20 years on from the Philosopher’s Stone

British Library, home to a Harry Potter exhibition later in the year
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first of the Harry Potter books that came to utterly change children’s literature and send countless folk in search of Platform 9 3/4 and the Hogwarts Express. It was only after the third one came out that I ended up getting into them but every one after that saw me eagerly seek out a copy on publication day. Indeed when Deathly Hallows came out I spent that day with the book in one hand and looking up occasionally to talk to museum visitors. I re-read them at least once a year, usually digitally, and while the Harry Potter universe is one of my lesser interests, I could probably verge on the obsessive if I was of a mind to. I am reading them again at the moment but only because I can’t face anything new right now the book I read over lunchtime today notwithstanding.

It’s hard to put into words just why I like Harry Potter. I don’t watch the films all that often – they’re fine but honestly I prefer the books – so it isn’t visual. It is the world, the details that keep me interested, that every dimension of the world is perfectly realised on the page. I don’t particularly want to live there or anything. The real world is often preferable, though we could do with a Harry type to slay some of the Voldemort-esque politicians about just now. It is an escape for a moment, a human world but just a little bit extra special.

I very frequently quote one of the Five Laws of Library Science, devised by S.R. Ranganathan in 1931, namely every person their book. We should never be snobbish about what people read, as long as they read. Reading is vital for any sort of success in life. It connects us with people in all sorts of ways. It’s why I never look down my nose at library users who borrow Mills and Boons or Fifty Shades of Grey or biographies by YouTubers or reality stars. As long as people read, then I’m happy. I know there are folk who look down at Harry Potter and to be honest I would quote back to them Ranganathan. Every person their book. I’m lucky I have many books. I’ve written about some of them here. I wouldn’t take the Harry Potter series to a desert island with me. But reading them has given me a great deal of pleasure and enjoyment for most of my life, since I was about 10 in fact, as Harry was when he learned he was a wizard and headed for Hogwarts. Reading truly is magic.



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