From academics to school sweethearts, superfans raise a broom to the boy wizard
hen I was eight, I got my first pair of glasses. Far from being teased at school, the only hassle I got was endless requests to try on my new specs. My father looked at me with suspicion. Had I faked the blindness, he asked, just so I could look like W Harry Potter?
With my cropped hair and glasses, I did look like a tiny girl Harry. And while the similarity was not deliberate, I did nothing to avoid it, either. The Potter books were the great pop cultural event of my generation (I was born in 1991). In between Game Boys and Pokmon, kids began reading again. My school librarian, both confused by and exasperated with Pottermania, dealt with fights over the schools few tatty copies by imposing a new rule: Potter books could be borrowed for only three days, instead of the week every other title was allowed.
In the 20 years since the first book arrived on shelves, publishers and parents have been asking what alchemy has made
JK Rowlings series so loved. But even if we could quantify the appeal, it would ruin the magic. It is better instead to look at the impact they have had on their readers. Yes, the books were about a boy wizard taking on a dark and powerful villain, but they were also about love trumping hate, about justice and perseverance; in the words of Albus Dumbledore, choosing between what is easy and what is right. Rowlings entire cast of magical misfits from bookish Hermione to oddball Luna Lovegood, to late bloomer Neville Longbottom were all people we wanted to be.
I grew up with Harry (in the final book, he is 17 and so was I), and together we became opinionated children, stroppy teens and world-weary young adults. When the seventh and final book came out in 2007, I read for 12 hours without a break and cried as I finished. I felt something akin to grief; the end of Harrys story signalled the end of my childhood. I was suddenly adrift. Meanwhile, my now Potter-mad father hovered impatiently nearby, waiting for the appropriate moment to snatch the book off his sobbing daughter.
Potter really did shape my generation. As a cohort who grew up mostly in peacetime, many of the ideas we found in these books were ones we had never encountered before. The wizarding worlds terrible treatment of non-human beings, such as the enslaved
house-elves, was the first depiction of slavery I encountered. I learned about Voldemorts genocidal pursuit of a pure-blood race long before teachers deemed it suitable for me to learn about South African apartheid or Nazi party policies. The treatment of Harrys teacher Remus Lupin, a werewolf who hides his condition at work, is a metaphor for the stigma surrounding HIV/Aids (a detail confirmed by Rowling herself). We learned about oppression, media bias and the dangers of political apathy in the face of terror for the first time in the pages of Rowlings books.
And all this may have real-world consequences.
A 2014 study found that teenagers who identified with Harry displayed more tolerance towards refugees, immigrants and LGBTQ people. In 2016, another study found that Harry Potter readers were less likely to vote for the then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, even after controlling for other factors such as party affiliation, age, gender and education. Is it possible that Jeremy Corbyns popularity among the young had anything to do with their literary education? Is it possible that Harry, in the 20 years he has been with us, has inspired a generation to be more empathic, welcoming and socially liberal than those before it? We will see. If not, at least my glasses are still cool.
Sian Cain is editor of the Guardians books site .
I run Heroine Training for young women
Xandra Robinson-Burns, 25, personal development trainer
Xandra Robinson-Burns as Professor Minerva McGonagall, at home in Edinburgh. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian
When I was eight, my family moved from Ohio to Virginia, and a friend gave me the first Harry Potter book as a going-away present. It gave me this amazing distraction during what would have otherwise been a difficult experience.
I think, for my generation,
Harry Potter is about optimism; belief that you can be your full magical self, in a community of people who are doing the same. Rowling captured the experience of adolescence so vividly, while also building this fantastical world.
Growing up, I struggled with depression. Once I started to identify what it was, I found all these connections with Harry Potter. I see the
Dementors as a really good example of what depression is, this terrible thing that affects everybody to a degree; but some are more sensitive to it than others, and everyone needs some defence.
