Fri
Nov 25 2011 3:00pm

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.

This article originally appeared during Tor.com’s Potterpalooza


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.

11 comments
Emmet O'Brien
1. EmmetAOBrien
I was twenty-four when the first book came out and it was a few years later that I read them, and I definitely missed the boat for having a strong emotional attachment to them; I suspect the strongest lasting feeling I will have about them is that I love The Unwritten and it is nigh-impossible to see that existing without the Potter books.

I wonder whether the way I relate to King's Dark Tower series, having started reading them only a little bit after I was eleven (the age of the youngest of the principal characters) shortly after the first book came out, and finished them shortly after turning thirty-three (the age of the eldest of the principal characters) is in some way similar; it seems remarkably unlikely that anyone starting the books now will spread them out that way.
Lawrence Morrison
2. Lawrence Morrison
My Thrill with these books was getting my daughter interested in reading. I read the first one to her aloud, the second we read chapter by chapter, the third I made her read aloud to me, the rest we devoured and discussed. The SF character I identified with beacuse we were the same age was Heywood P. Floyd. Anything that fosters reading!
Lawrence Morrison
3. Peter Binks
At the library that I work at we finally took down the wall dedicated to Harry Potter. I cried. Harry still has a rack just for him but its not the same. I am a little younger, so Harry finished I was seventeen. I'm twenty now, and still waiting for my letter to Hogwarts :*(
Lawrence Morrison
4. PhillipTang
Even at age 20 or 21 when I started reading them I enjoyed the story.
Lawrence Morrison
5. Laura Lam
We must be the same age. I, too, was 11 when the first book came out but I didn't read it until I was around 12 because I thought I was too cool. Before long I was completely emerged. I went to Harry Potter charooms, read HP fanfic, played make believe Hogwarts at my 13th birthday party. Waited until midnight for the new book and read it until morning. Saw the first film five times in the cinema. My mom, my brother and I would all play hookie and go see it.

I haven't read the books in years, but HP was a huge, huge part of my life as a teen, and it was one of the few books all of my friends became hugely excited about as well. I even read Harry Potter in French for a challenge (Serpentard! Baguette magique!) . I'll always have HP nostaglia.
Lawrence Morrison
6. mad_for_fantasy
Harry Potter books have given me more joy than any thing in this world. They were a part of my growing up. I denied that the series was over when i read "All was well." on the last page of DH. I denied that it was over when the ending credits of DH-2 rolled on. Harry Potter will never be over. The phenomenon lives on, in our minds and hearts.
Lawrence Morrison
7. RoddyRodd
Sadly I am way too old to have grown up with Harry Potter but I remember when The Order Of The Phoenix came out and I was lining up outside a bookstore with my nephew and niece feeling quite emotional to be part of this amazing group of people who were all genuinely excited about a new book being released. We all had one thing in common, this love for Harry Potter.
Steve Taylor
8. teapot7
I encountered Harry Potter many decades too late for it to be my special book (What would be? Jack Vance's _Planet of Adventure_ books are my homeland I guess.). I read the Harry Potter books as they came out, but thought they were no big deal and pretty derivative.

Then I had a daughter. She's eight now and she's just read through them all and is trapped on an endless cycle of rereading. I read along with her, and this time enjoyed them hugely, and got pulled right into their world.

So - you don't even need to be the right age. You just need a native guide.
Lawrence Morrison
9. Aneke
There is certainly something incredibly special about being part of the Potter generation. I'm a couple years older than Harry, but I read them with fervor through my middle and high school years. I worked at a small bookstore during the time when the last three books came out and witnessed crowds arriving at midnight, in costume, to claim their copies. These crowds were made up of all ages and types of people. Harry Potter brought them all together, and whether or not you grew up with Harry, you found yourself in a definite community.

The thing about growing up Potter- I think I can sum it up this way:

When, at last, the final movie came out, I watched it with a mixture of joy and a vague sadness. When the credits rolled by at the end, I turned to my boyfriend and said, "I guess this means that our childhood really is over."

Suddenly you realize that there will not be another book, and there will not be another movie. All there is, you have experienced, and you walk out of the theatre. You close the back cover. Harry Potter is over. And now, having witnessed this time, you feel complete in a way, but still wishing you could rewind it and experience it all over again. It's a really poignant ending to one's childhood, something that not many generations are as fortunate to have.
James Whitehead
10. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
I did not grew up with Harry Potter & was nagged into him late by my brother; Goblet of Fire had just been released. I took to the series immediately and have since read it numerous times.

My nephews, however, grew up with the series. My mother bought the first book & read it to them the summer it was published while they stayed with my parents. The boys were 10 & 8 respectively & loved the series. Every summer they came north to stay & my mother would read the latest one to them.

As a sign of their affection for her, they even let her read the first chapter of the Deathly Hallows. ;-)

Kato
Eva Malc
11. EvaM
I was already an adult when Harry Potter books came out. But many adults were swept by the fan love. What's more important I had a favourite book in childhood. The one I read so many times I memorised the first page. The book was Astrid Lindgren's Mio, My Mio and it was about orphan boy raised by aweful foster parents who one day finds out he has special destiny and travels to magical land that he has to save from horrible evil. I loved that book as a kid. There was no place for Harry Potter's overbloated story (7 books to tell pretty much the same thing!) in my heart anymore. Although I appriciate the fact it made so many kids start reading books. I know it did it for my younger cousins. They moved on before the last book but it got them into books.

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