day in the future, I’ll read an equally captivating story in the back of a self-driving, Internet-connected car to my own child who instead of wanting to watch films or play games will be hooked and I’ll know that their imagination has been sparked in the same way that mine was all those years ago. I know that it’s one of the most magical gifts this hypothetical child could ever receive (well, apart from an invisibility cloak, or a Firebolt).