When I discovered self-help books around the age of 18, I thought, I already learned this through Harry Potter. I wanted to teach people how to identify the lessons in literature. I now live in Edinburgh, where I started a business for young women:
Heroine Training. I run Harry Potter-inspired courses, such as a workshop called Hogwarts And The Heroines Journey, and Lumos Your Life, which looks at what each of the four Hogwarts houses can bring you in certain situations. I think there are some small but subtly important moments of feminism in Harry Potter: Molly Weasley, for example, is a stay-at-home mum but everyones terrified of her, and in the Battle of Hogwarts, she proves shes a badass. If you want to learn more about feminism, Giordana Toccaceli has all the answers for you.
In 2007, I did a summer programme in Oxford studying fantasy literature. I was there for the release of the final book, and a few of the teachers delivered it to us in our rooms at midnight. I found out on my birthday that Id won a Harry Potter trivia contest Id entered in a bookshop. My prize was a wand: it felt like a message from Dumbledore himself.
We had a Harry Potter-themed wedding
Lewis Byrom, 36, financial client consultant, and Cassie Byrom, 32, media account manager
Lewis Id planned my proposal to Cassie, who is really into Potter, for about six months. Wed been to Universal Studios in Orlando and saw that Diagon Alley (an attraction at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter) was opening a year later, so I knew I wanted to take her back for her 30th. I had the ring on me, and I got a girl to take a photograph of us.
I got down on one knee, and by the time Id finished, there was a big crowd of people cheering and high-fiving. The manager came over and walked us to the
Escape From Gringotts ride. He stopped the ride and let us go on it on our own.
We had a Harry Potter-themed wedding. We didnt want it to look like a kids party, so we watched the films with a pad and pen, looking for ideas that we could replicate on our budget. It would have cost a fortune to have Dementors flying around, for example, but we could make 130 wands, and we could make potions if we got old-looking labels and filled glass jars with bubble bath and shampoo. In the end, it looked so good that the staff at the venue were arguing over who got to work that shift.
CassieA lot of our friends and family thought Lewis and I were bonkers to do a themed wedding, but they were excited to see how it was going to turn out. We bought a few of the artefacts, such as the Deluminator (a device to put out lights, used by Dumbledore) and Tom Riddles diary (a blank book in which he hid part of his soul); the rest we made ourselves. We went round car-boot sales and charity shops looking for candlesticks and old-looking books, and I made the flowers out of Harry Potter book pages.
We got married in November, and as soon as we posted the
photographs online, they spread everywhere. I had hundreds of messages and friend requests on Instagram and Facebook, from people all over the world. Sometimes wed see a comment such as, Must be nice to have a rich mum and dad. But we did it all ourselves and Im quite proud of that. It was my first identification with nerd culture as a positive thing
India Block, 25, journalist
India Block as Nymphadora Tonks. Photograph: Alan Powdrill for the Guardian
I lived in Hong Kong until I was about five. The books were being released just as I moved to the UK, so I dont know an England without Harry Potter. I didnt get into it until the third book. I remember reading the fourth in the playground with my friend, both of us reading separate pages with our necks cricked. My dad was in the army, so we moved around a lot, but Harry Potter was a constant. I dont think Ive gone anywhere in the world and not met someone whos into it.
It was my first identification with nerd culture as a positive thing. Its quite inclusive, of women especially. Its not really shameful for people my age to be fans, but my dad thinks its ridiculous. I share a Kindle library with him, so I downloaded the Robert Galbraith books (also by Rowling) and he really got into them. When he Googled to see when the next one was coming out, he was like, You tricked me into reading JK Rowling!
The books arent escapist in the sense that youre pretending nothing else is going on; its more like a lens through which a lot of people have engaged with social justice issues. Were a generation that came into such an uncertain world; we were told that if we studied hard and went to university, we could have everything our parents generation had. Im now a property editor. I spend all day writing about house prices and how its not necessarily going to turn out the way we hoped. We joke, I feel like Harry Potter, because my room is the size of a cupboard! What I like about the way Rowling wrote is that magic isnt a solution: you cant magic more money (the Weasleys are still poor), you cant magic more food, and you cant magic yourself a house. For everything magic solves, it throws up another problem.
