The boy who lives on
It’s been 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was released, but the boy wizard is still popular with Malaysian fans.
SEVERAL years ago, I visited Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan. I remember walking into the park in excitement, ticket in hand, my eyes peeled for one specific attraction. Yes, there were many cool attractions there but I was looking for one thing, and one thing only: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
I finally found my way there, along a winding path lined by large hedges that reminded me of the maze in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. And as I walked, the Harry Potter movie music began to play. Hedwig’s Theme. You know the one.
And to my shock, I felt tears come to my eyes. Why would a simple melody trigger so much emotion? Well, for me, it was more than a song. It was my childhood, brought to life in the most magical way possible.
It might seem a bit silly, gushing about Harry Potter like this. He is, after all, completely fictional, a character from a series of novels primarily aimed at children. But for many people, the adventures of the boy wizard and his friends have impacted their lives in ways that no one could have imagined when the first book was published.
That was on June 26, 1997, so this year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication in Britain of J.K. Rowling’s first novel, Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone. Even non-fans probably realise this, what with the worldwide hype that began two weeks ago; and readers of newspapers of any sort (and in whatever format) probably know how the rest of the story goes, about how the series became a global phenomenon, resulting in Rowling becoming the first fiction writer to become a billionaire (a status she has since lost after donating so much money to charity!).
If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Muggle, or have had your memory Obliviated by Death Eaters, here’s a run-through of the series: Harry Potter is the tale of an orphan boy who learns he has magical powers. He learns to be a wizard at a school called Hogwarts, and with the help of his friends (among them the plucky Ron Weasley, the intelligent Hermione Granger, and the enigmatic Albus Dumbledore), must defeat the evil Lord Voldemort, who was responsible for killing his parents.
There are seven books in the main series – with the last, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, published in 2007 – as well as many supplementary Potter books. As of May 2013, they’ve sold over 500 million copies, making them the highest-selling book series in English language publishing history.
The books have also been adapted into a eight-part film series (Deathly Hallows was split into two parts), which is currently the second-highest grossing in history.
A series of spin-off films about the world of Harry Potter is currently being made with the first, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, released last year; and there’s a play, Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, co-written by Rowling, Jack Thorne, and Jack Tiffany, that is being performed in London to sell-out audiences.
But you don’t have to go that far to find fanatical Potter fans. Here in Malaysia, many that I know say the world of Harry Potter definitely changed them. For some, the words woven by Rowling inspired them to create fantasy worlds of their own; for others, the books’ themes of bravery, friendship, love, and sacrifice taught them to live their lives differently.
“The Harry Potter books inspired me to be a writer and storyteller. When I was studying Creative Writing in Australia, I wrote my honours thesis on the Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings series. I also tried playing real life Quidditch, which was very unique. My first, and so far, only, cosplay is of Harry Potter himself,” says writer Charles Chiam, 28.
“To me, Harry Potter wasn’t just a series of books, it was a magical world I lived and breathed. It was an experience,” says student Michelle Teoh, 22.
“When I was younger, a magical fantasy of a wizarding school, and spells and inspiring main characters got me hooked on the storyline and made me love the characters. I think my generation was actually pretty well suited for how the series progressed, because towards the end of the series, I was older and mature enough to understand the darker themes intertwined within the story, such as sacrifices, choosing to follow evil, and of course plot twists that show that not everything is inherently good or evil.”
“I have always been scared of death because I didn’t understand it. Until I read Philosopher’s Stone, and what Dumbledore said in one sentence changed my perception of death: “To the well organised mind, death is but the next great adventure,” says community manager Eyu Shin Dhee ,30.
“Besides cosplaying in school and writing fanfiction, I think my fondest memories of Harry Potter were seeing my dad reading the books. After reading the books, we had discussions about it as though we were literary experts ! That kinda bonded us and I can very well say, the books have made a mark into this particular generation,” said PR manager Charmaine Goh, 28.
Goh is a member of the Damansara Dementors, a local Quidditch team. While Quidditch is played on flying brooms by witches and wizards in the Potter books, the once-fictional sport has since been adapted to be played on regular brooms and enjoys much popularity now.
The International Quidditch Association (IQA) Cup – yes, there really is one – takes place every two years, for example, with teams from all around the world competing.
“Quidditch has come a long way from the books, and it is amazing how a sport based on a fictional fantasy has spun off into a competitive sport! The game has definitely brought forth the books’ legacy of inclusivity and fair play,” Goh says.
“Harry Potter was initially a wonderful escape for me from daily life; a world in which even the wildest adventures were possible. In the end, though, the series taught me that our dreams often contain more magic than we think they do – and that the courage to pursue them can come in many different forms, including that of an adorable house elf!” says actor and copywriter Phraveen Arikiah, 27. “One of the most important things that Harry Potter taught me is that it’s not about a person’s age or what they’re born as that matter, it’s the choices they make. Your choice belongs to you, not your circumstances. To this day, that has an impact on me,” says journalist Lidiana Rosli ,30.
The magic of Harry Potter has even connected generations. Asia Marina Teo Burka, 10, discovered the series following a friend’s recommendation and introduced her mother, Christine Teo Burka, to it. I met mother and daughter at an event at Kinokuniya Bookstores in Suria KLCC last weekend.
“Last time, I didn’t like books that much. But when I read Harry Potter, I thought, ‘this is a really great book’. Without Harry Potter, I wouldn’t be getting good grades in reading. I like the story.
“I don’t have a favourite character, but I like Cho Chang because she’s a Ravenclaw and not afraid to fly on a broom and stuff,” says Asia, who has read the series more than five times!
Mum Christine is a big fan too now: “I think they’re fantastic, and that J.K Rowling is brilliant. To imagine such a wonderful wizarding world is really something. And the books can be enjoyed by adults and children as well. They’re very well-written, and I think they will be enjoyed for generations to come,” she says.
I myself can testify to the magic of Harry Potter. I’ve stood in a massive queue outside a bookstore in the wee hours of the morning to be among the first to receive a copy of Deathly Hallows. I’ve put on robes and painted a lightning scar on my forehead at Halloween.
I’ve written fanfiction, contemplated naming my future kids Sirius or Luna, and almost lost friends over heated arguments about whether Snape is good or bad.
Yes, it’s been years since I was first exposed to Harry Potter, and I’ve changed a lot since then. But am I still a fan? After all this time?
Asia dressed in a Hogwarts uniform with an owl. — CHRISTINE TEO BURKA
Malaysian fans in a cosplay competition during ‘ABRACADABRA! By Scholastic’, a Scholastic Asia event that took place at the recently concluded BookFest@Malaysia. — BookFest@Malaysia 2017
Yes, you can play Quidditch for real. Fans have come up with a Muggle version and there are even tournaments. — Reuters