Happy Birthday, Harry Potter (and J. K. Rowling and me)

Whether or not you’ve read the Harry Potter books yourself (but, really, how could you have not?), you have certainly have heard of the Boy Who Lived, You-Know-Who, and Professor Dumbledore. Most Millennials have a story about how Harry has been a part of their life and to celebrate Harry’s birthday – and J. K. Rowling’s and my own – I’m going to share mine with you.

I was a little late to the Harry Potter party – though I have more than made up for it since then, both literally and figuratively. My first introduction to Harry was at a used bookshop. I was ten, about to turn eleven and somehow my cunning fifth grade mind convinced my mom to add the tattered paperback to the pile of summer reading books she was getting for me and my little brother.

The spine was broken and the cover was creased as if someone had sat on it repeatedly. The pages were dog-eared and soft from being turned and held and well-read. Even before I found this book it had been loved.

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My 19th birthday cake was a replica of the cake Hagrid gave Harry in book one.

I worked my way through that pile of books over the summer. Harry had slipped down to the bottom of the pile in our living room and it wasn’t until July 30 that I curled up on my bed at discovered shaggy haired Harry Potter in his cupboard under the stairs. I read “The Letters from No One” – the chapter where the Dursleys go on the run to shake the mysterious letters that Harry has been receiving – that night and as Harry counted down the last seconds until his eleventh birthday my mom came in to announce that it bedtime.

The next day was my eleventh birthday.

I waited all day for my letter to arrive – and lots did. They came in the mail and had “Happy Birthday Faithy-Poo!” and “Happy Eleventh Birthday, Chickadee!” written in pretty grandma cursive. But no emerald green ink addressed to Ms. F. Lewis, The Bedroom by the Stairs…

That was the last day of summer. School started the next day and there were no owls or moving staircases or feather quills and parchment.

For my thirteenth birthday I was given the full Harry Potter series. I had already read most of the strawberry jam fingerprinted copies at my local library, but nothing compared to turning those crisp pages for the first time. I experienced Harry’s journey all over again.

Celebrating with Harry, Ron, and Hermione became a sort of unofficial birthday tradition for me. For my sixteenth birthday my family and I had a twenty hour movie marathon (no breaks – breaks are for the weak), culminating at the movie theater to finally see the final instalment of the movie adaptations. For my nineteenth birthday my friends threw me a Harry Potter themed party, complete with pumpkin juice and a replica of the cake Hagrid made for Harry all those years ago. And last summer I once again celebrated my birthday with Harry Potter trivia and tabletop Quidditch.

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Christ Church College was one of the many filming locations in Oxford and inspired the Great Hall.

That party was also my send off to England, where I was spending a semester studying in Oxford – the real life world of Harry Potter.

I made it my goal – one of my many goals for my time abroad – to see as many notable Harry Potter attractions as possible. I spent a day at the Warner Brothers Wizarding World of Harry Potter just outside of London, losing track of time as I made my way through the Great Hall, Gryffindor boys’ dormitory, Dumbledore’s office, and the Hogwarts Express. I explored Oxford, home to many filming locations and Emma Watson’s hometown – she was even rumored to have been at the bonfire on Guy Fawkes Day, though I can’t personally attest to this. I had breakfast at The Elephant House in Edinburgh, where J. K. Rowling is said to have written much of the first Harry Potter book while her daughter was at school.

As much as the term “Harry Potter Generation” has become cliché, I can’t help but admit the truth in it. J. K. Rowling created a world where children made a difference and where they could grow up alongside her characters. The Harry Potter series solidified a lifelong love of reading not only in me, but in thousands around the world.

So I want wish Mr. Harry Potter a very happy birthday. I’m looking forward to celebrating another year with you.


Originally published on San Francisco Book Review.

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