British Columbia

The Boy Who Lived ... and Conjured Up an Empire: Harry Potter superfan reflects on 20 years of magic

Vancouver-based superfan Hannah McGregor — who hosts the Harry Potter-themed podcast "Witch, Please" — says the series has made an indelible mark.

First book in series published on June 26, 1997; over 450 million books sold since worldwide

Harry Potter fans can see images of items featured in the British Library exhibit inspired by the series launched 20 years ago in public libraries across the United Kingdom, starting Friday.

It's been 20 years since a quiet, bespectacled boy wizard strolled off the pages of J.K. Rowling's first book and launched a lucrative, global entertainment empire.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was published on June 26, 1997.

Today, the Harry Potter canon includes seven books, films, a stage play, and an amusement park.

Vancouver-based superfan Hannah McGregor — who hosts the Harry Potter-themed podcast "Witch, Please" — says the series has made an indelible mark.

"I wish I could claim that as a 12-year-old reader I was so prescient that I said, 'Ah, this will be an important book.'

"I think when I read those first few volumes, what struck me was how exciting it was to imagine going to school in a castle, getting sorted into a house, and getting to sleep in a tower."

McGregor, who is an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University, says once she was hooked, there was no turning back. She even recalled pretending to be sick as a kid so she could stay home and read one of the new releases.

Author J.K. Rowling has said the manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected by numerous publishers before being published by Bloomsbury. Over 450 million copies of books from the Harry Potter series have been sold around the world. (Mary McCartney)

Part of the reason the books are appealing is Rowling's universe creates room for readers to enter and imagine other stories or other characters that might reside in that space, she says.

"Rather than feeling like the world is under J.K. Rowling's control, it's something we all get to participate in building. And that makes us feel really deeply invested in this world," she said. 

It's no surprise the phenomenon has one of the most diverse fan bases in the world — from teenagers writing fan fiction to adults reading the series to their young kids.

"It's full of people of all ages and races and genders and backgrounds united by this shared love of the world that Rowling has built. Because that world is about people trying to make the world a better place, Harry Potter fans are people who also would try to make the world a better place," she said.

"They tend to be pretty nice people."

McGregor said many fans are planning on rereading the first books to celebrate the 20th anniversary.

"It's a really great moment to look back and contemplate the growth of this series from that little first book that nobody wanted to publish to this incredible global media empire."

Listen to the interview with Hannah McGregor on CBC's On the Island: