On June 26, 1997, a quirky little book called “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was released in the United Kingdom. Eight publishers had rejected the novel before it was accepted by Bloomsbury, which offered unknown author Joanne Rowling a mere £2,500 advance for the book and printed 500 copies. They told her to take a gender-neutral pen name in order to avoid alienating potential male readers and decided to market it as a children’s book.
Harry was a runaway success. On Sept. 1, 1998, Scholastic published the novel in the United States, changing the word “Philosopher’s” in the title to “Sorcerer’s.” Following a bidding war, it had paid the newly christened J. K. Rowling a record-breaking $105,000 for the American rights.
Rowling’s magical world soon became a series of seven novels that spawned a media empire, rewrote the young adult genre and became an indelible part of life for generations. More than 500 million copies have been sold worldwide, and Rowling is the only billionaire author to date.
The 20th anniversary of the series’ launch in the United States is being celebrated this month with a variety of activities, where fans can converse about what Harry, Ron and Hermione have meant for them and bond over their shared love.
Breaking the Ice in Anaheim
Anaheim Ice held a Harry Potter-themed skate party Sept. 9 that attracted a large crowd of kids and adults alike in costume. Some were new to ice skating, but came because of their lifelong love for all things Potter.
“Honestly, since I was 8,” said Chris Sabatino, 28. “It definitely shaped my childhood.”
He attended the skate party with his best friend, Rebecca Maston, 33.
The pair ascribe their friendship to Rowling’s creation. Sabatino and Maston met when they both worked at Olive Garden several years ago. Sabatino was complaining to a coworker that his eyes were tired from reading too much Harry Potter. Maston, who was new to the area and herself a huge fan, whirled around.
“Then I spent the rest of our shift doing trivia, and she passed with flying colors,” Sabatino said.
Neither skates regularly, but when a friend invited them to the Harry Potter party, they were intrigued by the idea. Both say the series affected who they are today.
“I feel like it’s made me a better person, because there’s so much divulged in the books,” Maston said, adding that the series opened her mind to other perspectives.
“And it’s sneaky,” Sabatino said.
Indeed, Rowling’s books are known for their calls to question authority and for use of metaphor in calling out issues like bigotry.
“I know for me, personally, I was a very bad reader, but I was forced to read Harry Potter, and now I’m an avid reader,” said Katrena Woodson, who came to the rink with her husband, Ryan Milligan, and nephew Brayen. She and her husband both wore Hogwarts robes. “If not for Harry Potter, I would definitely not have been as into it.”
Woodson said discovering her love of reading later inspired her to complete a master’s degree, something she never would have considered otherwise.
She also has passed this love on to her nephew.
“He’s 6, so he’s just getting into Harry Potter,” she said.
Brayen is asking for a wand for his birthday this year.
Helena Kottmeier, 13, sewed her own sky-blue Beauxbatons cloak and wore ribbons in her hair as part of her Fleur Delacour costume, while her brother Cyrus, 10, wore Gryffindor robes.
“I read the books before they were born, then when [Helena] was in kindergarten, then again with my son,” their mother, Wendy, said. “The characters grabbed me.”
Helena loved the idea of a magical school, compared with “boring” real life schools. Cyrus was captured by the idea that a whole new world was revealed in the books, one that “no one knew about” until they were written.
Harry Potter is a central part of life for the Watkins family; Michelle, who brought her 11-year-old daughter, Shayden, to the rink, said she hasn’t ice skated in decades, but both showed up in their Harry Potter tees.
“I read the first book like 12 years ago,” Michelle said. She finished the paperback in two days and immediately devoured the series. The audiobooks are on regular rotation in the family car. Road trips usually involve Harry Potter trivia, and they play the new Hogwarts Mystery mobile game as well.
Waiting for Harry in Irvine
At the height of Pottermania, children and adults donned their robes and brought their wands to midnight book release parties worldwide.
One of the best places to count down to midnight in Orange County was A Whale of a Tale Children’s Bookshoppe in Irvine, which also boasts the distinction of having hosted J.K. Rowling for a meet-and-greet and signing on Oct. 25, 1999.
“She made eye contact with every single child, and made sure she greeted each person in one way or another, and also managed to answer a few questions,” bookshop owner Alexandra Uhl said. “We talked a bit before and after the signing, and I remember thinking how absolutely lovely, real and down to earth she was.”
The bookstore later hosted legendary Potter parties for each new release.
“The countdown to midnight was always a whirlwind, with excited fans lined up for the countdown, screaming with delight as they received their book,” Uhl said.
Some children read all night once they got home from the party, and families were known to purchase multiple copies because the children refused to share.
“People still talk about the J.K. Rowling visit and the midnight parties,” Uhl said.
For more information and a list of upcoming events, visit awhaleofatale.com.
Hogwarts in Fullerton
Some who grew up with Harry Potter continue to invite the series into adulthood.
At Cal State Fullerton, a Harry Potter Alliance chapter founded about five years ago keeps the magic alive through a variety of activities that go well beyond movie marathons.
“Our goals for the club are to continue bringing people together through their love for the story of Harry Potter and to maintain a space where people can come have fun and make friends with fellow fans,” said Cristina Herrera, the club’s president. “We are also working to get more involved in volunteer service because it is important that we find ways to give back to our community.”
The club mimics the structure of a year at Hogwarts through its scheduled activities.
“At the beginning of each semester we sort our members into houses and compete throughout the semester to earn points for the House Cup through participating in various themed activities, crafts and events,” Herrera said. “In the past we have had wand-making, potions class, story writing exercises, Fantastic Beasts duels and much more. Our biggest events take place toward the end of each semester; in the fall semester we hold our annual Yule Ball and in the spring we hold our annual Quidditch Match.”
The series has been a part of her entire life.
“The Harry Potter series was there for me throughout my childhood when I felt like an outsider, and it has shaped me into the person I have grown up to be — a strong woman who is proud of her passions and strives to make her dreams a reality,” she said.
Many of the club’s events are open to the public; for more information, visit the Harry Potter Alliance of Cal State Fullerton Facebook page.
Candice Baker Yacono is a contributor to Times Community News.
Keeping the Magic Alive
Face the Music: The Pacific Symphony performs “The Wizard’s Spellbook” at 10 a.m. Oct. 27. Designed for kids ages 5 to 11, this 45-minute concert includes Harry Potter music and encourages little witches and wizards to dress up. Information: pacificsymphony.org
Big-Screen Magic: AMC theatres will show “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” at 2 p.m. and “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” at 6 p.m. Sunday. The following weekend, enjoy a double feature of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” Part 1 at 2 p.m. and Part 2 at 6 p.m. Sept. 23. Information: amctheatres.com
Escape from Hogwarts: Bring some friends to the Square Room Escape, 2710 Alton Pkwy., Suite 209, Irvine, to try to escape from the Sorcerer’s Study, a Harry Potter-esque room that gives superfans the feels with special details, but is still fun for non-fans. Information: squareroomescape.com