Harry Potter: How the boy wizard enchanted the world

Harry Potter: How the boy wizard enchanted the world
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Media captionWhat JK Rowling said about first Harry Potter book in 1997

Can you believe it’s 20 years since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone?

Joanne Rowling, as she was known then, dreamed up the story of the bespectacled boy wizard on a train trip between London and Manchester.

She finished the manuscript in 1995, writing much of it in cafes in Edinburgh while her baby from her first marriage slept in a pram.

After many rejections, the manuscript was eventually picked up by Bloomsbury. The first hardback print run, which came out on 26 June 1997, was just 500 copies.

Then something magic happened. That first book – and the six that followed – went on to sell more than 450 million copies around the world.

Here’s a look at the many ways the Harry Potter phenomenon has cast a spell on the cultural landscape over two decades.

It got kids (and adults) reading

Reader with first Harry Potter book
The Potter books have sold more than 450 million copies

Okay, so books were around for a long time before Harry Potter. But JK Rowling turned book consumption, especially for children, into something close to addiction.

You want proof? The UK release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in 1999 was timed at 3.45pm to prevent children in England and Wales from skipping school to get their copy.

The later books got HUGE but it didn’t stop kids devouring them.

Grown-ups got hooked too, with the books being released in adult-friendly covers.

The book releases themselves became headline news: when the fourth book Goblet of Fire came out in 2000, booksellers around the world got together to coordinate the first ever global midnight launch.

When Rowling received an honorary degree at St Andrews University that same year, the Scottish institution said she had proved that children’s books “are still capable of capturing and enchanting an immense audience, irrespective of the competing attractions of television, Nintendo, Gameboy and Pokemon”.

It also got people writing

Harry Potter fans
Harry Potter fans at the premiere of the final film, the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The Harry Potter books are credited with opening the way to a whole swathe load of young adult fantasy fiction.

Lots of books were released in the hope they would be “the next Harry Potter”, such as Artemis Fowl, The Spiderwick Chronicles and A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Would we have had blockbuster series like Twilight and The Hunger Games novels had not Potter paved the way?

And let’s not forget fan fiction.

The internet is thrumming with tens of thousands of unofficial spin-off stories about life at Hogwarts, The Dursleys and what the Weasley twins get up to at parties.

A warning to the curious: some are NSFW.

It got us all steamed up about trains

Hogwarts Express

For a generation of kids brought up on Thomas the Tank Engine and The Polar Express, there was suddenly a…