Lumos! As I sat in the dimly lit Curran theater, waiting to see the new to San Francisco Broadway show “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” employees in black cloaks greeted me and eager fans in various costumes buzzed through the lobby. It was then that I began to realize the true impact of “Harry Potter” on our generation, as the franchise is arguably one of the most influential pop culture elements of our childhood.
I was too young to keep up with the original seven books as they came out, but I was able to read them back-to-back in my purple-walled childhood bedroom at age 11, the same age as Harry when he first headed to Hogwarts. I remember counting down the days, watching the trailers and released clips, and re-reading the book as I anticipated the warm summer day that premiered the eighth “Harry Potter” movie, the final segment of the series.
I was terrified of the movies as a young child (a three-headed dog? A basilisk? Not for me!), so when my brother finally convinced me to read the books, I never expected to fall in love with them the way I did — I was in awe of the bushy brown-haired know-it-all named Hermione, who I immediately identified with. I read through all of the books, watching the movies right after, and it was an instant obsession. When I found out that “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which follows an adult Harry and his youngest son Albus, was coming out in 2016, I was ecstatic — after years of playing catch-up, I would finally get to celebrate the release of a book. Early on the morning of July 31, my friend and I waited outside Barnes and Noble with our cloaks and wands until they let us in to grab a precious golden copy of the script.
As I sat in the Curran Theater Nov. 5 and 6 and watched that script come to life, I had a full-circle moment: all of the book re-reads, trips to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios, and movie nights forcing my friends to indulge in the wizarding world, culminated at that moment. It was incredible. With wands flying across the stage, the characters getting flown around in duels, and others getting magically transformed by polyjuice potions — they had me believing magic was real as I walked out the doors. I was amazed by the staging and special effects that was present throughout the show. Watching everything play out mere feet away from me brought me to tears.
I had a full-circle moment: all of the book re-reads, trips to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios, and movie nights forcing my friends to indulge in the wizarding world, culminated at that moment.
The experience had me wondering, why is this story so moving? Why am I so attached to a handful of characters who aren’t even real? I’d say it’s because this story is so rooted in our culture and was present at such a crucial time in our lives (at least mine). The “Harry Potter“ series not only reached people across generations on a personal level but introduced many to a love for reading. It transformed literary culture and book culture into pop culture and fan culture into mainstream culture. It inspired a new wave of young readers, writers and actors, who all hoped to be as magical as the young witches and wizards J.K. Rowling wrote about.
Beyond that, for millennials and Generation Z, it introduced us to cultural and political engagement. Harry and his friends fighting for the rights of Muggle-borns, who were viewed as inferior and faced persecution, was one of my first introductions to social justice, and perhaps, in turn, led me to attend a social justice-oriented university.
The stories also transcend generations, as it brought common ground to those who were 45, 23, or 11. It was a uniting force, where we could talk about and compare our houses, our patronuses, and our wand cores. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t know what I mean when I say I’m a Gryffindor or make a comment about a muggle. Whether you despise the boy who lived or have a shrine in your closet, it’s impossible to escape the expansive impact of Harry Potter.
In fact, 500 million books have been sold worldwide, meaning about one in 15 people owns at least one copy of a “Harry Potter” book. Since the release of the first book on June 26, 1997, half a billion copies have been sold; this means that, on average, 43 books from the series are sold per minute.
In the time you’ve been reading this piece, about 86 copies have been sold.
The $25 billion franchise continues to grow, expand, and reach audiences, whether, in new movies about fantastic beasts, Broadway shows, theme park rides, or merchandise. It brought life to fan and geek culture, it made it possible for authors to publish long books for children, and it continues to start conversations about witchcraft, religion, gender, social justice, and other controversial topics.
“This boy will be famous. There won’t be a child in our world who doesn’t know his name,” Professor McGonagall said in the first book. And just as that was true in the wizarding world, it’s true in the muggle world, too, which is why the “Harry Potter” series transcends time and continues to have an impact on our generation. I can’t wait to introduce the wizarding world to my future children so they can experience the same magic I did. Nox.