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The Books That Lived: Twenty Years of Harry Potter

It has been 20 years since the world first learned what a Muggle was and what the word Quidditch meant. It was this time when the world first wandered the halls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with the Boy Who Lived. In September of 1998, the first edition of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone debuted in the United States, and American readers began the magical journey through the bestselling book series in the world. Since then, Rowling has sold more than 450 million copies of Harry Potter around the world, and its legacy continues to bewitch us with theme parks, plays, and a new movie series.          

Single mother Joanne Kathleen Rowling lived in poverty with her only daughter when she completed the first three chapter of The Sorcerer’s Stone. After five years of planning, drafting, and hoping, her work was rejected by a number of publishers before her novel was finally presented to the public. The rewards were instantaneous. With seven books, eight movies, two theme parks, and a play, Harry Potter has made its creator the first and only billionaire author and broken records every step of the way. The Deathly Hallows broke the record set by The Half-Blood Prince (which had previously been held by Goblet of Fire and then Order of the Phoenix) for most initial printed copies of a novel and became the fastest-selling book in history when it was released in 2007. The book series has been translated into 67 languages, while the movie franchise earned more than $7 billion; The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 became the highest grossing American movie and earned the record for highest box office opening in the world.

Fans of Harry Potter movies will also be kept busy over the next several years, as Warner Brothers continues the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them films. There will be five more confirmed releases after the first movie, which premiered in November 2016. The sequel is set to open November of this year. 

Although the final Harry Potter movie came out in 2011, the twentieth anniversary of the franchise marks much more than books and movies fueling the international love for the Boy Who Lived. Orlando, Florida and Hollywood, California both boast Harry Potter theme parks in their Universal Studios locations, where fans can immerse themselves in the wizarding world. Complete with Hogwarts castle, Hogsmeade, and Diagon Alley, the Universal Studios have attracted millions of Muggles eager to taste butterbeer and buy their own wands. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child hit the international stage in 2016 as a theatre continuation of Harry’s story; it has been touring the world since its debut in London. Prior to that, Harry Potter: The Exhibition opened in Chicago in 2009, appearing all over the globe to give Potter aficionados a behind-the-scenes look at the settings, costume, props, and artifacts from the movies.

Beyond the box office numbers and book records broken, the legacy of Harry Potter has produced much more valuable results: a new generation of passionate readers and imaginative writers. According to a 2005 article by The Guardian, many teachers, children, and parents credit Rowling’s Harry Potter series with increasing literacy. When the young wizard’s story hit bookshelves, reading suddenly became fun. Children grew up alongside Harry Potter, learning spells, potions, and the life lessons that inspire courage, kindness, and curiosity. We made new friends, explored a new world, and discovered the magic of the written word – a magic that transcends any social or political divide. As the wise Albus Dumbledore once said, “words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” And today, we celebrate twenty years of J.K. Rowling’s special brand of magic.

This milestone begs the question – at only twenty years of age, can the Harry Potter books be considered “classic” literature? Classic literature is traditionally celebrated as writing that speaks to the human condition and withstands the test of time. Harry Potter remains as powerful and honest today as it was at its inception, and the iconic fantasy series continues to charm children and adults around the globe. There is no doubt that J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece is ready to take its place amongst the great classics, to be celebrated alongside The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Harry Potter is the most successful series in the world, and its future grows steadily brighter as the beloved books continue to captivate, educate, and inspire – and will do so for many decades to come.

Jess Kennedy is a freshman at Grand Canyon University, where she studies Professional Writing and Communication. She follows her passion for the written and spoken word through extensive reading, literary clubs, and Speech and Debate. She aspires to someday be remembered as the owner of the world’s largest private library and the foremost expert on all things Harry Potter.
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