Harry Potter after 20 years: from kids’ book to cultural icon


Twenty years ago, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone humbly appeared on bookshelves. Today, a cultural empire dominates all facets of our lives.

On June 26, 1997, Bloomsbury published a quaint little fantasy novel about a young boy-wizard named Harry.  By the time the sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was published, children and adults were lining up around the block for midnight release parties.  Talk of further sequels and film adaptations dominated talk-shows and magazines.

Twenty years later, there are seven novels, eight films, a spin-off film with a sequel in production, a theme park, and an online publishing platform dedicated to the Harry Potter cannon.  The merchandising alone is monumental and not just for children.  Harry Potter remains a phenomenon to this day.  Whether you like the franchise or not, you’re guaranteed to know it as intimately as you would know Star Wars or Batman. 

The franchise has accomplished much, from touching on LGBT themes, to making discussions of race accessible to younger and younger generations.  More than anything, though, the books made reading cool.  Geek chic and the “fashionable nerd” persona owe their existence to Harry Potter. 

Being smart is in, and being a big, dumb, jock who broke my calculator is out. (Take that, James!)  Without Harry Potter, we wouldn’t have the proliferation of comic inspired films and television.  We certainly wouldn’t have Game of Thrones.  

You can point to Lord of the Rings and other high fantasy all you like, but they petered out after three films. The Harry Potter universe is going strong with nine films and a broadway play.  Game of Thrones owes its break to the success of Harry Potter.  Without it, no producer would have taken the chance on a high-budget fantasy epic.

Harry Potter is more than the doors it opened or the trends it started.  Harry Potter is special.  It’s a relic of our collective childhood that doesn’t fall into the trap of nostalgia.  It’s as good now as it was in 1997.  More so, even, because Harry Potter grew up with us.  Not just the character, but the stories.  As we as an audience came into our own, as we became aware of the world around us, so too did our favorite book series.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione faced foes we could never imagine, but also the foes we fought every day.  They suffered through puberty and crushes, bullies and bad parents, right along with us.  For a lot of us, they were more than just characters.

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So, to mark 20 years, let’s all raise a wand to our three best friends.