To mark the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book being published, Lizzie Marvelly describes the depth of her passion for the books
I was 8 years old when I first got my hands on a Harry Potter book. An American guest passing through my parents' hotel struck up a conversation with my father, and upon learning that he had a young daughter who was an avid reader, handed him an almost-new paperback entitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (the American title of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone). "She'll love this," he said.
He was right.
I loved it so much that I ripped through it in a few days. It was a trend that continued with each new instalment. I'd queue for my pre-ordered book, then withdraw completely from the world around me for as long as it took to devour every page, walking around the house with the book glued to my hand and complaining when I was dragged back to reality at dinnertime. My parents would joke that the quietest days they ever had were those I spent reading Harry Potter.
It's an obsession I've never quite grown out of. Who wants to live in a world without magic? Not me.
I may be fast closing in on 28, but I still read the series every year in the lead up to Christmas. Each September I pull my now battered and dog-eared copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone from the bookshelf. It's become so ragged after years of re-reading that I recently bought a new copy to prevent that original, much-loved book from doing what it's been threatening to do for the past three Septembers: fall to bits.
It's an odd ritual. I suspect that there aren't many people who read the same book over and over again - a children's book at that - but to me no year is complete without a visit to Hogwarts. Call it nostalgia or weirdness, but the Harry Potter series enchants me in a way no other work of fiction has.
As I've grown older, I've found that the series' offerings have become deeper and more nuanced. As a child, I loved the pure escapism; the wonderful flight of fancy into a world so vividly described that it came alive in my imagination in a way no film ever could. I longed to taste butterbeer, and to see the enormous Christmas trees in the Great Hall. Hogwarts may have been nothing but words on a page, but it was my favourite place in the world.
Who wants to live in a world without magic? Not me.
Throughout my teens, I saw elements of myself in Hermione - the stroppy, smart, bookish teacher's pet, who to me will always be the true star of the series. Hermione made it okay to be intelligent and earnest. She spoke her truth even when it was unpopular. Growing up in the throes of good old Kiwi tall-poppy syndrome, Hermione provided something of an antidote to the pressure to be mediocre.
As an adult reader, I've found that the books offer me lessons and insights that are eerily relevant in our modern world. When the US presidential election rolled around last year, I was midway through Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. In a year as tumultuous as 2016, witnessing the mind-blowing decisions of a world increasingly consumed by fascism and populism, while reading a book about an unhinged autocrat who enjoys the feverish adoration of his supporters, struck a macabre chord with me. With Nazism and Hitler once again propelled into the global conversation, and nationalism and Islamophobia infecting much of the Western World; Voldemort, the determinedly ignorant Cornelius Fudge, the overthrown Ministry of Magic, the propagandised Daily Prophet, the Death Eaters and the persecuted "mudbloods" took on new significance.
What is on its surface a story about magic can also be read as a cautionary tale against the very worst inclinations of human nature. Power, greed, deception and bigotry threaten to upend the magical world, just as they loom over ours. The Harry Potter series is much more than a tale about good and evil, however, it's a vignette of a complicated world in which flawed people make questionable decisions for all sorts of different reasons. The story may feature hippogriffs, house elves and centaurs, but it delves deeply into the very core of what it means to be human.
If you've never read the series, or haven't flicked through the books since childhood, you're missing out. In fact, in honour of the 20-year anniversary I may just get started early this year. Accio book.