Everyone who ever read Harry Potter as a child dreamed of one day going to Hogwarts. They followed the boy wizard throughout his time there, and smiled through their tears when Harry sent his own children off to the magic school 19 years later. The date of that event was September 1, 2017, and when it rolled around in real life celebrations took place all over social media. And J.K. Rowling, the woman who created Harry and his world, also marked the occasion with something special.
The story of how J.K. Rowling came to create Harry Potter is every bit as amazing as the novels themselves. When she started crafting her tales of the wizarding school, its Chosen One and its cast of colorful characters, she was a poverty-stricken single mother in Scotland. Her mother had died, her marriage had fallen apart, she had had to seek a restraining order against her abusive husband, and she suffered terribly from depression.
She was at an incredibly low point in her life. In 2008, speaking at Harvard, she would describe her status back then as “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.” She even briefly contemplated suicide before deciding she needed to stay alive for her young daughter, Jessica. Rowling would later write her mental illness into her Potter books in the form of the soul-sucking Dementor monsters.
All throughout this dark period, J.K. Rowling wrote. By 1995, the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was complete. Multiple publishing houses rejected it, but then an amazing stroke of luck came. The chairman of publishing house Bloomsbury let his eight-year-old daughter read the manuscript, and she loved it. The book was given the go-ahead for publishing, but no-one in a million years expected what was to come next.
J.K. Rowling didn’t even technically get to publish the novel under the name she initially wanted. She would have liked to have her first name, Joanne, displayed on the cover. But Bloomsbury told her boys would refuse to pick up a book with a female name on the front, and so she used “J.K.” instead. The K initial was borrowed from her late grandmother, Kathleen, as a nod to her.
The very first print run of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was just a thousand copies – all of which are now worth huge sums of money if you can get your hands on one. News of how good this obscure new children’s book was spread quickly throughout Britain. Just five months after it was published, it won the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. The next year, Scholastic bought the rights to publish the book in the US – and they paid over a hundred thousand U.S. dollars.
In July 1998 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets hit the shelves, and it was instantly met with critical acclaim. The same thing happened when Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was released the following year. And when the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was published in 2000, it eclipsed sales records in the United States as well as the United Kingdom.
In 2001 the first of the big-screen movie adaptions of Rowling’s work came to cinemas. Warner Bros, who had purchased the film rights for over a million dollars, released the film in the run up to Christmas and it quickly became the highest grossing film of the year. The huge success of the movie franchise helped make J.K. Rowling, once a broke single mother, one of the richest women in the world.
And it didn’t even end there. On the evening before Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released in mid-summer 2003, people queued up outside bookstores to receive their copies at midnight. Publication of a new Potter book was always met with a frenzy, and there were reports of huge numbers of copies being snatched from warehouses. In 2005 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sold nine million copies in one day. But the seventh and final book in the series would surpass even that.
When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released in 2007, it shifted a whopping 11 million copies within a day. Fans mourned that the story was over, but rejoiced that Harry himself and his friends had been granted happy endings. The epilogue of Deathly Hallows saw Harry, Ron and Hermione taking their children to Platform 9 ¾, the drop-off point for Hogwarts students, and waving them goodbye.
And fans, despite being a decade behind the Harry Potter timeline, kept the date of that event marked firmly down in their diaries. September 1, 2017 was the day when Harry’s son Albus, Ron and Hermione’s daughter Rose, and Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius all commenced their wizarding education. And when the day arrived, Potterheads from all over the world held a celebration.
Some fans gathered at the “real” Platform 9 ¾ – located at King’s Cross Station, London – to pay their respects. Others took to social media to write about the occasion. And J.K. Rowling, an avid tweeter with no less than 12m followers, was leading the festivities. “Today’s the day Albus Severus Potter boards the Hogwarts Express at King’s Cross for the first time #19yearslater,” she wrote.
But it was what she tweeted after that was enough to get every last one of her followers sobbing at their keyboards. She reposted an old message from June 2015, a response to a fan which read: “All these people saying they never got their Hogwarts letter: you got the letter. You went to Hogwarts. We were all there together.”
Fans responded with happiness and gratitude. “And what an incredible time we all had. Thank you,” read one comment. Another person repurposed a famous Dumbledore quote from the final book. “Of course it happened inside your head, Twitter folks, but why on Earth should that mean that it is not real?” they wrote.
People’s appetite for more tales from the Potterverse would never fade away, it seemed. In 2016 fans got a taster of what happened next with theatrical production Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which followed Albus as he progresses through Hogwarts. But even that wasn’t the final chapter of the wizarding world’s story.
To celebrate September 1, the Harry Potter website Pottermore introduced a “new interactive Hogwarts experience” where fans could “visit Hogwarts castle, the Forbidden Forest and the Quidditch pitch in a new virtual journey.” But even that, too, isn’t the end. There’s so much more to come that Potterheads might even have difficulty keeping up with it all.
The Harry Potter spin-off franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is still going strong. The first movie, released in 2016, was unsurprisingly a million-dollar success. The sequel, which will see Eddie Redmayne reprising his role as Newt Scamander, is set for release in November 2018. This is 17 years to the day since the film of Philosopher’s Stone was released.
There will no doubt be more Potter material, be it on the stage or the screen or online, as time goes on. Even though all the major milestones of Harry’s life as depicted in the books have now been and gone, there will still be more occasions to celebrate. The 20th anniversary in June 2017 might be over, but the 30th anniversary, the 40th anniversary and beyond will no doubt be marked.
It’s impossible to overstate how much Harry Potter changed the life of J.K. Rowling. Her rags-to-riches story has inspired people for decades now. But, notably, she’s done her best to give back, as well. She has donated millions to tackle poverty and help single-parent families. Above all, she wants to ensure that no-one else ends up in the situation she was once in.
And so the author turned her genius to writing a series of stories, The Tales of Beedle the Bard. These magical stories were referenced in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and the multi-millions made from the sale of the books have been given to good causes. Fans may well have “only” gone to the wizarding world via J.K. Rowling’s books, but the amount of world-changing that Harry Potter has done is some really powerful magic.