“Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Twenty years ago we were all normal. How boring. Back then we didn’t know of Hogwarts, Muggles, the joys of quidditch, the fear of Dementors.
But with that opening line, struggling writer JK Rowling began to cast a spell that would transform our normal world into a far more fantastic place.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published on June 26, 1997. Two decades on we’ve had seven books (not counting the spinoffs), eight films (not including the prequels), a blockbusting West End show, studio extravaganzas, theme parks. And the world is still under Rowling’s unbreakable spell: last year the UK publishing industry hailed her as a saviour, with the latest raft of Potter titles boosting book sales by five per cent on 2015, to £1.6bn. Millions of film fans and theatregoers continue to help the franchise break box-office records, while awards stack up. Rowling has just been crowned the wealthiest author in the world – and third richest entertainer on the planet – by Forbes Celebrity 100 list.
20 years ago today a world that I had lived in alone was suddenly open to others. It's been wonderful. Thank you.#HarryPotter20
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 26, 2017
Harry Potter even made it to the heart of government policy in 2011, when then-schools minister Nick Gibbs pledged to tackle poor child literacy, saying: “We’re lucky that some of the most magical and exciting children’s books ever written have been written in the English language. By the end of primary school, all children should be able to read and enjoy books like Harry Potter.”
From its tiny first print run of just 500 copies – now selling for more than £40,000 each in mint condition – The Philosopher’s Stone has become a philosopher’s stone, giving immortality to Rowling and a cast of characters. But more than pure entertainment, it fundamentally changed a generation of previously indifferent readers into wannabe wizards. Children who grew up with the books and films have now come of age and are beginning to shape their own world.