Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first film in one of the most beloved pop culture franchises, turns 20 this week. However, my own obsession with the show didn’t start until quite a bit later. (This will come as no surprise to anyone who has read about my latest expeditions to the worlds ofand .)
Despite my belated interest, the Harry Potter books and movies quickly became favorites. They have provided much-needed escapism and a sense of wonder, especially in recent months as the COVID-19 pandemic has cast a long shadow over our non-magical lives.
My obsession with all things Harry Potter began in the early evening of July 14, 2009. My family and I were driving through our small town in Illinois, passing the local movie theater on our way to get ice cream at the nearby Dairy Queen. I looked out the window and saw a line of about two dozen people outside the theater, dressed in long black robes, chatting excitedly.
“Oh, I guess that new Harry Potter movie must be coming out,” I said nonchalantly. He had seen the first movie, which came to the US on November 16, 2001, when he was 7 years old. But he wasn’t inspired enough to keep up with the show, much less read any of the books. . “Are you really lining up for the midnight premiere already?” I asked in amazement. It was 8 pm
But deep down, as we passed in front of the eager spectators, I felt a surprising envy that was brewing within me. I wanted to be part of the excitement. I wished I had read the books so that I, too, could eagerly queue up hours earlier with my costumed friends for the premiere of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. At that point, I made a resolution: I had read all the Harry Potter books before the seventh and final movie came out the following year, so I could be a part of the excitement of cinema. (Warner Bros. eventually released the last movie as two separate movies, so I ended up getting two more chances to participate.)
My brother had bought me the first Harry Potter book when I was 8 years old, but he had never made it past the first chapter. Now, seven years later, before even rereading the first page, I walked into a used bookstore, found the remaining six books, and brought them home.
I fell in love immediately, immersed in a world so magical and spectacular that I could not believe that I had waited so long to jump. The characters were adorable and well drawn (Ron quickly became a favorite). The plot twists were rocked in the best way possible (the sixth book became one of the best options for that reason). I found myself looking forward to walking through Hogsmeade sipping butterbeer or sitting in the Great Hall eating Cornish patties, molasses tart, and cauldron cakes.
Suddenly, all the Harry Potter hype made sense. In fact, even with all the attention the series received, yet I felt underrated. It was so good.
In 2010, I lived my dream. I attended the opening day screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, dressed in a red and gold scarf that I had knitted for the occasion (which I reused for Part 2, see below). Wearing my Harry Potter glasses and the lightning bolt scar (drawn on my forehead with eyeliner), I was finally part of the insanity.
A welcome escape
Despite the controversy surrounding the authorThe world of Harry Potter has continued to be an integral part of many fans’ lives, as we have essentially embraced these stories and characters and made them our own. I’ve been back to watching movies sporadically in the years since I got hooked. Those binges have been facilitated by streaming platforms like HBO Max and Peacock, which tend to . But in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the wizarding world took on a whole new meaning as a form of escapism from all the uncertainties and fears of the real world.
Last winter, I spent the afternoons after work rewatching the movies from start to finish. As we all isolated ourselves and practiced social distancing, I was transported to a realm filled with mythical creatures, dazzling spells, and characters that were as familiar to me as old friends.
This week, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter movie, I re-watched the movies. Every time I do, I hold onto one quote or another that resonates in a way that I haven’t had before. This time, I connected with a reminder from the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: “It is not good to think about dreams and forget to live.”
The last year and a half has been challenging, and it can be easy to wish things had been different. That quote, to me, is a reminder that it is important to appreciate every positive moment brought about by today’s unprecedented challenges: the extra time I spent with family, the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts and reflect, the opportunity of acquiring new hobbies. You can find the good in almost any situation, but you have to be fully present to do so.
A lot has happened in the world in the 20 years since the first Harry Potter movie debuted, including a global health crisis that has fundamentally altered every element of our lives. Activities we once took for granted, even the little things like– They paused.
But despite all the challenges and changes, what remains is that tangible sense of magic in the Harry Potter books and movies, and the ability to escape into a fantasy realm when life weighs heavily on us. The series serves as a respite and a guarantee that, as Dumbledore says in The Prisoner of Azkaban, “happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”