Harry Potter: Fans share their stories and memories

The final film based on J.K. Rowling's wildly successful Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, officially opens in theatres across the world this weekend. For many people, this represents the conclusion of a beloved book series and movie franchise that has captivated and inspired for more than 10 years.

At CBC Books we've been collecting your stories and memories of reading and watching Harry Potter for the past week. We're excited to share some touching messages we've received with you. The Potter series may be over, but it's very clear from your emails and comments that "the boy who lived" continues to live in your hearts and minds.

Dermor had always enjoyed reading since childhood, but admits that they needed to warm up to the Potter saga.

"The first time I read Harry Potter was in the late 90s when Chamber of Secrets had come out," Dermor wrote. "I was helping teach a child to read and found the book somewhat silly. My mother actually convinced me a few years later to read Prisoner of Azkaban which she had picked up at Chapters and I found I couldn't put it down. I've since read them all and over again because I find there's a lot more to the story that you miss the first time around that is so much more apparent when rereading them."

Sarah Allain, from Toronto, was nine years old when The Philosopher's Stone came out. She remembers becoming an instant fan and convincing her friends to pick up the book.

"We came to the Potter party early on — I remember telling my friends that they just had to read this book, and being stared at skeptically when I tried to explain how wonderful it was. And with those who had read it, it was like having a fantastic secret, one that you couldn't help but share with everyone.

As a child growing up with Harry and his friends, the books became a part of our cultural identity, a common experience for so many people, one of those communally binding stories that don't come along as often as they should. I don't read or write fan fiction, I don't dress up when I see the movies (though I do go to the midnight showing!), and I don't collect memorabilia - not that there is anything at all wrong with those pursuits - but I remember, on my eleventh birthday, wishing that an owl would come to my window. For each new book we ordered same-day delivery, and I would stay up all that night to finish it. And the best part was that I knew I wasn't the only one - people all around the world were doing the exact same thing. When the first movie came out, it was great to be connected to even more people through a new medium."

High-school student Aisha Birani was hooked on the Potter series after her dad brought home a copy of the first movie. She's since bought every book and movie and has become a true "Potterhead."

"The last Harry Potter movie comes out this week, [and while] most people think it's the ending of the Potter era, it really isn't because if us fans stay true to the books...just like J.K. Rowling said at the final London premiere, 'Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.' Harry Potter isn't just a character from a book, he is a legend to every person that grew up with him and his life."

Melissa Olegario had a job that took her around the world. She got into the Harry Potter series after meeting some memorable fans.

"The interest to want to read the series was ironically sparked in the midst of a very busy time in my profession: during a deployment to Afghanistan. I was working with multinationals whose first language was not even English. I remember with fondness a very stoic Turkish officer talking about how he loved reading these books to his daughters; or the no-nonsense German officer who, as a proud godfather, kept the books on his shelf so that he could read to his visiting godson. When I returned to my country, it continued to spark my interest. 

Before I gave birth to my first child, all seven books had by then been published. Even with the weird sleeping habits that pregnancy can cause, I did not read to pass the time... the books proved to be an addictive drug. I literally could not put them down ...

Harry-halloween.jpgThough the themes occur in the real world, throughout the history of humans, we fall in love with J.K. Rowling's magical characters because they remind us of our likes, dislikes, our strengths and weaknesses, our challenges, our defeats, our hopes and dreams. We live through these characters in a world where our thoughts or actions are not so geeky or loser, but actually make sense. It takes us to a place where anything is possible.

I brought my family to Chicago when the Harry Potter Exhibition first came out, and we are going to Universal so we can walk through the Great Hall and drink Butterbeer. I made costumes for the entire family, and we, including the cat, dressed up for Halloween as HP characters. We also carved pumpkins in the images of HP characters."

CBC Books commenter grammargeek says that Harry Potter has been an important part of her son's life.

"I firmly believe that J.K. Rowling is a major contributor to my son's report cards for the past ten years. He was only five when somebody gave him The Philosopher's Stone for Christmas. Being too young it read it, I read it to him. We both were hooked. I helped him read The Chamber of Secrets, but after that he was on his own.

At sixteen, he's still an avid reader. He doesn't bother with a book any less than 500 pages because he figures that it's too short! And he's not just a reader. He's a collector. All of his books are hardcover and treasured. He will one day pass them on to his children.

But since he first was hooked on reading at age five, his report cards have been stellar. With two years of high school left, I believe that he will remain on the Principal's List of First Class Honours. I credit his excellent reading abilities for his academic success."

Shanna Robinson, from London, Ont., first heard of Harry Potter in 2001 while in her first year of university. She watched some of the movies and thought they were cute, but believed the series was mostly for kids. Her roommate, however, had the books and made a deal - Shanna would read the Potter books if her roommate would watch the Lord of the Rings films, which she hadn't seen. Both came out of the experience with "new favourite stories."

"What Harry Potter taught me at the age of 23 was not to be a skeptic. To read something for myself before passing judgment. A good story is a good story, no matter when it was written or who is the intended audience. Some people turn down their noses at what they consider to be 'children's literature.'  But some of the most beloved literature involves young people in the narrative - Anne of Green Gables, Black Beauty, Little Women, Oliver Twist ... and the list goes on. What would we miss out on if we dismissed these and other books simply because the characters in them are young of age?"

Vanessa Ho, from Vancouver, also fell under the spell of the Harry Potter books as an adult. She was never a big reader as a child, and says she always wondered how she even graduated high-school, as she never finished reading any of the assigned books in her English classes. Nevertheless, she was part of an online book club in 2000. One month, they were asked to read The Philospher's Stone.

"I was reluctant to read the first Harry Potter book because I heard that it was a kids' book and I am an adult so I couldn't understand why a book club would want to read a children's novel. But, I did read it and I was immediately hooked and I came to realize that J.K. Rowling hasn't written a kids book but a novel for all ages. What hooked me were the twists presented in the book. J.K. Rowling is brilliant in the fact that not everything in the novel is black and white as you would expect in a children's book.

How Harry Potter changed my life is now I am a reader and a quicker one, too. I devoured the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in 24 hours. But if it wasn't for Harry Potter, I wouldn't have read adult fare like The Lovely Bones, On Beauty, The Time Traveler's Wife ... The list goes on and on. I think over the past ten years, I have read way more books than I did as a child.

So for that reason, I will always love Harry Potter no matter how old I am."

Bri Ozalas, 15, from Mullica Hill, N.J., wrote an impassioned email to CBC Books with this message:

b-snap-harry.jpg"Growing up with these books definitely shaped my childhood. I wouldn't be who I am today if I did not have these books. The Potter books are not just about Harry's journey to defeat the Dark Lord, Voldemort. Some of the biggest life lessons and very important topics are discussed in these books. Alongside Harry, we learn the true meanings of loyalty, friendship, sacrifice and love. We see the battle of good versus evil. We learn that to find out what a man is like, look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals. We accept that death is the next great adventure. We explore topics such as gender, race, social class and prejudice. We are taught that it is not good to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

No matter what anyone says to me, Harry Potter is not over. It will never be over. The legacy will live on. Harry Potter is a story I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Harry will forever live in my heart and the hearts of children, teenagers and even adults all around the world. J.K. Rowling will continue to be an inspiration. People from all over will continue to read the books and watch the movies.

And I know that Hogwarts will always be there to welcome us home."

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