Happy Birthday, Harry!
July 31, 2018
Since he emerged into the culture in 1997, this fictional character has taken the world by storm. I would argue that it would be difficult to find anyone in the US who has not at least heard his name: Harry Potter.
People obsessed with everything Harry Potter have even discerned – through clues from the seven book series – that July 31, 1980 is his birthday. He shares his day with none other than the woman who created him: Joanne Rowling, aka JK Rowling, who was born in 1965.
Rowling is the first author to become a billionaire through her writing. And all because of a book concept which came to her on train ride in 1990.
From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Born in Yate, Gloucestershire, England, Rowling was working as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International when she conceived the idea for the Harry Potter series while on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990. (snip)
When she had reached her Clapham Junction flat, she began to write immediately. In December, Rowling’s mother, Anne, died after ten years suffering from multiple sclerosis. Rowling was writing Harry Potter at the time and had never told her mother about it. Her mother’s death heavily affected Rowling’s writing, and she channelled her own feelings of loss by writing about Harry’s own feelings of loss in greater detail in the first book.”
No doubt the first twelve publishers who turned the book down are still kicking themselves. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:
“In 1995, Rowling finished her manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on an old manual typewriter. Upon the enthusiastic response of Bryony Evens, a reader who had been asked to review the book’s first three chapters, the Fulham-based Christopher Little Literary Agency agreed to represent Rowling in her quest for a publisher. The book was submitted to twelve publishing houses, all of which rejected the manuscript. A year later she was finally given the green light (and a £1,500 advance) by editor Barry Cunningham from Bloomsbury, a publishing house in London. The decision to publish Rowling’s book owes much to Alice Newton, the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury’s chairman, who was given the first chapter to review by her father and immediately demanded the next. Although Bloomsbury agreed to publish the book, Cunningham says that he advised Rowling to get a day job, since she had little chance of making money in children’s books. Soon after, in 1997, Rowling received an £8,000 grant from the Scottish Arts Council to enable her to continue writing.
In June 1997, Bloomsbury published Philosopher’s Stone with an initial print run of 1,000 copies, 500 of which were distributed to libraries. Today, such copies are valued between £16,000 ($21,000 US) and £25,000 ($32,000 US). Five months later, the book won its first award, a Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. In February, the novel won the British Book Award for Children’s Book of the Year, and later, the Children’s Book Award. In early 1998, an auction was held in the United States for the rights to publish the novel, and was won by Scholastic Inc., for US $105,000. Rowling said that she ‘nearly died’ when she heard the news. In October 1998, Scholastic published Philosopher’s Stone in the US under the title of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a change Rowling says she now regrets and would have fought if she had been in a better position at the time.”
It was in 1998 when Harry Potter arrived in my household, his wizardry abilities on full display, as he took over first one child and then the next.
My first memory associated with the books is of my 8 year old, third grade son sitting/laying on the staircase of our house reading the book. He finished it in less than 24 hours. As soon as the second and third books were available in the summer and fall of 1999, they were devoured in a similar manner.
I cannot say for sure what age my daughter was when she picked up our copy of the Sorcerer’s Stone, but I do believe she was seven and in second grade in the year 2000 when her wizarding adventure began. Four of the seven books had been released and her reading them can best be described as a marathon.
And so it continued the next several years culminating in the release of book seven in 2007. By then my children – like the protagonists in Harry Potter – had grown up. My son was 17 and entering his senior year of high school and my daughter was 14.
Of course adding movies to the mix only served to enhance the experience. I think the high water mark for me was when, in 2009, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince came to the IMAX. I was working with the Rainbow Girls then and we took a group to see the movie. Imagine the girls’ surprise when I arrive for the event dressed up… just like the character Professor McGonagall. I made quite the stir when I walked into the theatre and one patron yelled at me from up above “Good to see you McGonagall!” Guess my costume worked.
I was able to reprise the role at a Harry Potter themed dance the next summer, using my ‘wand’ as I chaperoned the event to pry apart couples who, perhaps, were becoming a bit too amorous. I, along with another chaperone who sported his own Albus Dumbledore attire, shared the first place prize for best costume.
You might think that, as adults, my children’s love of Harry Potter has waned. But it has not. JK Rowling wannabes continue to write in the genre known as ‘fan fiction.’ And my son has read over 28 MILLION words… the equivalent of 351 novels… in just 3 years time. These stories are all related to Harry Potter’s wizarding world.
And my daughter? Well, here are a couple texts I got from her this morning as I was putting this article together:
Me: How many times have you read the series do you think?
Daughter: I’ve lost count… Just finished the whole thing again last week.
Me: That’s funny and it ties in perfectly.
Daughter: It’s more or less been a continuous cycle since 2000.
I think her response sums up the appeal of Harry Potter. A whole generation grew up reading the books and their love of the characters and the story transcends childhood. And that, ultimately, is a testament to the storytelling power of Rowling. What a gift she has given to millions and millions of people.
As always, a link to the Wikipedia about JK Rowling: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._K._Rowling
And even Harry Potter has a Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Potter_(character)