As the first book celebrates its 20th anniversary
Harry Potter turns 20 this week (June 26), two decades on from the publication of The Philosopher’s Stone in 1997. It’s hard to say exactly the level of cultural impact the young adult wizardry series has had over the past couple of decades, but here are 20 big, weird milestones the enormous franchise has achieved.
1. ‘Muggle’ is in the dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary added this bit of Potter jargon (referring to a non-magical person) to its pages in 2002. It’s listed as “a person who lacks a particular skill or skills, or who is regarded as inferior in some way”.
2. People play Quidditch competitively
In Harry Potter, magical folk play a sport called Quidditch, while riding flying broomsticks. In the real world, people run around on the ground with broomsticks between their legs, imitating the positions of beater, chaser, seeker and keeper. It happens all over the world, and there’s now a Quidditch World Cup that takes place every two years. (Australia were the champions in 2016.)
3. Platform 9 and 3/4 exists now
Go to King’s Cross station in London and at the far end, near the left-luggage, you’ll see a trolley fixed in the middle of the wall. There, you will almost always find Potter fans posing for pics.
4. There’s a ‘wizard-rock’ festival called Wrockstock
Five years after the emergence of Harry Potter, Harry + The Potters began making music, kicking off the wizard-rock phenomenon. Five years after that, the first ‘Wrockstock’ festival of wizard-rock bands happened in Missouri. The latest edition was in 2013, but Harry + The Potters are still making music and just a couple of weeks ago they played a gig in their home state of Massachusetts.
5. People study the Potter universe at uni
The much talked-about module at Durham University was part of the programme offered by the Education department. Among other things it looks at the “social, cultural and educational context” of J.K. Rowling’s series and aims to “understand some of the reasons for its popularity”.
6. The religion ‘Snapeism’ exists now
Just one facet of the intense Potter fandom, Snapeism was examined in an academic article by the University of Sydney’s Zoe Alderton In it she said: “the Snapists actually satisfy common a priori assumptions about what it is to be religious (based on Western Judeo-Christian understandings of this term), and use these same standard ideas in order to frame their beliefs.”
7. It made kids’ lives safer
An analysis in the British Medical Journal found that the release of Harry Potter books coincided with a dip in the number of A&E admissions of children aged between seven and fifteen, because rather than getting into scrapes, they were reading. The authors concluded: “There is a place for a committee of safety-conscious, talented writers who could produce high-quality books for the purpose of injury prevention.”
8. Edinburgh’s Elephant House café is always rammed
Sign up for the newsletter
Along with the now defunct Nicholson’s Café, Elephant House is one of the Edinburgh eateries where J.K. Rowling composed her first few Potter books. Once it was a quiet spot where you could write a book; no longer.
9. It’s no longer weird that authors can be billionaires
J.K. Rowling was the first author to break that financial barrier; who will be the next?
10. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter play smashed the record for Olivier Award wins
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – set years after The Deathly Hallows – took nine awards at the UK’s most prestigious theatre awards ceremony. Previous record-holders Matilda and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time had taken seven each.
11. It’s possible to stop fans revealing spoilers – if you ask them nicely
In 2016 J.K. Rowling ran a #KeepTheSecrets campaign as The Cursed Child entered its six-week preview phase; none of the plot points got out. Though the manuscript of The Cursed Child has been published, fans are still keeping the spoilers off social media.
12. Butterbeer and Bertie Botts’ beans are actual edible things now
13. There’s also a strain of weed called ‘Harry Potter’
Potter pot has an earthy citrus flavour and “casts a pacifying spell over the body“, says Leafly.
14. Harry Potter made this impossible supergroup real
Ever thought you’d see Jonny Greenwood shredding next to Jarvis Cocker, or Phil Selway drumming for Steve Mackey? The Radiohead/Pulp mashup also had All Seeing I’s Jason Buckle and Add N to (X)’s Steven Claydon. Together they formed The Weird Sisters, and they were glorious.
15. Harry Potter normalised the printing of adult covers for young-adult books
The HP series was for everyone, but that didn’t stop publishers Bloomsbury creating two editions – one for kids, one for grown-ups. The adult editions were not cool or legit: they were just sad expressions of denial and pointless shame.
16. It got The Stone Roses’ Ian Brown into acting (kinda)
In this very short and even sweeter cameo from 2004’s The Prizoner of Azkaban, the Stone Roses frontman reads Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time while stirring his drink without a wand. Six years later he appeared in 2010’s This is England ’86 twice, as ‘Tempestuous Copper’.
17. Celebrities have shared their Hogwarts houses, and we all know what it says about them
In 2015 Ariana Grande revealed that she had been put in Slytherin by Pottermore’s J.K. Rowling-approved sorting hat quiz. As for the Potter stars themselves, Matt Lewis (Neville Longbottom) is a Hufflepuff, as is Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley). When Eddie Redmayne explained his Fantastic Beasts character was also in Hufflepuff, his sweary video went massively viral. Hogwarts houses are totally entrenched in the public’s imagination.
18. It normalised animated GIFs
GIFs were invented in 1987 and weren’t really popularised until the arrival of Tumblr in the mid-’00s. The portrayal of animated images in the newspapers of the Harry Potter universe predated that surge in popularity by far – and we use those moving, silent images in much the same way now.
19. It caused a spike in railway trespassing offences
In 2016 there was a 16% rise in the number of people trespassing on railways in Scotland, and police named the curved Glenfinnan Viaduct as one of the main culprits – it’s the structure we see the ‘Hogwarts Express’ travelling along in the first few films, and it’s been responsible for a number of near misses recently. How about recreating the journey by taking the Jacobite Express route, instead? Bit safer.
20. Film studios are constantly looking for the next Harry Potter
The entire Potter franchise is the third highest-grossing ever, and Chris Columbus – the director of the first couple of Potter films – says it was such a cash cow that studios will continue to look for the next Harry Potter franchise for the next forty or fifty years.
Think of all the young adult fantasy franchises of the past few years: The Hunger Games came closest, then the likes of The Maze Runner, Divergent and Eragon. None has quite repeated Potter’s success; what will be next?