Cover photo via.
I’m part of the lucky generation that got to grow up with Harry Potter—literally. Although Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in 1998, I somehow avoided reading it until two years later… when I was 11 years old. I must have had friends tell me I needed to read it, likely my best friend Karen, who influenced much of my reading in my younger years. In the spring of 2000, my mom bought me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban all at once, and I immediately devoured them.
(Side note: I was a bit of brat about books in my pre-teen years. Check them out from the library? Oh no. I must own every book I want to read. Every. Book. Fortunately, I did actually read about 95% of the books I was purchased. And I was definitely never hard to shop for during the holidays.)
Not long after I inhaled the first three Harry Potter books, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released. My mom took me to Borders to buy it, but when we got there, there were none available for the general public. You had to have pre-ordered the book months in advance. Me being new to the Harry Potter ‘verse, I had no idea this was something I was supposed to have done. I was actually pretty devastated that I couldn’t just go buy the next book in my new favorite series at my favorite book store. To my eternal gratitude, a woman who overheard our exchange with the Borders employee told me and my mom that there were stacks of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at Walmart, all up for the taking. My mom immediately drove me to the nearest Walmart and there inside the doors were palettes of the book. I gleefully grabbed the best one from the pile and went home to read. Like the first three books, I read this one in one sitting. Unlike the first three books, it made me bawl my eyes out. Cedric Diggory’s death, to my memory, is the first time a book broke my heart. I was still just 11.
The next year, the first movie was released in theaters. I was there opening weekend, mother in tow, and I loved it. It was so close to the book! (With a couple noted and aggravating changes, but you can’t keep everything.) I applauded at the end with the rest of the theater. My favorite book series had come to life! I saw it twice more in theaters.
I saw the second movie twice in theaters, but it didn’t hold quite the same magic as the first. The first movie was just a little bit closer to the book, just a little closer to my imagination, just a little bit better… The Chamber of Secrets would actually be the last Harry Potter movie I saw in theaters before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1.
But then it was 2003. I was 14 years old, about to start high school, and full of teen angst. Harry was 15 years old and full of teen angst. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out, and I had my mom take me to Walmart to get it on the release date. I sat down and read the book in 25 straight hours. I stopped for nothing. I toted the book to the bathroom; I took my meals in my bedroom. And I accidentally cracked into a Budweiser that was in the fridge thinking it was a Diet Coke because I couldn’t take my nose out of the book long enough to know I had grabbed the wrong can… (I still can’t drink Bud to this day, though, why would I want to?)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was and is still my favorite Harry Potter book. I identified with Harry in that book so acutely—the angst, the unfairness! Blindly charging forward on what you think is right and getting beat back because you were wrong. Granted nothing I ever did right or wrong was on the level of Harry Potter… but man I wished it was. The escapism of all books helped me get through my childhood, but it was far and away Harry Potter that led the charge. Dreaming of Hogwarts took me far from my problems, but still allowed me to work through the universal teenage issues I faced.
In 2005, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released, and Harry and I were both 16. Fortunately I could drive, so I drove myself to Walmart at midnight to pick up the book. Shit got real in The Half-Blood Prince, and like all the other books, I sat down to read it in one sitting. How convenient all these books were released in the summer so no pesky school could get in the way of me staying up all night reading! This is actually the book I’ve re-read the least to this date.
And finally, two years later in 2007, I had graduated from high school and was preparing to begin my first year at Ball State, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released. Again at midnight, I drove myself to Walmart and bought the book. Again, I read it through the night—and had to take my first ever break from reading a Harry Potter book. I passed out around 8 in the morning and had to pick the book up again during the next day. I no longer had the reading stamina of a 14-year-old. I cried a lot over those two days. More tears than most any other book I’ve ever read. My heart broke over and over again because the characters I had grown up with were dying and suffering, and there was nothing I could do but read on and cry. I was even lucky enough to relive all of this when The Deathly Hallows Pts. 1 and 2 were released in theaters in 2010 and 2011!
I’ve never written all this out before, and no one probably cares. But I can’t help but think it shows just how lucky I was to be the same age as Harry as I not only read his story, but also grew up with him. Only a sliver of a generation got to experience this, and now no one else really can the way we did. The books are all out there. An 11-year-old kid can knock the whole series out in a week and not know what it’s like to wait for seven years to know why Harry’s scar hurt him so badly, or to wait for Ron and Hermione to finally kiss, or to understand all of Snape’s motives. I in agony for two years to know if Sirius Black, my favorite character, was really dead or not. Kids today need only wait a day. Or a few hours, as many will likely gravitate toward the movies first, seeing bits and pieces on an ABC Family Harry Potter weekend. That’s no way to know and love Harry Potter, but that’s probably how many children—and adults, let’s be honest—will come to know him.
And that leads into my most current re-read of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Each time a new book was released, I would re-read the whole series. Well, to be transparent, when The Half-Blood Prince and then The Deathly Hallows came out, I started with The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix, respectively. My nearly-adult self didn’t have time to mess with a pre-teen’s problems. So while I have read The Sorcerer’s Stone probably five or six times (there were definitely a few re-reads during the years in between book releases), I haven’t read it in years, and not since the final book came out.
Knowing all of Harry’s story, from the conclusion of The Deathly Hallows to the extra material J.K. Rowling has produced throughout the years, reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was a surreal but wonderful experience. I cracked open the book last week (literally, cracked. After half a dozen read-throughs by myself and one or two from Terry, the 15-year-old spine is getting pretty weak), and was flooded by memories. I was also truly astounded by how much is foreshadowed, teased, and teed up in this book. When Ginny sees Harry at Platform Nine and Three-quarters and is obsessed with him as only a 10-year-old can be, it was the strangest sensation thinking, Huh, they get married and have kids together. Or, likewise, when Ron can’t stand Hermione in their first few months at Hogwarts, thinking, Well, we know they have some additional problems when they’re a bit older, but they get married, too. And then everything with Snape… Every time he shows up and Harry is suspicious of him, every time you think Snape is doing wrong, every time Snape is horrible to Harry… This whole read-through I knew he loved Lily. So much of what he did in this first book was to help protect Harry because he loved Harry’s mother. Harry’s hatred of Snape kicks off in The Sorcerer’s Stone, but he later names one of his sons after him. Let me tell you what I never saw coming when I was 11.
It’s surreal how much changes and develops from an 11-year-old kid learning he’s a wizard to the darkest wizard of all time’s second rise to power and subsequent defeat. From the basic Elixir of Life to bring Voldemort back to learning about the complexity of the seven deathly hallows… everything springs from this book. Reading it with the knowledge of the whole series behind you, while not exactly illuminating any new knowledge, it certainly shows how carefully J.K. Rowling crafted this world and why it’s such an enduring, important, and spectacular series.
While my 11-year-old self would be appalled that it took me four days to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I enjoyed taking my time with the book and reliving my childhood again. I’m looking forward to re-reading the rest of the series over the next couple weeks, especially the later books that I’ve only read a couple times. Hopefully there are a few extra nuggets of foreshadowing I can pick up on. And hopefully I don’t cry quite as much as I did the first time I read the books. Though I’m not getting my hopes up.
Have you re-read Harry Potter recently? If not, I highly suggest you dive in for a re-read. You’ll be surprised with how much nostalgia is packed into the first 309 pages of the series. Go on, you know you want to…