The Boy Who Lived
For the past twenty years, one book has ruled them all.
My first copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is now 20 years old. It is a Bloomsbury 1st edition, second printing, from 1997, and it pre-dates the Raincoast editions published in Canada. It’s not worth anything, but for sentimental reasons I want it to last, and I’ve replaced it with a newer edition to use as a reading copy.
I first bought and read the book 18 years ago, in the summer of 1999. I was picking up the pieces of my life. The relationship I had been in — a relationship I had thought would last the rest of my life — had fallen apart at the beginning of the year. I had moved back in with my parents, and spent the next few months simply surviving. Finally, months after being knocked down, I decided to pick myself back up. I traveled to New York and became a member of the Kappa Alpha Literary Society in April. Then, within a couple of weeks at the end of June/beginning of July, I enrolled in a children’s literature summer session course at the U of A, moved into the Kap house, and got a job at Chapters bookstore. It was at Chapters that I discovered Harry Potter.
The series wasn’t popular in North America yet, let alone the cultural phenomenon it would become. The first two books were out, but no one coming to our store was even reading them (nor was the book even mentioned in my children’s literature class, something that would be an impossibility now). It wasn’t until later that summer, when Prisoner of Azkaban came out, that I remember the series really taking off (like, really taking off). I remember being at work when I found Philosopher’s Stone, and I remember when I began reading it, but I don’t know what made me pull it off the shelf and buy a copy. I think it was as simple as liking the cover and the description on the back, but I can’t be sure. Like everyone who works at a bookstore, I was at Chapters to feed my own insatiable reading habit, and this looked like a good fix. It was as simple as that, I think. Little did I know how good of a read — a life-changing read — it would be.
It was July. It was late at night, and it was raining out. One of those prairie summer rains that roll in after a long, hot day. My roommate was upstairs, and I was in my new room on the main floor of my new house. It was a cool room, temperature wise, and I had a lamp on in the corner, as well as above my bed. I remember being pulled into the book immediately. Dumbledore arriving and using the Put-Outer. McGonagall changing from a tabby cat. The arrival of Hagrid on his flying motorbike. The tragedy of James and Lily Potter. Harry with his scar. The despicable Dursleys. That name. Voldemort. Here was a world that was dark, mysterious, and full of magic. A world that combined Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien, while still feeling entirely unique. I read the entire book in one sitting, and began telling everyone I could about it the next day.
So much has happened since then. I started dating again soon after that, and my wife and I will celebrate 18 years of being together this August. My son turns 19 in a few weeks. I’ve finished university, gotten myself a good job, bought a house, own a dog, and done all the things a grown up is supposed to do. I turn 43 in November. I’m no longer a young man. I’ve gained friends, lost family, and gone through all the ups and downs that life unmercifully inflicts upon you. With ageing comes the loss of memory, but one thing I have not forgotten — one thing I hope I never, ever forget — was the feeling I felt the first night I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I felt so completely, wonderfully, alive.
Originally published at andygrabia.ca on July 11, 2014.