I realise that this is going to go up a week late, since the actual anniversary was the 26th of June. In my defence, I didn’t plan to do this, but there was a disaster with some canapés and the garbage disposal (separately), and I have a lot of things to say about Harry Potter in general, so it seemed like a good idea.
It is strange to think that it’s been twenty years, and that within that time so many people all over the world have been affected by Harry Potter. Twenty years isn’t that long in the grand scheme of world history, but it’s the majority of my life. I remember the first time I saw a HP book: it was under another girl’s desk in second grade, and I thought something derogatory about it, which was more of a reaction to someone having something I didn’t than an actual dislike of the book. Soon after that my mother began reading the book to me at night, and not long after that, I apparently started taking the book to school with me to read ahead. I don’t remember that last part but I’m sure it’s an indication that Mom was refusing to read more than a chapter or two a night (jeez, Mom, be cool) and it definitely should have been the initial warning sign of my reading habits to come.
However it happened, Harry Potter had a massive impact on both my desire to and my ability to read – if you’re thinking that second grade is a bit late for a book to affect my ability to read, buzz off. The only problem was that the books came out so SLOWLY. The first one came out in 1997, but the seventh one came out in 2007! Ten years for seven books! It might seem unnecessary to be complaining about this now, but I actually fully believe that the building anticipation for each book had a lot to do with the popularity of the series. It meant that there was time for the whole Harry Potter phenomenon to become more than just a series of books; it became a community as well, of people commiserating over the fact that nobody had any idea what was going to happen next. And it became a fandom, but there were far more people who didn’t engage in the joys and horrors of fandom culture that still engaged in the “what, when, and if” conversations.
Obviously there are many people who could write (and have) long posts and articles about Harry Potter, so I’m trying to keep this central to my experience. Fun fact: I’ve only lost one game of Harry Potter trivia in my entire life, and it was in triple overtime and I am still furious about it. You know who you are. I’m coming for you.
Actually, I have found this particular community to be competitive in general, probably because there’s just so much information in such massive books – which brings me to another way HP seriously impacted my life, and possibly yours. It’s a lesser known fact that when Goblet of Fire (which clocks in at 734 pages, US edition) was published, the people who matter in the publishing industry realised that children are perfectly capable of reading massive books, and even happy to do it. Voilà, the page counts on childrens and young adult books suddenly lifted. Of course, this means that horrors like the Eragon series came to be, but we can absorb some hits for the greater good, can’t we?
There’s an excellent example of this in action: the Tamora Pierce series Protector of the Small. The series begins with First Test, originally published in 1999, 258 pages. The next book is Page, published in 2000, the same year as Goblet of Fire, with 290 pages. The third book, Squire, published the year after GoF, jumps to 434 pages, almost double the first two books. The next book, Lady Knight, is 444 pages. That jump turns a good series into a great one: I’d consider Protector of the Small to be Tammy Pierce’s crowning achievement (and she’s written 32 incredible books, with at least two more on the way). A large part of this is due to the fact that Squire and Lady Knight had tight, solid plots, but were allowed to flower out beyond what First Test and Page could.
Of course, what works for one person doesn’t always work for another, and sometimes what works once doesn’t always work again. Order of the Phoenix is the first of the HP books for which I distinctly remember the intense pressure on publication. If I felt that pressure, I can’t even imagine what JK must have been feeling, and I’m pretty sure she’s admitted that she should have given Order of the Phoenix a final edit (although I couldn’t find the actual quote). It’s a warning at least for fans of George RR Martin that pressuring authors to publish books faster might not be beneficial to the actual book.
Either way, who actually cares how long or how well edited the HP books are? It’s never been about the individual books – it’s about the sum total of them, the mystery, the world, the epic heroism, and the community of people that love them. Harry Potter will endure long after this twenty year anniversary, not because the boy keeps saying “dunno” but because he’s brave and true and loving in the face of a terrifying, but not terribly unlikely villain.
… Also because no one can decide on a decent butterbeer recipe, but that might have to be another post.
The featured image in this post is Hagrid’s Hut by Jim Kay, the artist who’s been doing those wonderful illustrated editions of the books. I’m anxiously awaiting Prisoner of Azkaban. The amount of detail in his work is unbelievable, and I love this one in particular. Hagrid has always been one of my favourite characters. Do you see that it’s a boat? I’ve got heart eyes!