Dear JK Rowling,
Today marks a terrible anniversary for America. Eleven years ago, my country and home was attacked by terrorists. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives. Families lost brothers, sisters, mothers, daughters, husbands and wives. I, like most people alive on September 11, 2001 remember everything about that day vividly. I was in the seventh grade, and I was eating breakfast in the living room before school, when my Dad came in and turned on the television and told me to watch. As I watched replay after replay of the first plane crash into the first of the Twin Towers, I didn’t understand what was happening. It seemed like a terrible and tragic accident.
While I sat there finishing breakfast, some 20 minutes or so later, there was the second plane crashing into the one tower still standing. Still, as a 12-year-old child I could still not understand the ramifications of what was happening. It is really difficult to explain the concept of terrorism to a child, and the motives behind such barbarism and hate.
A bit later I was dropped off at school, and in all of my classes that day, we talked about what had happened that morning. Our teachers tried their best to breakdown what was happening into terms that we would understand, something slightly more digestible for a child. We watched the news casts, and saw the images of the third plane crashing into the side of the Pentagon. We watched footage of, an hour after impact, the second tower collapsing into eerie silence and endless rubble. And finally we saw the replays of the fourth flight crashing into a field, only thanks to the bravery of the passengers on board, that the 9/11 Commission believes had been targeted for the United States Capitol or the White House. During those 24 hours and long after, this country was forever changed. The impacts of such an event are endlessly lasting.
So why am I addressing this letter to you, JK Rowling? It is because I want to thank you. I want to thank you for giving my generation a sense of hope, a childhood and an escape from the terrorized, shaken and utterly scary post-9/11 world we lived in. As young kids, some of us twentysomethings (dubbed the Harry Potter Generation), tried to hang on to our innocence, much like Harry when he was thrust into the magical world once again at the age of 11, but instead we lived every day in fear that terrorists would attack once again and that we might lose our parents. The parallels of this boy wizard we clung to and our true reality in America are hard to ignore. Before I go on with the last statement, I want to point out that I know there is no way that JK Rowling could have intended these parallels, considering that by the time the attacks happened, there were already four published Harry Potter books.
Harry Potter gave us a world to escape into, and some means to understand what was happening to us. Voldemort, a villain who is evil purely for the sake of being evil, can remind us of the terrorists and Osama Bin Laden. Radicals who committed atrocious acts against Americans, like Voldemort, did so for the sake of being evil. Harry Potter represents the youth of America in that he was innocent, and didn’t know what was coming his way. We all could relate to him. He became the poster-boy for our generation, and the hero that pulled us out of dark times because we believed that for the time we were reading that magic was real. We believed that even the most unlikely people, kids even, can be a hero in someone’s eyes.
Obviously, I never realized any of this until recently. I was too young to notice anything, except for the fact that JK Rowling created a world for me to jump into at anytime, and I jumped into them like my life depended on it. In the last months of 1999, my Grandma, who I will always thank for introducing me to Harry, heard about the series and bought me the first three books. I was on the cusp of being 11, just like Harry. Although I read the three books rapidly, and Harry was 13 while I was still 11, I related. And I fell in love with reading. I couldn’t wait for the fourth one to be released, which I read as soon as it came out in July 2000.
September 11 caused us to live in fear, mostly because we couldn’t understand. Adults were scared too. Just two months and five days after the terror, a tiny glimmer of hope arose. The first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was released. For those kids and their parent who hadn’t yet met Harry, this was the first glimpse they got of the boy hero. The movies spawned a whole other cult following of the series, and soon it was a crazy phenomenon. I think the movie came at the right time, and helped some, a lot, of Americans cope with the terror that had consumed the few months prior. We all clung to that boy wizard as if our life depended on it. And I followed everything Harry Potter like it was my religion.
By the time the Order of the Phoenix book was published, three years after the fourth novel, I was almost caught up to Harry’s age. And once the Half Blood Prince was published in 2005 I was 16. Just like Harry.
Oddly enough, Osama Bin Laden was killed in 2011, the same year that Lord Voldemort would be taken out by Harry Potter in the movie world. Our heroes won, but not without sacrifice. It was as if our whole post 9/11 journey as children would come full circle.
As the date of July 15, 2011 slowly approached, a lot of things were becoming clearer to me. I was 22-years-old, less than year away from finally graduating college with a degree, and my adulthood was lurking closely, and consuming all of my thoughts.
It was at midnight that July that I fully realized that I was an adult, and that morning at 2:10 a.m. would mark a significant time for me, a milestone really. It was the end of my childhood. I, like many other people born in the 90s, am part of the Harry Potter generation, and I have you, J.K. Rowling, to thank for my childhood.
This was something that was so incredible. Now I am sure that other things have been just as worldwide as Harry Potter, but in my opinion and in my lifetime nothing has ever reached the same level. And at least for me, it never will, mainly because Harry Potter WAS my childhood, and thanks to you, a childhood that I can relive any day that I want to through literature and cinema.
I had mixed feelings going into that theater that night, I had a feeling I would leave crying. And even in the aftermath of Pottermania a few days later, I felt like I had suffered a bout of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I felt like I had said goodbye to a best friend, closed a happy chapter, and don’t know if I will ever quite fully recovered.
I have been addicted, a Harry Potthead if you will, since I was 11. I followed Harry through his journey, and I felt everything that those characters felt. And although I never had magical powers or a Dark Lord trying to kill me, those characters were very real to me, and they still are.
No other generation will ever be able to fully understand the social and cultural impaction of the phenomenon quite the way that my generation will. Sure, Harry Potter touched the lives of every person that saw or read, but I had the honor of growing up with these characters.
There aren’t many fictional things that shape lives quite the way that Harry Potter has. It sparked a movie franchise, many failed copycats, an entire theme park, a new language, a new dictionary, college courses and for some the prolonging of a great childhood.
Popular culture would say that a person is an adult at the age of 18, and although I knew how Harry Potter ended that year, I wasn’t ready to part with my friends Harry, Ron and Hermione just yet, and so there were four more years’ worth of Harry Potter things to look forward to. And although, on July 21, 2007 (one month after I graduated from high school) my sister and I waited patiently in line for midnight to come around to pick up the final book, The Deathly Hallows, it didn’t feel finished. About 24 hours after that I knew how it all would end and that is just how long it took me to consume 759 pages. I inhaled them like my life depended on it – and now that I think about it, that is pretty much how I went about each book.
I never knew how much of an impact a book could have, and I never could have known the lasting effects it could leave that day that my grandma had brought over the first three books to me in 1999 that the series would stay with me today. After that day – a celebration for losing a tooth is the reason the books were given to me – I have read every book within a week of its release date, a few on the release date, and the last one I finished the day of. And I didn’t read any of them just once. I have seen every movie on its release date, with no questions asked. The last five movies I was in line at midnight with my little sister, eating Harry Potter themed candy and wearing a new Potter shirt each premiere. And I regret nothing.
I was 11 when I embarked on my Harry Potter journey, and I desperately awaited an owl to bring my acceptance letter to Hogwarts, and while it may have never came in the physical form, today I feel like a proud Hogwarts graduate.
And for that, Jo, I have you to thank. All was well.
Harry Potter Nerd for Life