Wed
Jun 15 2011 4:33pm

Growing Up Potter

When Harry Potter was eleven, so was I.

That is to say that I was eleven years old when the first book was released and, therefore, the same age Harry was that first year at Hogwarts. Initially, I was determined not to read them, convinced that something so popular couldn’t possibly be good. (Yes, I was a precocious thing, and very unconcerned with what was “cool.”) But family and friends wore me down in the end, and I found my train to Hogwarts the same way most children my age did—with wonder in my eyes, magic tingling my fingertips, and a hunger for something that I could label as my own.

Harry Potter is an identification marker. In some ways, I like to think of it as its own Woodstock. Allow me to elaborate.

While J.K. Rowling’s seven book saga was created for all generations to enjoy, there was something about growing up with the series that will forever define my generation. We are a group of people who believe in the impossible, in the power of love’s ability to protect and create, in silly things like jelly beans that taste like dirt and earwax, in bravery wrought through friendship and the need for a few basic spells to ease our way through daily life. (What? Chocolate and tea are homemade spells of a sort.) I can’t say whether Harry gave this to us, but I know that he was a part of it all, a uniting factor that allowed children and teens all over the world to lock eyes, smile and know that we weren’t so different after all.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I can never take criticism of these books seriously. Those who want to take issue with Rowling’s prose or her narrative complexities, they just don’t get it. They missed the boat. They weren’t there.

What House are you in? What’s your wand core? What position do you play on the Quidditch team? You know who you are. You’ve answered these questions before. You were there at midnight in a line wrapped around the block, waiting greedily for the next installment. I remember.

Make no mistake, Harry Potter owes all that he is to the internet. As the series began to thrive, the world wide web was coming into its own, and fans from every continent on the planet had a way to connect. Outside convention halls, inside homes, 365 days a year and no stopping for breath. There were countless fanfics, sites full of fanart, videos and parodies and all the Livejournal icons you could ever hope for. The boy wizard proved what the internet could do to a fanbase, how the web could bring us together for fun, fact-sharing, even charity.

Every controversy Potter created made it stronger, particularly because no one could refute one incredible truth; it was getting children to read. To love reading the way that they loved video games and television. On that, there is little to say that hasn’t been said already, but it still gives me goosebumps whenever I see a child flipping through the pages of one of these books, knowing that they’re experiencing it for the first time in a way that I will never be able to again.

The mass enthusiasm that the series generated was unheard of—midnight releases with people wearing costumes, sites where every name, item, and plot detail were picked apart with care, films that would span a decade with actors we would watch turn into adults. It has become a merchandising monster, but that overlooks the value of what it fostered. No book has come close to this kind of fervor, and understandably so: it was the community that did it. The community generated by Rowling’s wizarding world was part of the appeal. We all belonged to it. We all grew in it.

But we’ll probably never grow out of it. At King’s Cross station in London, there is a Platform 9¾ labeled on brick, complete with a cart sticking out of the wall. When I walked by, I had to push it. Just in case. I dare you not to do the same, should you ever find yourself wandering into the station.

And even though certain books took a little longer to reach the shelf and I was no longer the same age as Harry when I finally read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it felt appropriate. College would be ending soon, and Harry and I would head into the world together. He had seen me through many of the formative years of my life. I will always be grateful for that.

A butterbeer toast those of us who grew up Potter.

We’ll be waiting in the Great Hall when you come home.


Emily Asher-Perrin is a Gryffindor, her wand core is dragon heartstring and she is a Chaser on the Quidditch pitch. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

This article is part of Potterpalooza on Tor.com: ‹ previous | index | next ›
23 comments
Carl V.
1. Carl V.
"Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I can never take criticism of these books seriously. Those who want to take issue with Rowling’s prose or her narrative complexities, they just don’t get it. They missed the boat. They weren’t there."

That is fantastically put. I haven't read the Harry Potter books and have certainly heard the criticisms and the praise, but that one paragraph so perfectly encapsulates the way I feel about the things I grew up with. I hear people criticize the original Star Wars trilogy as well as some of the science fiction books I grew up loving and although I can make an effort to try to step outside of myself to see those views through a critical eye, it never really works because I cannot truly divorce myself from the wonder and awe that these things spark in me to this day whenever I partake of them.

I'm glad you had something so magical to grow up with, something that will no doubt stay with you for your entire life.



