There are kids everywhere. That was my overwhelming impression of the crowd at Harry Potter: A History of Magic, an exhibit newly arrived in New York after a stint at the British Library. Like so many people who grew up in the 90s and 00s, I have been a fan since before I could tie my shoes. I bought my ticket several months in advance, showed up early, stood in a long line, and walked into the exhibit. I saw these kids, wearing Hogwarts robes and waving wands, looking at the cauldrons and magic mirrors and the alchemical scrolls with the exact same enthusiasm I had for this world when I was that young. There were even toddlers and babies, brought by their parents, who would grow up on Harry Potter without ever knowing that there was a time when he hadn’t existed.
How has the world of Harry Potter had this staying power? It has transcended the world of pop culture and become just culture; even someone who has never read the books or seen the movies could tell you something about it. The movies play in all-day marathons on TV, every holiday weekend, and now in the run-up to the release of the next Fantastic Beasts movie. That’s another thing: characters who never appeared in the books or movies are now getting their own franchise. There’s a Broadway show and a theme park. And it all started with a woman on a train who had an idea.
I really don’t remember a time in my life before Harry Potter. I do remember where I was when we were introduced. I was sitting on the front porch on a sunny day, bored with TV and dolls, when my mother came outside with a book in hand. She sat down next to me and started reading. That opened the door for me, and so many others in the twenty years since then.
It’s universal but at the same time it’s personal. You want adventure, you want fun, maybe you want to be scared a little. You want to know that good always defeats evil. Harry Potter delivers on that the first time you read it, and as just an adventure fantasy it holds up. But it’s the rare story that ages with the reader. You get something new from it every time you go back. It becomes a war story, an allegory of real human evil and prejudice against minorities. J.K. Rowling imparted lessons that will be relevant for as long as there’s injustice in the world.
Harry Potter is for everyone. We were all there, every one of us who read the books or saw the movies. It was our triumph. No one was ever shut out of Hogwarts. No one was excluded because they got too old. Even when I was a teenager, desperate to leave childhood behind, I always went back to Harry Potter. I could live in that world and leave everything else behind. Harry Potter is as real to me as anything else. Rowling even said it herself: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” Now, as an adult, I can look back on it as an integral part of my childhood and look forward to sharing it with my own possible children someday.
I shouldn’t have been surprised to see so many children at the museum. Looking back, I couldn’t be more pleased. Something I love so dearly, that I’ve held close to my heart for twenty years, will always find new life in the fans who come along. There will always be kids discovering Harry Potter for the first time. It has taken on a life of its own, all because of the lessons that it imparts. To quote Rowling again:
“The stories we love best do live in us forever.”
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