June 26 is an auspicious day for many in Nerdom. It is on that day the first Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was published.
This year is especially celebrated because it marks 20 years since the cultural juggernaut hit book shelves in the United Kingdom. A little more than a year later, in September 1998, the book that started it all hit shelves in North America.
And it all started with one line that Potterheads – yes, that is what fans of Harry Potter are called, it’s weird, I know – all know by heart: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
Yes, I do know the opening line of the first Harry Potter book by heart. There is no need for the odd glances. No one would look at me oddly if I was to quote the first line of Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice”, which is “It is a truth universally acknowledge, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
I started reading the Harry Potter books when I was 10, turning 11. I finished reading the books the summer I turned 17, in 2007 when the final book was released. To me, just like many other fans of the book, I grew up with the characters, and knew them as well as any friend I had.
The series means a lot to me, even now 10 years after finishing the final book, 20 years after the initial release of the first one.
To give an idea of how much the series actually means to me, let me tell you all a story.
A couple of years ago, four I think but can’t properly recall, one of my younger sisters won an all expense paid trip anywhere she wanted to go.
She decided to take me, and our youngest sister, to the one place we have always wanted to go, but never had the chance: Disney World.
While the experience at Disney was amazing, it is another story.
Orlando, Florida has one other theme park we made our mission to go to, that being Universal Studios.
Why Universal? Because the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWOHP) had opened a year or two before we went. It was our opportunity to go, all three of us being fans of the series.
When we entered the gate to the park, which at the time WWOHP was only in Islands of Adventure and had not yet expanded, we were all stunned.
First, there was so many people. Second, there was so much to see. Third, there was amazing looking food everywhere.
A few steps beyond the gate we caught our first glimpse.
There across the lake was Hogwarts Castle. It was beautiful and perfect and had all three of us stopped in our tracks, gaping like fish.
We made a few stops along the way, took in a couple rides and areas, but our main destination was Hogsmeade, the fictional wizarding town come to life at the theme park.
Our first step over the threshold into Hogsmeade had us all pausing, we had to collect ourselves. It was a little emotional, I’m not ashamed to admit it.
To the right was the Hogwarts Express, and we stopped to admire it and get a photo with the train conductor.
There were shops known to Potterheads in every direction; The Three Broomsticks, Ollivanders, Zonkos, it was thrilling. And there at the top of the hill over looking it all was the castle.
The line to get on the ride at Hogwarts was an hour long, but it didn’t feel like it as you wove through the entire castle and watched the magical portraits argue. Believe me, it was worth it.
The highlight for me was going into Ollivander’s shop to purchase a wand. At the park a show is performed and one audience member is chosen to take part and find their magical wand.
I was chosen. The wand that chose me is still proudly displayed on my wall at home.
The awe of the day, which was mostly spent in Hogsmeade even though to most people there isn’t enough there to spend an entire day at, propelled us through the following days which we spent at Disney World.
I am attempting to plan a return trip, to experience the expansion with Diagon Alley in Universal and actually ride the train back and forth.
Sure it’s been 20 years since the book’s release. Sure I am technically a 27-year-old adult. And, sure people ask me all the time if I still like Harry Potter or have read the books recently.
To them, my answer will always be, “Always.”