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Harry Potter was the last big phenomenon before the internet

IBack then it was just a book. There were no queues. No adult adults in costumes waving wands. No blockbuster film series, no video games, no theme parks. 25 years ago this weekend, the first Harry Potter book was published after being previously rejected by 12 publishers. According to legend, Bloomsbury boss Nigel Newton waved Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone through because his daughter had enjoyed reading the manuscript. Surely she should get a cut 500 million copies later.

No one can predict what our next great cultural phenomenon will be. What we do know, however, is that it will never be the same again. Harry Potter was the last great collective obsession of an analogue age. It came from before binge-watching, before memes, before Amazon Prime. We used to do this thing called “wait”. Our online-on-demand culture has changed habits so fundamentally that it’s remarkable to imagine that a significant number of those 500 million readers actually went to a bookstore to buy their copies.

In fact, those trips to the bookstore are really the things I remember. Such was the reader craving that book four opened stores at midnight, allowing the reading to begin within seconds of publication. Those midnight parties didn’t happen before Potter and haven’t actually happened since. Of course, no book has reached this level of anticipation, but now you don’t have to go anywhere to get things almost immediately, either.

When I think back to my 11 year old self, sitting in my bedroom in Maidstone and getting carried away by it all, that sense of occasion is what sticks in my mind; I have fewer memories of the stories themselves. The vague synopsis I maintain of what happened in Harry Potter is: Three friends have to go to school (annoying) where they learn to be wizards (more rewarding). As they do so, they attempt to kill a guy who is so evil that no one will say his name (a necessary task if the behavior is melodramatic). There is also an owl.

The first books came out when I was in my prime reading Potter age. Except that at first I didn’t want anything to do with them. If any adult suggested I read those Harry Potter books, I’d stare at them and say something along the lines of, “Ugh, I’m not a geek!” I would scowl. I would stroll I went and spent some time looking at my posters of Lee from Blue.

Just one day I was at a friend’s house and was surprised. We were placed in front of a video of the first film. The sparkling music began. I frowned, snorted, fixed my eyes on the wall. And then… my resolve started to weaken. On the screen was a giant man with a magic umbrella. He told an 11-year-old child that his aunt and uncle lied to him. That he was a magician. And they wanted to buy wands! The game was over. Stubborn, grumpy, I had to face the fact that Harry Potter was… pretty good. I had read the first three books over the weekend and was longing for the next.

Like millions of my generation, the books became an unexpected companion throughout my youth. I was 16 when the last book came out. The day before it hit the bookstores, my very first boyfriend brutally dumped me via instant message on MSN. Staggering from the news, unable to eat or sleep, all I could think about was allowing my father to escort me to WHSmith at midnight to claim my issue of deathly Hallows. I woke up the next day practically puffing out the pages, reading until my eyes hurt, and postponing my fate for 24 hours. How do the books end? I have no memory.

German fans are fighting over a 2007 edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

(Getty Images)

Some of the hysteria of Pottermania seems odd now. JK Rowling editors have described secret meetings where manuscripts were handed over in Sainsbury’s pockets before being placed in a safe. In 2000, critic Anthony Holden published an epic spoof of the series in The Observer. (My favorite part is when Jerry Hall and Imogen Stubbs, his fellow judges at a children’s literature awards, tell him their kids love Potter. His response: “‘You should read them Beowulf‘ I hissed irritably.’ The Observer The mailbag was subsequently inundated with letters from youths telling Holden how wrong he was. “Even though I’m only 10 I’m still counting and there are many others who disagree with you,” one wrote. Rowling’s legacy may be disputed now, thanks to her habit of sharing controversial opinions and changing her characters after the fact, but in 2011 she was named one of Britain’s National Treasures alongside Paul McCartney and David Attenborough.

The last book, released in 2007, started a wild trend of young men filming themselves driving past lines of eager fans in bookstores and yelling spoilers at them. “Snape kills Dumbledore!” they yell. “You bitch!” someone shouts back. Another fan runs after his car, ready to attack. It was intense, fanatical, unprecedented.

None of this is to say that our collective cultural obsessions are no longer fun. There is game of Thrones Memes that still make me cackle. The words to Hamilton were embedded in my brain before I even saw the show. And there’s no point in watching island of love if you don’t read the tweets. But it’s different: louder, cheekier, more inclined to light mockery. I feel nostalgic for Potter as the last pre-internet phenomenon that we won’t see again. It wasn’t just the sense of celebration—the anticipation, going to the bookstore—but the lack of noise. The experience was quieter, more personal. No screens. No spoilers (bitches aside). No running author comment online. Five hundred million people could have read it. But mostly it was just you and a book.

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/harry-potter-books-jk-rowling-b2107748.html Harry Potter was the last big phenomenon before the internet

JOE HERNANDEZ

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