For freshman Aden Lui, sorting hats and owl-delivered mail defined his childhood. “I started reading [the Harry Potter series] when I was in fifth grade, around 10 years old,” Lui said. “From there, every time a new book came out, I would buy it, and when the movies first came out I would always go watch them.”
Lui is not alone. The Stuyvesant community is full of students who have been able to relate to J.K. Rowling’s seven-book series over the course of their lives. As students grew up struggling with their own independence, there was Harry, offering an oh-so-magical escape.
Since its 1997 debut, the series has grown to encompass eight wide-screen movies, multiple video games, board games, and collectibles, as well as a theme park in Florida and a museum exhibit in Times Square. Pottermore, a Harry Potter fan site offering bonus components to the novels, audio versions of the stories and other activities, has also been released.
The biggest change, however, is its meaning to readers. Serious Harry Potter aficionados see parallels to the Bible, or Homer’s Iliad. Many have managed to use Harry Potter for every practice SAT essay. The adventures have developed more meaning than action filled entertainment. “Harry Potter is a book which everybody has read and everyone can connect too. We all have our special bonds with it,” said sophomore Eddie Zilberbrand.
To Zilberbrand, Harry Potter is a household name. He was just one year old when the first book, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” hit the shelves. It was some six years later, in second grade, when Zilberbrand’s mother introduced the series to him. Since then, he has read every book at least twice, seen each movie in theaters and on DVD, and has come to think of Harry Potter as a defining element of his young life.
“My brother equally loves Harry Potter, maybe even more than me,” Zilberbrand said. “When the last book came out we fought over it and my mom had to settle the dispute with a game of flip a coin.”
While Zilberbrand was an avid reader of the books and a big Ron Weasley fan, some Harry Potter fans have engaged in other parts of the Harry Potter franchise. Junior Dhrupad Mamun, for example, has enjoyed playing the many Harry Potter video games released over the years. Some, like senior Hema Lochan, are collectors of Potter souvenirs. From her visit to the Orlando theme park, she has a Harry Potter robe, wand, broomstick, golden snitch, Gryffindor scarf, bag and stationery. Others, like junior Brian Chen, eagerly await new book releases in full costume. “I waited until midnight for three of the book releases and dressed up as Lupin with a really bad werewolf costume, Ron as a werewolf, and Harry, of course.”
Despite these new additions, the magic still remains in the book. “I love re-reading the series because sometimes, you come across a small detail that has so much importance that you never even realized before,” Lochan said. “Like in the fifth book, they just mentioned the locket in a sentence, and it turned out to be a horcrux!”
Rowling’s attention to detail and innovative storytelling turned the old-as-time magical creatures of fairytales into modern day heroes. Many say her writing was so relatable the magic felt real. Everyone believed. “Her success with the series is making the whole world seem so real, and the wizards and witches humans rather than wizened old sages, poring over ancient lore,” Mamun said.
Students see not only themselves, but also the world around them, in her writing. Zilberbrand saw the house elves as both important characters and symbols of racial inequality. He sees Harry’s relationship with Dobby as a call to transcend racial barriers. “These books are classics of modern times. They tell the story of the world in some ways you might not see it, and that right there is truly magical.”
The book’s influence on Lui, however, is much more personal. An immigrant from China, he moved here with his parents and four sisters when he was three. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have a really fun childhood. I spent more of my time working because we were the first generation here,” Lui said. “All the pressure was on me.” Though his parents never trapped him under the staircase like Harry’s aunt and uncle, he did take on a lot of chores, from vacuuming to washing the dishes. The series presented an escape. With a love for Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape, Lui was further pulled into the fantasy genre. “It brought me into a new world that I didn’t expect to get into.”
Though the series has finished with the release of the final movie, Stuy students are extremely hopeful that Harry-Potter mania is something even the Killing Curse cannot end. This generation of Harry Potter fans sees it as being intertwined with their entire childhood. Zilberbrand will never forget when he first opened the first book that day eight years ago. Hema Lochan will never stop waiting for her letter. And Mr. Potter will always have us under his spell.