The first Harry Potter movie premiered on my fourteenth birthday, and in the years following, the movies typically came out over my birthday weekend. It became a tradition to go see Harry Potter with my friends as a way to celebrate. But my love of Harry Potter started long before that.
When I was eleven years old, I was the first among my friends to discover Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I passed it along to them, and as they devoured it during our class reading time, I delighted in reading its sequel. It was 1999, and at the time, there were only two books out. But that summer, my family and I traveled to London, where the third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was being released—on the very last day of our trip. The American release would not come until September, but in the UK, Prisoner of Azkaban was going to hit bookstores in July, and I was hungry for a copy. To my dismay, I found several newspaper articles announcing that bookstores across the UK were forbidden to start selling Prisoner of Azkaban until 3:45 PM, when children would be out of school—teachers were afraid that students would play hooky to go buy the book. My flight out of Gatwick was leaving at noon, and the embargo was so strict that it seemed unlikely I would get a copy. My parents did not fully understand my dejection at this news, and yet I still held out the tiniest bit of hope that maybe a delayed flight or other miracle would deliver the book into my hands.
When we arrived at the airport terminal, I naturally wandered over to the bookstore, and there it was in the front display—the book. My dad said, “Hey, isn’t that the book you keep talking about, the one they’re not supposed to sell yet?” and I replied with a quick “Sssh!” I picked up the book and brought it to the register, terrified that the cashier would tell me to put it back on the shelf, as there were still several hours left before 3:45 PM. But she seemed not to know or care about the significance of this book, and I walked out of the store grinning with both the exhilaration at feeling like I’d gotten away with something and the eager anticipation of getting lost within the pages of what would become my favorite Harry Potter book yet. (My sister complained that I was no fun for the next two days, since I read the book straight through and barely came up for air.)
Last summer, I got a chance to have lunch with Arthur Levine, the American editor of Harry Potter, through the Columbia Publishing Course. I got the chance to ask him about what it was like to introduce a British phenomenon to an American audience, and it was really interesting to hear his perspective. He said that when he first saw the manuscript and wanted to publish it, he encountered a lot of skepticism from other editors, who thought there wasn’t a place for it in the market. At the time, children’s fantasy series were not selling well, and people believed that would always be the case, that fantasy series were just not meant for middle-grade readers. But a good book can change the tide—and, of course, this one did. It sparked a trend of middle-grade fantasy series that followed in its wake.
Anyway, I’ll always be a Harry Potter fan…and my favorite incarnation of Voldemort is this one: