Every once in a while, a new person will ask me if I like Harry Potter. I always respond with “I love Harry Potter.” But what I really want to say is this:
I don’t like Harry Potter; I don’t even love Harry Potter.
I live and breathe Harry Potter.
Perhaps it’s a little melodramatic of me, but so be it. You don’t get something etched onto your skin forever if you only like it. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone wasn’t only the first novel I ever read. It was the first novel I read alone. It was the first novel I pushed myself to read despite the odd words, confusing character names, and strange pronunciations. And it opened my eyes to lives and people far beyond my imagination.
My dad brought the first book home when I was probably eight or nine years old. He started by reading to my sister and me at night, but I grew impatient and picked it up myself during the day. I read the first three books so many times that year I lost count. And I started reading lots of other books too.
Harry was also with me through the most significant events in my life. I wrote in a Harry Potter journal as I sat with my parents waiting at the airport. I wrote in it when we first arrived in our new country, our new apartment, our new life. I still have it, somewhere. I remember trying to talk about Harry Potter in school even though I couldn’t speak English properly and was scared to speak at all. (I wrote a note about it half in Portuguese that no one understood. It was a little pathetic.)
Harry Potter was also the first novel I read in English. It was difficult to go from reading full chapter books to barely understanding a picture book, but Harry brought my confidence back with Order of the Phoenix. After that, my family started moving from town to town every two years or so, but my one constant was books. And Harry.
No matter where I went, how many times I was the new kid, or how alone I felt, Harry was always there. The same way his friends were always there to remind him that no matter how miserable his summers were, he had people he loved and who loved him back. And I did too — fictional or otherwise.
I know my story is not unique, but I’ve recently come to realize just how much the books influence everything I do. I often joke around with friends and say that Harry Potter is not a fandom, but a way of life. The thing is, that’s not even an exaggeration for me (and many others). There is no part of my life that is not touched by Harry Potter. The books aren’t perfect, and I would never say they are. But we cannot deny that it teaches tolerance and love and acceptance, and the world is better for it.
Thanks for the past 20 years, Harry.
“…at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: ‘To Harry Potter – the boy who lived!'”
— Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone