On 26 June 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published. Twenty years later, we celebrate two decades of the joy that the Harry Potter franchise has given to millions of people around the world. I will not talk about the plot of the franchise. Nor will I talk about how the books are superior to the movies (which they totally are, by the way). Instead, I’ll write about how Harry Potter was – and always will be – my most profound teacher and, in a way, my best friend.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone starts off with “The Boy Who Lived”, the first chapter of the fantasy series. From here, JK Rowling takes us on an adventure with Harry, one of the most relatable characters of our generation. Sure, not all of us live in constant fear of an evil wizard who’s out to kill us. But we do face many of the same troubles and tribulations that Harry does over the years – the emotionally taxing ones like being lonely at school and facing situations you aren’t ready for, as well as the mundane ones of too much homework and exam stress (the few times when Harry actually gives his exams). At some point, we’ve all identified with Ron’s feelings of inadequacy and envy. We’ve encountered racism and casteism and empathised with the Muggle-borns of the wizarding world, and we’ve seen that even Hogwarts isn’t immune to the plague of rote memorisation.
It’s no wonder, then, that I’ve learnt how to navigate life through the Harry Potter series. Hermione Granger was my first role model when I started reading the books at age 7. She followed rules and prioritised knowledge above all else, but she also taught me to value “friendship and bravery” over merely “books and cleverness”. For the first few years, Rowling taught me through direct dialogue, often that of Albus Dumbledore – how it does not do to dwell on dreams, how our choices reflect our true selves much more than our abilities, and to ask for help when needed (I’m still struggling with the last one, but I’m indebted to Rowling nonetheless). As I grew older, I started looking up to Minerva McGonagall for her no-nonsense attitude and affinity for fairness. The lessons I learnt now were more through my inferences from the literature and my own judgment of characters. Sometimes, these were even contradictory to what the plot implied. The most apparent example is that I concluded that Severus Snape’s love for Lily Potter could not excuse his abuse of children (and I will fight anyone who claims otherwise). Perhaps the biggest lesson we’ve all learnt, though, is that no matter who you are, there’s always a place where you belong.
In addition to the countless pieces of advice Harry Potter has offered me, it has also been a source of comfort and friendship. It’s my go-to feel-good series and I’ve ran to it umpteen times when I’m feeling low. I cannot speak for older people, but I know for a fact that our generation has been through it all with the golden trio. We grew up together and stuck with them through thick and thin. We experienced butterflies in our stomachs in Goblet of Fire when romance first became a part of the books, and suffered through whole pages of Harry shouting in Order of the Phoenix. We even made peace with the fact that the movies completely ignored the existence of Peeves. And for this Hufflepuff-worthy loyalty, we were rewarded with a fandom that keeps on giving – a textbook initially written for Comic Relief that was itself turned into a movie series, an online wizarding world where we can get our own wand and brew Polyjuice Potion, even a glimpse into the future where Harry and Draco’s sons are best friends.
Twenty years later, the fantasy world continues to heal people of all ages around the world. And six years after the release of the last Harry Potter movie, Rowling has stayed true to her word – whether we come back by page or by screen, Hogwarts has always been there to welcome us home.
Here’s wishing you a happy 20th anniversary of the Chosen One. To conclude, I’d like to say a few words, and here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!
Feature Image credits: The Independent