The day I turned 11 and nothing came through the postage slot except for a card from my grandmother, I was faced with a choice between two world views. The first was that my letter from Hogwarts got lost in the mail. The second was that the Harry Potter universe did not exist, because if there were a magical underbelly lining the drudgery of daily life, I surely would be part of it.
For all Potter fans of my generation, the 11th birthday was a rite of passage. It was the day the lining between fiction and reality hardened and was made permanent. It was the day we were reminded that, for all its elaborate lore and vivid characters and importance in our lives, Harry Potter was just a book.
At least, that’s what I thought between the ages of 7 and 17, when I was part of the world’s biggest book club. Now, through the Harry Potter universe built on the bricks of Rowling’s seven-novel canon, it’s been crowded by themed rollercoaster rides and oodles of new information meant to fill in the book’s blank margins.
At 11, I reluctantly accepted that the Harry Potter books were just books. Now, at 23, I find myself adjusting to the knowledge that Harry Potter is no longer just a book series — it’s a universe that J.K. Rowling is still writing, casually, in increments of 140 characters.
I find myself seized by a controversial opinion. One that I’m not proud of, and yet, there it is, taking the form of a gravely voice encouraging me to remain firmly atop my high horse.
How did I get here? Maybe it was J.K. Rowling tweeting that she feels “really sorry” for killing Fred Weasley, and two years later, apologizing for killing Snape. Maybe it was, after working on all eight Harry Potter films, Rowling saying we’ve been pronouncing “Voldemort” wrong all along (the “t” is silent). Maybe it was finding out that the next installment of Harry Potter’s life, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, would be carried out onstage in London in a play not even written by Rowling. Maybe I’m not ready for my heroes to be cloaked in middle-age, not an invisibility cloaks.
Either way, I’ve been shocked to find that I — the girl who reread each Harry Potter book when the next one came out, the girl who dressed as Hermione four Halloweens in a row because she was the only book character with curly hair like mine — am quitting the Harry Potter universe. Or at least the Harry Potter universe that has spurted up on Twitter and Fantastic Beast movies over the last few years. Everything that’s started after the books ended.
Part of me — the same part that teared up upon entering Harry Potter World in Orlando, the part that can’t wait for the Will and Grace reboot — is exhilarated by the seeming immortality of Rowling’s creation. Like our own universe, spinning through the lonely open plains of time and space, the Harry Potter universe is ever-expanding, and ever-warming our lonely hearts.
Part of me wants to hang on to Rowling’s every footnote forever, never close the books, and never say goodbye to my old pals.
But that’s just the thing. Books do end. And when I first became acquainted with Harry Potter, that’s all they were: Exhilaratingly long books. Books that concluded, rather poignantly, right where they began: In a crowded train station with parents setting their children free to come of age in a magical castle. Only by the end of the series, Harry Potter is the father. Harry emerged from childhood, and let me, the kid, fill in the blanks of what would come next his life.
By allowing J.K. Rowling’s post-Deathly Hallows interventions to change my interpretation of the books, I cheapen the unique, glorious experience of a childhood spent wondering. Sure, Rowling’s Pottermore paragraphs on Aunt Petunia’s backstory are enlightening and addictive, but wholly unnecessary to my appreciation of Potter’s plight in that room under the stairs.
Ultimately, my decision not to partake in the ever-expanding Potterverse probably comes down to the nostalgia for the novels that shaped my identity as a lifelong bookworm.
Odds are, this rebellion against Rowling's stubborn control over her characters is is an affliction of my early '90s birthday. I measured my life with Harry Potter book releases. The ones who come after me won’t mind having J.K. Rowling tell them how to pronounce “Voldemort,” or knowing that Harry Potter looks like Daniel Radcliffe before they even begin the books. For them, uncovering the mysteries of the next Harry Potter books won't be so wholly associated with years between book releases, with childhood.
As for me, I’m grateful for the days I spent reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets under my desk in second grade; the day, while on vacation, I retreated from my entire family to finish the last novel. I returned to the beach bleary-eyed by loss.
Lucky me to have met Harry and Ron and Hermione as they were written, before Rowling began to waltz with her creations in their post-published state. I got to make them mine.
That said, I’m not totally immune to the thrill of Rowling's universe. While I hope that the seven Harry Potter novels still act as the entry-point to the Harry Potter universe (and keep breeding voracious young readers), I’m happy that such a powerful, enduring story exists in all of its forms.
The boy who lived will keep on living. Though, to be fair, Harry Potter never needed Rowling’s sequels, prequels, and spinoffs to keep his heart beating over the last 20 years. We, his readers, would’ve kept him alive all on our own by restarting the first novel just as we finished the last.
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