Ian B
2. Greyfalconway
I feel the same way, I remember my grandma reading book one to me back when it came out and laughing constantly, then reading it alone after I was supposed to be asleep, the first book I ever did that with, I couldn't get enough. When Harry potter was 14 so was I, 15 16 and then when the 7th book came out I was 17 and a senior in my school just like all of them, I waited in line at midnight from books 4 on, and have an annual pass to universal so I can go to the wizarding world every few weeks, this series and these characters have had a huge impact on my life, and everyone else from my age group, almost every time I go out a stranger will make a comment on my time-turner necklace, I can't think of one series other than this that has such a fanbase that so many people would recognize it and feel the need to connect
Melissa Shumake
3. cherie_2137
i also flatly refused to read them when they were first released, because i too thought that something so popular couldn't possibly be something good that i would want to read (which is true for twilight... so there is a real rationale in there somewhere...) and while i never waited in line at midnight (just not a night person and live in the boonies) i most definitely agree that it defined our generation. i've actually had that conversation with several people lately.
Carl V.
4. Sensawunda
I read the first Potter while recovering from surgery when I was eleven or twelve. My wife cried when she didn't get a letter to Hogwarts, and only started dating me because she thought I looked somewhat like Rupert Grint. So, yeah, Potter is a huge part of my life.
Carl V.
5. Leslie Blair Gallagher
I get it, resistance was futile... Sigh.
Carl V.
6. Nate Stokes
I avoided Harry Potter as though it were the plague, and in doing so learned a valuable lesson about judging things by their popular success. I mean, I am an MASSIVE reader of genre, averaging 5 novels a week, I spend all of my spare money, roughly $100 a week on paperbacks, and have done for my entire adult life. I was 25 when the first book came out, and sneered at the 'mainstream'-ness of it all.

I avoided the books largely because of the adults who went potter mad. It seemed really quite pathetic to me, childish to become such an overt
'fan' of something written for children.

Of course, I finally read the first book, and got it instantly. In some ways, I'm glad, because I only had to wait 18 months for the end (the first 6 books were out when I started). I'm embarressed to say that I don't think I would have coped that well with a longer wait. I dunno how you lot could stand it!!

So Harry Potter gave me one quite large life lesson, aside from the obvious thrill of reading the wonderful story of is life at Hogwarts. He taught me that judging a novel by it's fans is an easy way to miss out on truly great fiction. (Although this resulted in me reading Twilight, I regret it not a bit, since THAT readthrough has given me tonnes of ammunition for attacking such a load of rubbish, and given me opportunity to direct new genre readers onto REAL genre, largely by throwing Twilight readers copies of Jim Butcher novels, for a start.)

I did exactly the same thing with Stephen King, actually. But a few years back I picked up Nightmares and Dreamscapes, and have devoured King since. And although there have been a few misses, for the most part he is a wonderful writer with a beautiful, sick, twisted mind and a real eye for detail.
pat purdy
7. night owl
I'm jealous of those of you who were the right age, at the right time to be introduced to these wonderful books of magic! Mine were filled with fables of Grimm and Arabian Nights. (However, even a 72 yr. old can be transported back to being eleven)>
After many years of mystery, crime , time travel and Janet Evonivich, :-)
I've worked my way back to my real love, fantasy. My bookshelves runneth over . I hope all of you continue exploring the wonderful worlds of the great authors out there. and yeah, the Dresdon Files rock. Try his Codex Allera and discover another young lad finding his wings.
Bruce Meyer
8. dominsions
I remember when my second-grade teacher read our class the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia. I can still see them going through the wardrobe and finding that magical world, and the snow crunching beneath their feet from the white witch.

www.dominsions.com
Carl V.
9. a-j
I read these as an adult. I was working in the book trade and had heard rumours about this remarkably popular books (only the first two had been published at that point) which the critics had missed entirely. I read the first one out of interest and my immediate reaction was 'I would have loved this as a child'. A lot of the criticism I believe is driven by a combination of jealousy, snobbery and irritation by certain eminent critics that they had missed it. Harold Bloom even went as far as to say on BBC radio that he would rather children did not read at all than read Harry Potter.
Carl V.
10. Jobi-Wan
Firstly, great article, secondly this sentance conveyed my feelings about Harry Potter for the longest time. "Initially, I was determined not to read them, convinced that something so popular couldn’t possibly be good."

I refused to get into Harry Potter becuase I thought there was no way it was as good as people were hyping it up to be. I hadnt watched any of the movies or read any of the books, even though I am a big sci-fi/fantasy person, because I thought Harry Potter was a little kids book and there was no way I could get into it.

