New Year’s 1997, I was 11yrs old and staying onboard an RFA ship in Portsmouth harbour with my parents and brother. That Christmas my brother was given a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by (the then unknown) JK Rowling – he wasn’t interested in reading so the book ended up in my cabin. I got bored one night, picked it up and gave it a go. I’d long given up on children’s books and moved in the ‘adult’ section of the library (I think Enid Blyton was the only kids author I was still reading). I’d started to find children’s books a little too patronising and not really that interesting, there was this void after you out-grew Enid Blyton (and others) and I think this is the time when you loose a lot of readers. Anyway, this book I picked up had me hooked from the first chapter and it one sitting I read the whole thing, I think I pushed the book on everyone I encountered that New Year’s.
I loved the characters, they seemed ‘real’ and the story was full of interesting ideas, things that really appealed to my 11yr old imagination. I loved the character of Prof. Snape, and as I was completely unaware this was a series I was fully prepared to find out he was the bad-guy so I certainly didn’t see the twist coming (and I’m usually quite good at twist spotting!) There was something about Snape that reminded me of Sherlock Holmes, I’d only been a Holmesian for a few years and hadn’t yet encountered a character like him so I was quite pleased with the discovery. It wasn’t just the characters, I loved the idea of a whole world existing alongside this world secret and unknown, with it’s own currency and history. It didn’t take much to make me fall in love with the world of Harry Potter.
I don’t remember how I found out there was a sequel but I persuaded my mum to pre-order it from Bloomsbury (I don’t think she needed that much persuading). This one wasn’t as good as the first but Snape returned, we learned more about the magical world and I loved Gilderoy Lockhart. Around this time I had a Year 8 English/drama project where I had to read an extract from a book, I chose to read the part of Chamber of Secrets where Harry & Ron encounter the Whomping Willow for the first time. Got top marks! Shortly before I did my project The Philosopher’s Stone was featured on Blue Peter, I took a quiet delight among my school friends that I’d read the first book before they’d heard of it.
After that it all took off. I remember having a conversation with my brother on holiday about how we’d cast the film (this was before I knew it was in development), our cast list was:
McGongall: Maggie Smith
Snape: Alan Rickman
Dumbledore: John Hurt
Quirrell: Sylvester McCoy
Hagrid: Richard Griffths
Probably should have put money on them appearing, Sylvester McCoy would have been a terrible Quirrell but I’m a huge fan of his and would have loved him to make an appearance just to make my prediction complete! The first film I was bitterly disappointed with, none of the humour was there, there was no Peeves and there were little Americanisms that bothered me (Ron Saying “ah, mail’s here!”) and they cut out the Potion trap, depriving Hermoine a crucial moment and a big Snape bit (I loved that he made a logic puzzle and wrote a poem!)
The second film I thought was well-cast (Kenneth Branagh as Lockhart!) but was still disappointed, I celebrated the news when they announced that Alfonso Cuaron would be taking the helm for the third film – I felt that after the third film they started to get things right. I also thought that Michael Gambon was a better Dumbledore than Richard Harris (I can’t imagine how Harris would have done the later Dumbledore stuff, nothing really against Harris but his Dumbledore never struck me as having a dark edge).
I got in line at midnight for the final book (Dirty Dancing had a late show and I had to catch a train at 8am the next morning), it was actually pretty exciting and Waterstone’s made it fun. The same time as getting the new book I went with my mum and brother to see Order of the Phoenix (my favourite book in the series), it seemed strange finding out what Snape’s true motives were and I really looked forward to seeing Deathly Hallows on the big screen (and wondered how they were going to do it!) I liked the idea of them splitting it in two. Knowing that there were still two films to come it didn’t really feel like the end of Harry Potter, now that I’ve seen the final film, it really feels like I’ve said goodbye to a significant part of my childhood.