J.K. Rowling’s universe arrived in the US 20 years ago, on September 1, 2018.
Rowling has a knack for crafting exact, specific details that make a world feel solid and lived-in. The witch Harry passes in Diagon Alley who’s complaining about the price of dragon liver, Ollivander measuring the space between Harry’s nostrils to fit him for a wand, the cart full of magical candies on the Hogwarts Express: It all comes together to create a vast, breathing world with its own rigorous rules and systems, one that keeps on existing when Harry’s not looking. It’s teeming with life, and it’s enchanting.
But what really brings this magical world to life is the fact that it exists within a British boarding school novel. As literary critic David Steege (among others) has pointed out, the Harry Potter books draw on the long tradition of “public school stories” that reached their peak in 1857 with Tom Brown’s School Days. These types of tales all concern wealthy bourgeois children having joyous school day adventures at various elite British boarding schools. They’re ubiquitous in the UK, and they come with all sorts of codified tropes.