But by a chance of fate I was bored one day and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had come out recently so I made my way to the local book store and said fine I will read it just to prove to myself that it's not good. Boy was I wrong.

I read OOTF in less than 24 hours and found myself back at the bookstore buying the first 4 books and then reading them in order so I could understand what was happening in book 5. I re-read the books in order several more times in the next few months and I was hooked, I watched all the movies, dressed up for midnight premiers of the books and the movies, bought a wand, and even took my wife out on our first date to a Harry Potter midnight movie. I can't count how many times ive read, watched, and listened to Harry Potter on audio book. I cant wait to share these amazing books with my children someday.

It is odd though I have several friends who like I once believed think that Harry Potter is nonsense and refuse to give the books or movies a try. I tell them I was once like them and that they should just give it a try and I've even tried bribing some of my friends to just read the first book because I know they would like it. To each their own, but I know one thing for sure life is much better with Harry Potter in it.
Carl V.
11. Silent Mists
Reading Harry Potter got me so used to the smell of Bloomsbury books, that every time I read a Bloomsbury memories of Harry Potter come crashing. Ofcourse, I bought all the Scholastic versions too, but my journey with Harry Potter began with Bloomsbury :)

I remember being introduced to Harry Potter by a friend. I was in 7th grade stocking up on books for the the Summer holidays when a friend told me she had a book "of magic" with an "old man with an incredibly long beard wearing royal blue robes with stars on them." That's when I decided that a book with a character looking like that must be quite a read. Ofcourse, by the time I finished the Philosopher's Stone I was gaping and gasping for breath, in love with the "old man" Dumbledore and thought that was the end of the series. I was so disappointed there weren't more. I discovered about the other three (Goblet of Fire had just been released) six months later when a friend mentioned Chamber of Secrets. I looked at her disbelievingly, "no, it can't be true," I thought to myself. Running to the store I bought the lot and devoured the books in a couple days. I was in love like I had never been before. From then on, I have had marathons with every book's release, reading in the kitchen with cousins, because the rest of the house was full to the brim with people sleeping, laughing like maniacs and screaming in shock trying our best not to give out spoilers.
Ofcourse, other books have had great impacts and have left their fond memories as well, but nothing, nothing compares with Harry Potter. Needless to say, I grew up with Harry, and associate everything in my life with it, and even when I forget, little things like a smell of a piece of paper can cause my mind to rush back to the world of Hogwarts and everything within. I only wish that others could have grown with a legend like we did, and hope that more books like these emerge.
The last movie will make my cry, I know, but I wonder what Rowling has in store for us with PotterMore.
Carl V.
13. rosiecotton
I started reading when I was 11 - book 3 was out by then, and I graduated University just this term. I can't help feeling like after the movie 7-part 2 comes out, my childhood will have officially ended. It's a sad thought, but still, I am living my last month as a kid. :)
Maggie M
14. Eswana
Emily you've got me tearing up over here. Thankst for for speaking so beautifully about "our" Harry. I was 11 when Harry was, too, and in many ways the Potter experience was, as you said, quintessential to my growing up.

While the movies can never quite capture the magic of the books (though I'd argue the last two - and it looks like DH Pt 2 as well - are a marked improvement), what matters now is the community. It's about friends, it's about fans, it's about experience, it's about activism.

We're Dumbledore's kids, through and through.

Even if you can't join 3,000+ of us at the largest Harry Potter fan convention in history this summer, try to get yourself down to the park in Orlando at some point. Go have a butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks. Is the admission ridiculous? Yes. But walking around inside your imagination is priceless.

Also, I dare you to watch this and not cry.
Carl V.
15. CP
I too was 11 when the first Harry Potter book came out. My English teacher introduced it to us as our reading assignment. I will be forever grateful to her for showing me the wondrous world that is Hogwarts. I've always been an avid reader before the HP books but it reaffirmed my love for reading.

Since then, I diligently waited at awkward hours of the night or early mornings outside the bookstore for the next installment and when the movies came out, I was always at the midnight screening, having bought my tickets WEEKS ahead. And now, it's the final movie. I feel like I'm losing my best friend. The books and movies were with me throughout my teenage years all the way to college. And now, it's the end.

I have no doubts that when I attend the midnight screening of Deathly Hallows Part 2, I will be watching the movie through a thick curtain of tears because the movie marks the end of the Harry Potter franchise and most importantly, my and many other's childhood.