Harry celebrates people whove been oppressed
Eleanor Spencer-Regan, 31, lecturer, and Martin Richardson, 65, associate professor, both at Durham University
Martin Richardson as Mad-Eye Moody and Eleanor Spencer-Regan as Narcissa Malfoy, at Durham Cathedral, which was used as a location in the first two Potter films. Photograph: Alan Powdrill for the Guardian
EleanorI remember being 14 and crying with a friend because we couldnt go to Hogwarts, because it either wasnt real or we hadnt received our letters. I was 11 when Harry was 11 and 12 when he was 12; by the time the fourth book came out, we were slightly older than him. I can remember queueing with eight-year-olds outside Waterstones for the final book, and feeling unashamed, thinking, You werent even born when the first book came out out of my way!
In school, all my friends had pictures of Orlando Bloom on the inside of their lockers and I had a picture of Snape. If Im lecturing on Potter (Im an English literature tutor), Ill still get emotional. I think it slightly bemuses my students.
Last month, at the
Durham Pride parade, there was a girl, who must have been about 12, carrying a beautifully painted sign that read, If Harry Potter taught us anything, its that nobody should have to live in a closet. We were there to celebrate people whove been oppressed, historically, and thats what Harrys doing a lot of the time.
In so much of childrens literature, characters are either good or bad, and their actions are what make them good or bad. With Harry Potter, it is a lot more nuanced: some people do awful things, but theyre not necessarily awful people; some people have bad things happen to them and theres no rhyme or reason. Life is complicated.
I felt utterly bereft when it ended. I often comment to my husband that Id like to develop a specific form of amnesia where I remember everything but the Harry Potter series, so I could have that discovery all over again.
Now I work at Durham University, where many of the films were shot, so I kind of went to Hogwarts in the end. Had my 14-year-old self known that one day Id be getting into my academic robes in
McGonagalls transfiguration classroom, or talking about Harry Potter for money, I think shed have been happy.
MartinI was writing a book about the history of education in which I referenced Tom Browns Schooldays, and some of my postgrads said Harry Potter was similar. I bought the first five books and a DVD, and I was blown away.
I came up with some lectures (Harry Potter As A Good Citizen, and Harry Potter And Britishness) and, with some tinkering, a Harry Potter module got approved at Durham University. I called the emails to the students owls. I wrote, An owl will tap on your computer screen at midnight to reveal the location of the opening lecture for Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion.
Within two hours, it had been leaked to the BBC that there was to be a
sorting ceremony in the Great Hall of Durham Castle. Of course, it went ape. They called it a Harry Potter course, when its actually only a module; by the time word got to the US, it was a degree. The BBC, Sky and ITN wanted to film it, but the university wouldnt let anyone in. There was a lot of security; the students had to get through three checkpoints staffed by gowned prefects.
At the sorting ceremonies, I cover the tables with satin sheets in the house colours. The students wear a sorting hat and are sorted into houses by choosing coloured marbles. Throughout the year, they get points to win the house cup. I give a mini-lecture: are you sorted at birth? Does it matter which family you belong to, or where you live? Does it matter which school you go to? The students are so enthusiastic, they put an enormous amount of effort into their essays.
In the middle of the night, Id turn to a box of books I kept by my bed
Megan Myer, 22, student
Megan Myer as Luna Lovegood, at home in Sheffield. Photograph: Alan Powdrill for the Guardian
My dad read the books to me before I was five, then we started reading them together. After the first couple of books, I read them on my own and it sparked a love of reading. Now I reread the entire series every summer as a treat to myself; I study English literature, so throughout the year, I read books I either dont want to read or books that take up a lot of time. Harry Potter is my comfort.
When I was eight, we moved to Northern Ireland. That was a tumultuous time, settling in halfway through primary school in (sort of) another country. When I was finding it hard to make friends, I could always go and find my own world. From about the age of 13, I went through a bad period of mental health. When I was up in the middle of the night, finding things really difficult, Id turn to a box of books I kept by my bed. When everything is so heightened and you feel you cant relate to anyone and no one understands, having a whole set of characters you can see going through their own troubles is important.
