TWENTY years ago today a bespectacled boy wizard took his first tentative steps into the world’s cultural conscience with the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Seven books later, Harry Potter had become a phenomenon. JK Rowling had lured millions of readers with her wordsmithery and bagged herself a tidy £60 million (€68m) along the way. We asked some well-known Irish Potter fans what made the series so magical for them.
Matt Cooper, presenter, Today FM
Broadcaster Matt Cooper was brought to the world of Harry Potter through his five children, who are now aged from 18 down to 10.
“There was so much hype around Harry Potter that you almost had to read it,” he says. “If you didn’t you were missing out. The kids really seemed to get into the narrative, or the good and evil of the characters, so it really got them into storytelling and it helped to get them into reading other things on the back of it. So it was great for them in that regard.”
Cooper says he would often read the books to his children “or at least get them started on it” and “was struck by how much darker they got” as the series developed.
“It really was a question of Harry Potter growing older,” says the presenter, “and the characters getting older and the readers getting older as well. It was as if they all went on a journey through a lifetime together.”
Eithne Shortall, author
For writer Eithne Shortall, the love affair with Harry Potter started in 1999.
“It was around the time the third book came out,” says Shortall. “The Prisoner of Azkaban and I think my brother had them, so I read the first three and was a convert straight away.” Eithne’s dedication to Potter is quite impressive. Not only has she read the books a total of 20 times but she has, she admits, told porkies in order to finish them.
“I remember on the sixth one, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I had a friend visiting while I was in university and I pretended to be sick so I could go to bed to finish it,” she says. “And then on the last one. I couldn’t see the page I was crying so much.” Like many people, it is the third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that stands out for Shortall and as a result “is probably” her favourite.
“This is where things begin to get dark,” she says. “Also for me I love Sirius Black and he appears in the book for the first time. He’s a great character. Very attractive. In fact he was my favourite character and in the fifth book when he dies, I remember, I had a summer job in the canteen in AIB and I just spent the whole day asking myself ‘what’s the point?’ I have to say I’m so jealous of people who still haven’t read them because they get to have all that again.”
Nadine O’Regan, journalist and broadcaster, Today FM
When the series first came out, Nadine O’Regan was, she felt, “a little too old for it”. In fact it was via the big screen that Nadine first came across the young magician.
“And then I remember slowly picking up the novels and going ‘wow’ this JK Rowling is kind of amazing,” she says.
“There’s something about falling into her imagination where everything is so highly specified and detailed. And you have the idea of children being able to exert this power in their surroundings which I think is very compelling. Most people probably know that JK Rowling has a Twitter feed,” continues Nadine.
“She has a lot of followers and she’s quite political. That goes through the novels, they’re quite philosophical and there is an idea, like all the big authors, Philip Pullman, CS Lewis, of good versus evil and the capacity of people to change things. There’s a wider allegorical feel going through the books.”
Rick O’Shea, presenter, RTÉ
For Rick O’Shea, Harry Potter was about “reclaiming a bit of your childhood”. The Dubliner admits that he was not the type of child who spent summers kicking a ball against a wall. He much preferred to stay indoors with a good book.
“The first one that I read was Prisoner of Azkaban,” he says. “I seem to remember it was around the time when they were putting more adult covers on the books to stop them looking like kids’ books because older people wanted to read them on the train or bus. So I became sufficiently intrigued by this idea and said I’d give it a go. Then I went back to the first two and by the fourth one I was at the midnight opening down in Dubarry Books in Blackrock. I think I queued for pretty much all of them right up to the end. I was pretty into it. They were cracking reads,” says O’Shea.
“Now there are duds in there too, don’t get me wrong, but up until Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix they are cracking reads so there was a bit of revisiting that childhood magic and once you get started you tend not to stop.”