On 6 November 2001, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone hit UK cinemas. I was one of the many children swept up by Pottermania, the anticipation felt ahead of the first film only matched by the excitement when the next book in the series was published (yes, I collected the final book at midnight, and yes, I did dress up. Once).
So I was thrilled when Sky announced its Return to Hogwarts special, commemorating 20 years since the first Harry Potter film graced British screens. But I was also braced for the disappointment that we’ve all come to expect from the superficiality of reunion shows. My scepticism in place, and my expectations managed, I was ready to press play. The John Williams score began, the doors to the Great Hall flung open and eight-year-old Tiffany was back.
There was a healthy dose of Harry Potter trivia and anecdotes from the cast, but what struck a real chord with me was watching the actors grow on set, hearing them talk about their journey from children to adults, and discussing what the series meant to them.
Whilst watching the 98-minute special, I also found myself diving headfirst into my own Pensieve (or trip down memory lane to those not familiar with the Wizarding World), and being embraced by nostalgia. I remembered not only my own childhood and adolescence, but reliving how I felt about the individual storylines within the series as I myself grew as a person, alongside Harry Potter. I imagine if I re-read them all this year I’d discover an affinity with a different character, sympathy with those where perhaps before there was frustration, or maybe an appreciation of a previously discarded theme.
I, like many other Harry Potter fans, have had countless discussions with people about why grown adults are ‘obsessed’ with a children’s series, why they read (and re-read) Harry Potter books, and what compels people to want to find out which Hogwarts House they would be in (Ravenclaw, for those asking). I’m therefore not going to bore you with why I love Harry Potter. But watching Return to Hogwarts reiterated to me why the series – the books and the films – is so successful. For a fantasy series entirely predicated around magic, there are so many real-world experiences and emotions that people can relate to, amidst a truly enchanting world tailor-made for escapism.
Nothing rang truer to this Potterhead than the closing words of Emma Watson about the series: “There’s something about Harry Potter that makes life richer. Like when things get really dark and times are really hard. Stories give us places we can go where we can rest”.