What Ive always found inspiring is not just the books, but the author, the way JK Rowling turned such a hard period of her life into something positive that influenced so many other people. You see that real experience of pain in the way she writes about things such as grief. Its not someone talking down to children. When my grandfather died, I quoted from Harry Potter at the funeral: After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.
When I was younger, my favourite character would definitely have been Hermione because, being really bookish myself, she was the one I most identified with.
But now Id definitely say Luna Lovegood is my favourite: shes quirky, shes open-minded, shes so confident in who she is thats who I aspire to be.
Dumbledore was a kind of father figure
Nina Khatwa, studio coordinator at Pinewood Studios, and Shivraj Singh, management consultant, both 27
Nina Khatwa as Hermione Granger and Shivraj Singh as Ron Weasley, in Slough. Photograph: Alan Powdrill for the Guardian
Nina My parents bought my sister the first three books for Christmas; she never got round to reading them, so I kind of stole them. Every time I read them, I feel young and happy. Ive probably read them 15 times, sometimes in reverse order.
Shiv and I met at school in Slough, and wed talk about Harry Potter a lot. It was the only thing we really had to talk about at the time. Hed try to discuss theories with me. I always thought I was a bigger fan, so I was maybe humouring him when I spoke about it. When the series ended, I felt really down and a bit empty. I think it captured so many peoples imaginations, because its not set in an unfamiliar world: its England, but there are still so many fantastic things going on.
My favourite characters are Hermione, because she likes to read and study, and Ive always been a massive geek; and Dumbledore, because he kind of represents a father figure and I didnt have a proper relationship with my own dad. My parents split and he wasnt very present. When youre younger and you read about a character like that, one you feel could protect you, its comforting.
ShivrajI remember going on a trip to India to see family when I was about 13. It was a rural area and there were constant power cuts, and I would hog the candlelight just to read my book. My cousins and I used to sleep in a shared area. There were eight of us in an open space, and Id be in the bathroom reading my book with the light on, keeping everyone awake. Id tell myself, Time to go to bed now… Actually, lets just read another couple of pages. The next thing I knew, it would be the early hours of the morning.
It was almost a guilty pleasure, because at school I was kind of the cool kid, a joker in class, and not many of my peers read the books. Nina and I bonded over Harry Potter, and got together in sixth form. It became competitive: I know more about Harry Potter than you or, Im a bigger fan than you. Ive got to be honest, I think shes probably winning.
Ninas almost like a real-life Hermione. I always thought of myself as Harry, but the more I think about it, Im more like Ron. He has the same courageous traits as Harry, but he comes from a very big, close-knit family hes got lots of siblings, hes a bit dopey and goofy, just like me. And hes got Hermione, who keeps him in check.
Potter never really ended for me
Benjamin Farquharson, 27, head of student recruitment at the British Academy of Jewellery
Benjamin Farquharson as Harry Potter, in Brixton. Photograph: Alan Powdrill for the Guardian
I grew up in Zimbabwe. When I was 10, my gran brought me the Potter books when she came to visit. She could afford only two copies of each, so my younger cousins got photocopied versions.
When I was 13, we moved to England. It was a very stressful time and Harry Potter was a source of comfort. For the first two years, I didnt understand what it was to be typically British, in terms of your emotions or how people socialise. It was really different from school in Zimbabwe, where there was a lot of corporal punishment; here, kids were so much more independent and opinionated.
Im a fairly creative person and a couple of years back I took up whittling. I made wands for myself, my wife and my two best friends. I wanted them to reflect their personalities and magical qualities. I made my own similar to the Elder Wand; my wifes was twirly and kind of like a unicorn horn; and my two friends got darker wands. At my wedding last summer, my young cousins were playing with my wand and it got snapped in half, just like at the end of the film.
Potter has never really ended for me. My wife threw me a Harry Potter-themed 27th birthday party. I got a cloak and some Gryffindor pyjamas; she made pumpkin pasties, then we all dressed up and got pissed on butterbeer. It looks harmless, but the hangover is just as bad.