“I know all about you, of course – I got a few extra books for background reading…”

“I know all about you, of course – I got a few extra books for background reading…”

“Within twenty-four hours, everyone would know.”

In 1997, when I was a bookish nine-year-old with bad hair and an overactive imagination (as opposed to what I am now, which is a bookish twenty-five-year-old with bad hair and an overactive imagination), my teacher procured a new book that he was going to read to the class. It was called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

It was the beginning of one of the most amazing journeys in my life, and in the lives of millions of others. I was immediately captivated by the series and the world, by Rowling’s writing and the notion of a magical world hidden behind our own. I even borrowed the book from my teacher to finish it off over the weekend before the rest of the class. I was hooked immediately.

The Harry Potter phenomenon (the word “phenomenon” is used liberally when discussing Potter, but few other words do it justice) has taken the world by storm, and with the revelation last week that it’s not over and Rowling is writing a new film set in the same universe, I decided to do a bit of reading up on the backstory.

Harry, A History (the title itself a play on in-universe textbook Hogwarts, A History), is the story of how Harry Potter became such a success, from that now famous beginning to the much-celebrated end. Written by Melissa Anelli, the webmistress of fansite Leaky Cauldron, this is her inside scoop on what it was like to party with wrock bands, help protect fans from spoilers, and even interview the lady herself.

It’s a really interesting book, and there’s no denying that Anelli is a huge fan – the fan’s fan. She understands the heart and soul of the books, enjoys the theories and loves helping the fans get the same thrill she gets from it. However, the book is slightly jumbled, leaping around in time between 2000 and 2007, from the time she gets into the series until the release of the seventh book, Deathly Hallows. There’s a big tangent about 9/11 which, while very good, all takes place before the explanation of how Rowling came to have the books published. It seems to me that that should have come first.

I found the sections about wizard rock (wrock) and the “shipping wars” tiresome, as they are two aspects of the fandom that I’ve never really got into, in particular shipping. There is much time dedicated to the battle between those who believed (before Rowling revealed it all in the final book) that Harry and Hermione would get together, and those who put their money on Hermione and Ron. I, like many, thought it was obvious, but there are those die-hard people who insisted to the end that Harry’s true love was Hermione, ignoring all the evidence. I’m not knocking those fans at all – as long as you’re not hurting anyone, do what you want – but my position in the fandom has always more been one of observant bystander, knowing that it’s all going on, but not getting too involved.

There’s a certain amount of self-congratulation in the book, which is pretty much justified, but Anelli never loses sight of the fact that, without J. K. Rowling at the helm, none of this would have happened. I will never be the first to leap to Rowling’s defence and call her the greatest writer of all time, because she isn’t, but the fact is that she creates fully-rounded characters like no one else, and has world building skills on par with Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde. And, more importantly, she got kids reading again. Something happened, a real spark of magic, that made children sit up and take notice of a book in a world where entertainment seemed to be dominated by video games and films, and the children’s book market was rapidly shrinking. For this, she has my eternal gratitude.

For any Potter fan, this book is a great addition and makes you realise that you most certainly not alone. My generation were the Harry Potter Generation, already the zest for it has diminished in the upcoming generations. We are some of the last who remember a world where we didn’t know how it all ended. And now, as we ready ourselves for the next chapter, we can turn and thank Rowling and the team that made the books (and, yes, the films) so wonderful and a symbol of genuine magic. The series has assuredly achieved what Voldemort never could – eternal life.