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“Harry Potter captivated my imagination like no other book”
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“Harry Potter captivated my imagination like no other book”

The Harry Potter books have intrigued and thrilled millions of adults and children alike. With the imminent release of the final movie adaption the end of an era approaches,  writes 19-year-old Alisha Lewis, a Commonwealth Correspondent from New Zealand.

Growing up, many children have imaginary friends. I had Harry.

I was almost nine when I got my first Harry Potter book. My mum received a free copy of it at work and since I liked reading, she gave it to me.

At the time, my reading repertoire extended mainly to Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and The Babysitters Club series. I was also at that age where you tend to judge books by their covers so Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, with its dull front cover illustrations and confusing title, didn’t interest me much.

The book sat unwrinkled, unstained and unread at the bottom of my bookshelf, somewhere next to the pile of children’s encyclopaedias and world atlases. Some months later though, when I’d decided that reading Claudia and the Bad Joke for the fiftieth time might be a little excessive, I decided to give the scrawny, bespectacled boy a chance.

That was the first time I finished a novel in one day.

From the first chapter, I was drawn in to a world where every kid’s fantasy was brought to life: magic was real. Even though I had encountered magical worlds in books like The Magic Faraway Tree, The Chronicles of Narnia, Peter Panand Alice in Wonderland, for some reason none of it was as believable, as tangible – as real – as the world created by Joanne Kathleen Rowling, a struggling single mother with a one-in-a-billion idea.

From Hagrid and his suspect pink umbrella, to post-delivering owls, to Platform 9 and 3/4, to Gringotts Bank, to Ron Weasley and his corn beef sandwiches and, of course, to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, it was almost too much magic for my nine year old self to take in.

Harry Potter captivated my imagination like no other book had – and probably ever will. For the next three years I devoured each page of the first four novels. They were soon dog eared, smudged with chocolate and watermarked from the number of times they’d almost been dropped in the bath. The third, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, quickly became my favourite.

And so, I grew up with Harry. I made friends with Ron and Hermione. I hated Snape, had a soft spot for Hagrid and adored Sirius. I fell in love with Dobby the house elf. And when my eleventh birthday came and went with no sign of an owl bearing a sealed envelope inviting me to attend Hogwarts, I was even a little disappointed. It didn’t matter too much though, because I still had the books. The magic was still there.

However, once I’d ripped my way through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth book, I found myself facing an agonizing three year wait until the fifth book came out. It was three years of re-reading and imagining and re-reading some more. In those three years I started to write – my imagination fuelled by each trip to Diagon Alley, each dementor encounter and every game of quidditch.

In those three years I also grew up. I moved on to other books and fell in love with other characters along the way – Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice and Louisa May Alcott’s portrayal of Jo in Little Women.

But I always ended up coming back to Harry – it was the ultimate escapism, perhaps due to the simple fact that to really enjoy it, you truly had to believe it. It encouraged readers to give themselves up to a willing suspension of disbelief. It helped adults hold on to the magic you believe in so freely when you’re a child, without feeling stupid.

And when the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, finally came out in 2003, a more grown up me met a more grown up Harry. Thus, we entered the world of teen angst together. Through the fifth, sixth and seventh books we made it through teenage tantrums, door slamming, awkward first dates and first relationships. We battled death eaters, lost loved ones and at last, conquered evil. Times got darker and the content got more mature – as did the bulk of J.K Rowling’s readers.

A generation grew up with Harry Potter. We bought the books, we lined up outside bookstores and we watched midnight movie screenings. While the movies weren’t exactly Oscar-worthy, they still brought the pages to life, and that’s what mattered.

It didn’t matter if Daniel Radcliffe stopped growing once he reached fourteen, or if Emma Watson mainly acted with her eyebrows or if all Rupert Grint ever said was ‘bloody hell, Harry’. They were still Harry, Hermione and Ron and for that, the world loved them.

Acclaimed actors like Alan Rickman (Severus Snape) and Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) also made the magic more real with character portrayals that rivalled everything we’d imagined in our heads already.

Now, fourteen years, seven books and seven movies later, the world is currently preparing for the release of the eighth and final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, on June 15. The last movie will mark the end of an era and the coming of age not just for the characters who have grown up during the series, but also for the readers who have grown up alongside them.

With the films drawing to an end, actor Alan Rickman wrote an open letter to J.K. Rowling, expressing a sentiment echoed by millions around the world – gratitude.

“It is an ancient need to be told stories. But the story needs a great storyteller. Thanks for all of it, Jo.”

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit:http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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