This Monday (June 26) will mark 20 years since the much-loved Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone or Sorceror's Stone (if you are American) was first published! It feels like time really flew by but to get some perspective, 1997 was also the year Titanic became a blockbuster and "Wannabe" by Spice Girls was all the rage.
After the book released, it didn't take long for Harry Potter to become a global phenomenon. The seven books have sold over 500 million copies worldwide in more than 79 languages, inspired a major movie franchise and an exciting theatre production, and continues to captivate readers of all ages.
My tryst with Harry Potter began at the age of 11 when a friend handed me a copy of Philosopher's Stone. I remember staying up late at night, asking mom for 10 more minutes before bedtime so that I could devour more of the magical world. I have followed the boy with the frightfully messy hair right from his cupboard under the stairs days to his triumph over endless tribulations. I went from being a non-reader to being a voracious reader, all because of that book. It was my gateway into reading and it shaped how I saw the world around me.
As a true Potterhead, I have woken up at 3am (the books used to be released at 12am, UK time) and walked to my neighbourhood bookstore to pick up a copy of the sixth and seventh books, and dressed up in Gryffindor colours for the movie premieres. I have a whole cupboard dedicated to Harry Potter where I have all the paperback books along with themed knick-knacks such as an Expecto Patronum keychain, a Gryffindor cushion, a Marauder's Map mug, a Butterbeer cup, Dumbledore's wand as a pen, Tom Marvolo Riddle's diary, and a phone cover that says "Don't touch my phone, muggle," and more.
I have stood in long queues in London to take a picture at Platform 9 ¾ at King's Cross Station and stood outside the Palace Theatre showing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (couldn't get in because it's sold out till 2018!). But the most memorable time I had was a visit to the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio Tour where the iconic sets, props and costumes and thousands of intricate and beautifully-made artefacts from the movies have been perfectly preserved.
Author JK Rowling got the idea for the books while on a train journey and set up shop in a small cafe in Edinburgh, Scotland, called The Elephant House, to give it life. I made my pilgrimage there a couple of years back and had to wait in a queue for over an hour to get inside and had a great time mingling with fellow Potterheads. Fans of the books are like a huge family spread across the world, and I have met some of my closest friends thanks to our mutual love for the series.
Anju Hanish, a Dubai-based marketing manager reminisces, "For the release of the Half Blood Prince book, I stood in the line for two hours at 3am in the morning. I was one of the first 100 people to get the book and hence got a free copy. It was one of the happiest days of my life as a Potterhead! As a kid, I used to carry a wooden chopstick around, pretend it was a wand and perform spells all the time. My favourite spells were Lumos and Nox while entering and leaving a room!"
Another diehard fan Miriam Thomas, a Dubai-based graphic designer shares, "The first time I read Harry Potter was the day I turned 12. In fact, it was the first time I stayed up on a school night to finish a book. It was a birthday gift and my aunt thought I must've already read the first three books, so she gifted me a copy of the Goblet of Fire. It didn't matter that I had no idea about this amazing world Rowling had already spent three books creating because she has this wonderful way with words, which explained the story perfectly. That was the first time I shared in Harry's journey and I was so far from done. Oddly, I don't think I would've been able to pinpoint which bits have had an impact in shaping me into who I am today. Equal rights, being courageous and honest, being more aware of how fear is used by those in power, are a few of the things I learnt from the books and I don't think I've had more valuable lessons.
"Today, I collect the different versions of the books, usually the Bloomsbury ones as the changes in the Scholastic versions irk me. I did succumb and get the set by Japanese-American illustrator Kazu Kibuishi. Things got crazier when I started illustrating excerpts from Philosopher's Stone; it made me appreciate Rowling's brilliant writing even more."
Among some of the crazy things Potterheads do besides themed birthday parties and weddings, is get tattoos. Getting inked for life is definitely not an easy decision, but Harry Potter fans will go to any length to prove their fandom and every fan has either got inked or is known to have given it a serious thought.
Thomas adds, "I got the 'Mischief Managed' tattoo because I love the marauders (who doesn't!) And I also got Dumbledore's quote about 'Death is but the next great adventure'."
To mark the celebration, a slice of Harry Potter is coming to the UAE between September 21 and 23. The du Forum in Abu Dhabi will play host to the Orcquesta Sinfonia de Valles for a live orchestral performance of Philosopher's Stone and audiences will be able enjoy the film on a 40-foot high-definition screen while hearing the live orchestra perform. Also for the occasion, Rowling is launching the Wizarding World Book Club on Pottermore.com, a free online club to examine and debate every book in the Harry Potter series, this month. Till then I will be waiting for my letter from Hogwarts! Always.
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