The last of our ultimate Harry Potter Retrospectives is the personal story of my own journey with the franchise, starting in July 1998 at the age of 10 and ending in July 2011 at the age of 23. Hopefully this will put the rest of the retrospective in context and show that I wasn’t always so quick to gush about the films.
I first heard about Harry Potter in my penultimate year in Primary School (Elementary School for any Americans). I can distinctly remember someone trying to explain the plot to me, including a detailed description of something called Quidditch. It was incredibly rare for a book to be the talk of the playground, so at the school’s next annual Book Fayre I picked up a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone along with Michael Morpurgo’s War of Jenkins’ Ear. I was in love, I can’t remember enjoying any book so much up to that point. Harry Potter was just a year older than me and so I could really relate. The fear of Secondary School was looming and the idea of a place filled with magic and adventure was exciting. Besides, Harry Potter contained none of the references to “heavy petting” which made Adrian Mole so confusing.
At this point the second book was already out so I didn’t have to wait too long before I could read the next chapter in Potter’s story. From then on every book release became an event, everyone I knew would read the latest instalment and discuss it excitedly once everyone had caught up. My copies of the books began to be passed around our household until we reached a point of pre-ordering each new book on Amazon four times, two adult editions and two children’s. It’s hard to imagine any other series of books being read by an entire family with no one patient enough to wait for someone else to finish reading them.
I read the final book somewhere in Europe while travelling with friends. Obviously my copy of the book had been pre-ordered from Amazon way in advance but two of my fellow traveller queued to buy copies in Munich. Thankfully the book wouldn’t come out in German for months so we were graced with English versions. As soon as someone finished their book I was on it, trying not to listen to their chatter about the plot. If ever there’s a time for a good, long book, it’s when stuck in a Hogwarts Express style carriage on a twelve-hour journey from Prague.
My experience with the films is a whole different story. As we’ve covered by now the early films were far from perfect and teenage fans can be a fussy bunch. With the early films the family would make a rare trip to the cinema together and would enjoy the films despite deciding that they left too much out, the kids couldn’t act and the films were hard to understand without reading the books.
By the time Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released I was a fully fledged film snob at university and didn’t really consider seeing the film at the cinema, instead waiting and watching it on my laptop one evening. In fact the week it was released I was on the previously covered European rail adventure, and was able to sneer at posters across the continent.
After this my relationship with the films came full circle, not least because they had improved so much and so I wanted to see them on the big screen once more. In a poetic twist I went to the cinema to see Deathly Hallows Part 1 with the very man whose book I borrowed three years earlier to read on the European rails. The film was a marvel and I was in love with the franchise again.
The final film seemed like a special occasion, we were 13 years into a franchise and I couldn’t see the film with just anyone. As a result I found myself in the horror of Milton Keynes waiting to meet my sister. We had started the journey together and we going to finish it the same way, only this time in Milton Keynes in the driving rain.
With the film over there was a distinct feeling that something was over, that a little bit of our childhood had been lost. On returning to London I tried to find the small area of Kings Cross set up to look like Platform 9¾ but due to building works couldn’t find it, despite wandering in the rain for about 20 minutes. Emotional and drenched, I squelched home.
It is these past 13 years of reading and watching the adventures of Harry Potter which inspired this week of retrospective posts. I started the first book two years younger than Potter and finished the final film two years older. The Harry Potter films may not be perfect but the franchise is more than the sum of its parts. It has become something intangible, something magical, and an experience I’ll probably never find again.