Twenty years ago yesterday, a book was published that changed many of our lives forever. That book was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, later renamed Sorcerer’s Stone in the US. It was our first taste of a wondrous world of witchcraft and wizardry that has inspired billions around the world. Here’s how that happened to me.
Part of the cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Image: Wiki
Though the first Potter book was published in 1997, and I didn’t actually read it until the spring of 1999, I was aware of it earlier than most. From September 1998 through 2002, I worked at Scholastic Books in New York City. They published the Harry Potter books in the US and long before it was the phenomenon it would soon become, everyone there thought they had something pretty special on their hands. I know because, as a library assistant, we couldn’t keep the book on our shelves. In the Scholastic Library, we had books and magazines for employees to use as research, as well as every single book Scholastic had every published. But, mostly, employees would come down daily to see if we had a copy of the latest Harry Potter book they could check out. The same went for the second book and finally the third.
After checking out and refiling the first three books hundreds of times over the course of a year, I decided to finally see what the fuss was about. I took the first book home over a weekend, thinking I’d maybe start it and finish it over the course of the next few weeks. That didn’t happen. Once I opened the book, I couldn’t stop. I read the entire first book in a single day with stops only for the bathroom and food. Once it was done, I called my parents, brother, girlfriend, roommate, anyone I could think of to tell them about what I just discovered. I then stewed the rest of the weekend waiting to go back to Scholastic to get the second book. Then the third. When that was done, I was caught up and officially hooked on the world of Harry Potter.
Part of Drew Struzan’s poster for the first Harry Potter film. Image: Warner Bros.
After that, the wait for book four began. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire wasn’t released until July 2000, and though it was only a few months, it was hell. Leading up to it, though, was when Pottermania truly blew up. The wait between Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire was truly the moment it all happened. There was massive excitement for the book release, employees constantly asked if we got copies early (we didn’t) and then, a year later, the movie came out, officially sending the franchise into the stratosphere.
Here’s where my ground-zero Harry Potter story takes another twist. Somewhere around this time, I’d started doing my first online film writing. I was working for a site called Countingdown.com and as their only writer in New York, I started to do some film junkets. One of the first I did was for, you guessed it, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I talked to Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris and Chris Columbus over the course of one day, asking as many nerdy questions as I could. I did the same thing for the second film a few years later too, basically cementing that film journalism is something I could and wanted to do with my life.
(One of those interviews still exists online, and it’s super creepy and I apologise to Emma Watson. So very much.)
At this point, you were probably all with me. (In terms of the books, not the awful video you may have just watched.) We waited months and years for each of the remaining books. I got each one at midnight at a local store, amid plenty of fans dressed up with robes and wands. I read them all very quickly and loved them all. I did the same thing with the movies, attending midnight shows with friends and loving every minute.
That story continues to this day. I watch the Potter movies on TV a lot, devoured Cursed Child, and nearly cried at the theme parks. But there’s one more fun little chapter in my story.
The seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released 21 July 2007. That also happened to be the night I chose to fly into Los Angeles to go to Comic-Con with my friends. We had parties and movies planned before heading to San Diego, but I forgot about one thing. At Comic-Con, there was a good chance I’d be spoiled on how the series ended. So, instead of enjoying beaches and movies, I did what I did with the first book. I sat down and read the 759-page book as fast as possible before Comic-Con. And I finished just in time.
So that’s my Harry Potter story. What’s yours?