It's the end, people. The last nail in the coffin. Excuse me now, while I go sob into my pillow.
Carl V.
16. B. Durbin
Heh. I'm a bit older than the Potter demographic, and I was home visiting from college when I noticed that my mom had the first two books. I started the first one, wondered what the extreme fuss was about (not that I thought it was bad, just wondered why people got so very hooked), finished the book about 10PM, and picked up the second... and figured it out.

Mom got me the first four in hardback as an engagement present.

I was working at a bookstore when the fifth book came out and gleefully volunteered for the release party. I made a Bertie Botts bean guess that some eleven-year-old won (he got the beans!) but the store was so loud that nobody could hear. I caught him when he came through the line for his reserved copy, though. And the second-place winner (a smaller jar of beans, the leftovers that wouldn't fit in the primary jar.) Two hours of sales later, I got my copy and went home.

And to bed. I read the book when I got up. Then my husband read it. Great fun to say to customers who asked me if I'd started reading it yet. Good times, good times.
Emily Asher-Perrin
17. EmilyAP
Thanks to all who have been enjoying this! It's so much fun to read everyone else's stories about how they were exposed to Harry (or to any other story that defined how they grew up). It's particularly wonderful to hear how many people have built important relationships due to Potter. Absolutely incredible.

To everyone who's tearing up over the departure, I can only offer virtual hugs and the hope that some part of this will live on in one form or another. I know exactly how you feel. I'll probably be dressed up for the midnight showing myself. I know I'll have the Marauder's Map with me. Of course, now that Rowling is teasing us with her upcoming announcement, who knows what we might be in store for.... *fingers crossed*

@ Carl V. - Precisely, thank you. If I had been born earlier, it would have been Star Wars for me all the way. Before Potter, when I was just getting into Star Wars as a kid, I remember feeling supremely gipped that I wasn't alive when the original trilogy came out. I still do, really.

@Eswana - Dumbledore's kids, through and through. I couldn't have put it better myself.
James Whitehead
18. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
EmilyAP, nicely put. I got sucked into the books with the fourth one and was hooked immediately.

It is my nephews, however, that were the right age for the books when they came out. They aged with the books, more or less, and I do feel a little envy I must admit. 'Course they feel the same way you do about Star Wars & envy their uncle a little; I was 9 when Star Wars came out.

@a-j9, if Bloom said that than I am truly disappointed in him for it. What an asinine thing to say. My mum, a voracious reader & holder of a library sciences degree, never, ever said that about those Harlequin romance novels. She felt they weren't terribly well written but believed that if they got people to read who normally didn't do so then that was OK.

Kato
Carl V.
19. Izzie
I was 11 when I picked up the first Harry Potter book. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released shortly after I graduated from high school. I was 17. Somehow it felt appropriate. Now the final movie installment is set to release about 2 months after my graduation from college. Still feeling the appropriateness of the situation. While its difficult to imagine a world with out Harry Potter,in reality he's still going to be there, sitting on my shelves, waiting for a "grown-up" me to return. Thank you for your wonderful post!
Carl V.
20. Jennifer Megan Varnadore
I remember my first Harry Potter book. I will admit, I only had one when I was younger. I had the Goblet of Fire. However, I also remember watching all of the movies, reading all of the books. Wishing I could go to all of the things people went to wearing costumes. I once bought a pack of Harry Potter postcards, and hid the Ronald Weasley one in my pillow at night. A little odd, I grant, but I had a huge crush on Rupert Grint back then.

Now that I'm in my twenties, I understand a great deal more than just the magic of it all. I understand the power of house identity. (I'm a Slytherin.) I understand how knowing who you are and what fuels you can create a self-awareness and confidence that just is in itself, magical. I grew up wondering who I was, and what my worth was. It's only since I was sorted into Pottermore as a Slytherin, that I realized I AM more than my intellect. I always thought I would be a Ravenclaw. Now I understand I am more than that. I am ambitious. "You are sorted for who you will become, not necessarily for who you are." I think that's powerful. We can all become something great.

Harry Potter taught me that.
Carl V.
21. ConStar
Uhm, this made me tear up in the best way. I wasn't quite 11 when I started reading Harry, but I was 17 when he was 17 and going to college, so yeah, a similar feeling of gorwing up with him and hitting certain marks. I love your Harry Potter pieces so very much. =)
Carl V.
22. Pete 'Scratch' Anderson
At the end of the day, it's a kids' story about a pretend wizard.
Carl V.
23. IMadeAWitch
Growing up with these characters has been one wild ride.

Imagine my surprise when I have a little witch of my own on the 16th anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts!

Guess who's getting Potter-themed birthday parties the rest of her life? :)

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