“After all this time?”

This isn’t a review, but I didn’t think I could let the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter pass without comment. I was introduced to the first book in 1997 by a teacher of mine. He read it to the class, and I was hooked from the opening line. It was something wonderful and new, but I don’t know if then I knew enough to be able to say that the book would still be so important to me two decades later.

We all know the story by now, and the fans number in their millions. The first book alone has sold over 107 million copies in twenty years, with the series being the bestselling series of all time, putting J. K. Rowling into the list of top ten bestselling authors along with Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie and William Shakespeare. Her story is just as well known, going from writing in Edinburgh cafes (a number of which I have sequestered myself in, assuming that that’s how inspiration strikes) to becoming the first person to become a billionaire through writing books.

Can I fully explain what it is about these books that is so compelling? No, I don’t think so, and I think that’s what makes them so incredible. A wizarding boarding school seems such a simple idea, and yet the books are so much more than that. Anyone who writes them off as “children’s fiction” is ignoring the fact that they open with the double murder of two young parents, leaving their baby son orphaned, and things don’t get much lighter from there. For every passage looking at silly sweets, hilarious hexes and fantastic beasts, there are discussions on society’s treatment of disability, racism, bullies in positions of authority, and it’s a world where literally anyone can die. There are better writers, there are protagonists I love more, and there are series that I’ve been gripped by, but Rowling has done something calculable here.

She is a master of world building, giving us a fully realised universe, with fully three-dimensional characters, almost all with shades of grey morality. Few characters are “purely evil”, and I don’t think any are totally good. She knows everything about her world, and while some people complain about her continuing to throw new information out there (the most recent discovery being that Professors Sprout and Flitwick were once romantically involved), I’ll never stop wanting to hear it. OK, I think many of us can agree the plot of Cursed Child is perhaps something of a weak link, but no one I know who has seen it has had a bad word to say about it.

More than anything, I admire Rowling for making reading acceptable. Young people seemed to have, broadly speaking, decided that reading was nerdy and uncool, but here we are with one of the biggest franchises in the world being centered around a literary work. There is little that bursts into so many different aspects of society. Harry Potter has spawned supplementary books, films, video games, websites, podcasts, board games, theme parks, a play, a whole spin-off series about a minor character, and merchandise of every stripe from wands and costumes, to sweets and cuddly toys. It is omnipresent, and there’s no sign of it going anywhere any time soon.

This is a world I could marinate in for hours; it’s comfortable and warm and feels like home. And while it all happened in our heads, what’s to say that it wasn’t real?

If you want to read my reviews of the individual books, you can find them here, along with reviews of related books, podcasts and films.