Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone by an unknown author called JK Rowling greeted the world as bookshops opened their doors....quietly, unobtrusively....almost without notice.
It seems strange to think that now. We are so used to having Harry Potter in our lives and no one could have predicted the effect the publication of that book exactly twenty years ago would have. It has changed the reading landscape of children and adults alike. As recent as last week, I found myself shocked as a customer came in to buy a copy for his young son (aged 9 and grinning like at mad thing at the thought of his own copy!) and admitted, "I haven't read it." It wasn't just me...a silence came over the quite full childrens section at that moment and all heads slowly turned to stare. I recovered this awkward moment by saying (sincerely...it's how I really feel); "How exciting for you! You get to read it the first time together...I remember the first time I read it. Magic...just magic!"
And it was...it still is. Every time I go back to read Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone I am consumed by the story, entering that world again. It is so tangible; so filled will texture, so real.
This past weekend, there were a lot of celebrations around this twenty year anniversary. Some bookshops have had readings of the first book, chapter by chapter; some have had treasure hunts and parties. Me? I went the party route at Charlie Byrnes Bookshop. A Witches and Wizards Storytime for the little ones at 11am, shifting into party mode at 2. I read snatches from the Philosophers Stone... Uncle Vernons' growing sense of calamity about to strike in that first chapter is priceless, expressed with such a fantastic finesse that it lulls you into the story. Another favourite that has to be read on the day, of course; the 'escape' from the owls Uncle Vernon plans on Harry's unnoticed birthday to the rock in the middle of a stormy sea; plans that are only to be scuppered by Hagrid's appearance and those 4 words that change everything...."You're a wizard, Harry."
Then, not only did Harry get his acceptance letter to Hogwarts, but so did the kids in the audience...every one of them. Then it was back for more Philosophers Stone...the Sorting Hat song and, as the Sorting Hat was present, all were sorted into their proper houses! There were magical treats, as well; polyjuice potion, owls droppings, all-flavour beans, mini-dragon eggs, chocolate mice (the frogs had got away...) And there was magic...absolute magic of the best kind. At least, there was for me...and a crowd of children who made my day. Thank you for sharing that moment with me...all of you. And it wasn't just me; not just Charlie Byrnes Bookshop...it was happening everywhere. The excitement of this echoes the fun and excitement of midnight openings over the years for the sequels that took us along on a truly wondrous journey...different faces with the same expression, the same sense of joy. All because of a book.....
I've often wondered about the first person to buy Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. I'm not talking about monetary issues here.) Of course, you would not have known what was going to happen in the upcoming time. As I said, it was quite unobtrusive in it's initial appearance. But, twenty years down the line and I think, wow! Can you imagine being the first person to buy that book?
Wow! Just wow!
Thank you to Barry Cunningham who was insightful enough to be the first publisher...and the wonderful crew at Bloomsbury. And thank you, thank you, thank you to JK Rowling; you changed everything.
Happy 20th Anniversary to Harry Potter.