Andrew Dickens: Harry Potter a shared touchstone

Andrew Dickens,
Andrew Dickens Sunday Cafe,
Publish Date
Sunday, 25 June 2017, 8:25AM
A still from the Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone film. (Getty)

Monday marks 20 years since the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - the first of seven Potter books in a series that sold 450 million copies in 79 languages and sparked a $7 billion movie franchise.

20 years ago! I was surprised at how much emotion this anniversary stirred in me.

It makes me remember the slow realisation that Harry Potter was a significant thing, and not just some book that kids liked. Then it fills me with warmth at the way it held me and my family.

My boys are men now but I remember the hold the book series had on them growing up. Is there a child born in the past 20 years who hasn't gone to a party with a twig, a pen drawn lightning bolt on their forehead and a pair of sellotaped specs?

The really incredible thing was how the books bonded us all together. They are a shared touchstone. It's because they're full of magic. Real magic, everyday magic. The magic of stories and words.

In the Potter books, Albus Dumbledore said, "Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic." He's bang on there. The Potter books instilled that magic in a whole generation. For that alone the world owes the author a collective thank you.

As each of the books were slowly unveiled the excitement and anticipation grew. With each book came a growing level of complexity. JK Rowling created an entire, fantastical, totally believable universe that wasn't childish.

As the movies followed we not only watched a ripping yarn and the young actors grow up before our eyes, but also an escalating sophistication in storytelling and emotion. The finale proves that kids did not need to be hidden from the brutal truths of life.

We queued at bookstores on release day for our precious copies of the next book. As the series progressed the wait became more and more unbearable. Remember that feeling and smell of a fresh new installment being opened for the first time?

First the kids read the books. Or the adults read the books aloud to the children. That was special. Then the adults copped a sneaky read for themselves. I remember being caught reading Order of the Phoenix at a cafe and getting heaps for it. But it was a perfect and satisfying midday, lunchtime read. "Not a Kids Book," I said.

The characters were so relatable. The honest hero in Harry. The twitchy, neurotic, over-achieving humble heroine that is Hermione. A girl who did more for girl power than Geri Halliwell did. The bumbling honesty of Ron - a hero for goofs the world over.

But then there's all the others. The quirky Luna Lovegood with the pornstar name, but also the innocence who represented the world they all fought for. Neville Longbottom. The pant-wetter who became the epic hero, growing out of his buck teeth to be a warrior, without ridiculous abs. A hero we can relate to and believe in.

It's all fantastic and it's gone for me and my family. Maybe there are other families slowly digesting the books and watching the movies. For me, though, it's part of a recent past that dissipates day by day and fills me with more ennui than the recent Radiohead OK Computer anniversary ever could.

Thank you JK Rowling. For a book that bonded my family. For characters that taught values. For a journey with a start, middle and end. With music, we talk of the soundtrack to our lives. For us of the Potter generation, Harry and his mates were the fable of our lives and that's a very rare and special magic indeed.

Andrew Dickens hosts Andrew Dickens Sunday Cafe from 9-12am on Newstalk ZB

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