When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out in the United States 20 years ago, it changed the way we thought about children’s books. Under Harry’s influence, kids’ books got longer. They got more prestigious. They became culturally inescapable. And for a generation of writers, the Harry Potter books became foundational texts, ones to refer to again and again to figure out what their next book should look like.
Vox spoke to seven writers via email about their memories of growing up on Harry Potter, and how the books influenced their own writing. In their own words, here’s how Harry Potter changed the next generation of writers.
The following comments have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Mackenzi Lee on chasing that Harry Potter feeling
My strongest memory of Harry Potter is listening to the audiobooks narrated by Jim Dale. I was a big audiobook reader as a kid, and I used to carry a little cassette player all around the house, listening to Harry Potter over and over again until I could recite passages from memory. I also remember going to a release party for the fourth book, where my sister and I made her a Fluffy the three-headed dog costume and she won second prize in the costume contest!
My other biggest Harry Potter memory is when the seventh book came out, my family made a pact we’d all read it together. But I couldn’t wait! My mom was keeping a close eye on the book to make sure no one read ahead, so in order to sneak it away, I swapped the dust jacket with another fantasy novel and pretended to be reading that one instead. And it worked! She didn’t know until I told her years later!
I feel like Harry Potter is always with me, and always with everything I create. I’m constantly chasing the feeling those books give me in everything I write, and hoping that someday someone will love my work even a smidge as much as I love Harry Potter.
Jennifer Robson on how J.K. Rowling gets her through the bad days
Robson is an internationally best-selling author of historical romances. Her new book The Gown comes out in December.
My sister put the first book in my hands a year or two after it was first published. I read it straight through without stopping, and then I turned to the first page and read it all over again. When my now-teenage son was still very little, probably no more than 4 or 5, I read the first three books aloud to him at bedtime over the course of a year or so. I simply couldn’t wait any longer to introduce him to the world Rowling had created.
The clarity of [Rowling’s] vision continues to astonish and inspire me. She saw, right from the beginning, where the great arc of the series would lead Harry and his friends, and she knew exactly how those thousands of puzzle pieces would fit together. I also adore Harry himself, not least because he reminds me of another orphan who only wanted to be loved and have a place to belong and a family to call her own: Anne Shirley [of Anne of Green Gables].
For me, Rowling herself is the inspiration. I’d dreamed of writing a book for years, but for one reason or another I kept putting it off. And then, late one night when I was up with my weeks-old daughter, I watched a documentary about Rowling, and how difficult her life was before the great success of Harry Potter. She wrote her first book without any of the supports that many people would consider essential to such a grand endeavor: no supportive partner, no child care, no money for things like a computer or research trips or even a nice cup of coffee at the end of a bad day. She kept going through the bad days; she never gave up. I started writing my first book the next morning.
Lucy Knisley on embracing her inner Neville Longbottom
Knisley is an author and illustrator who reimagined each Harry Potter book as a poster-length comic. Her new book Kid Gloves comes out in February.
I was that cool kid who had a book club with my sixth-grade teacher. We’d trade books that we thought the other would like all through elementary school and into high school. In my freshman year of high school, she sent me the first Harry Potter book. It was the last book she ever sent me, but it was probably one of the most long-lived gifts I ever received.
[Harry Potter] celebrates everyone’s differences. We love the characters because of their individuality and strengths, and that they can find a place for themselves. I was a lonely, awkward kid who changed schools quite a lot (a Neville, if you will) but I recognized this world in the book as a place where everyone, oddball or misfit or even bratty narcissist included, could find their home.
I think Harry Potter has given all of us something to strive for — a world so beloved and complete that people of all ages get lost in the pages. I’d love to be able to write a book like that someday.
Taran Matharu on building a magic school inspired by Hogwarts
Matharu became a YA fantasy sensation on the fanfic website Wattpad. His book The Summoner’s Handbook comes out in October.
I was first given Harry Potter at around the age of 9. It was right before the series became a phenomenon — I hadn’t heard of it before. When I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first of many times, in my eyes, it was like any other book.
That was before I started reading it. I became an instant fan — I loved every page, and immediately begged my mother for a trip to the bookshop to purchase the second one when I finished it. After that, I was one of the many readers who had the release date of the next book written in my diary, and would queue up with my parents outside the bookstore, waiting for the doors to open. I count myself lucky to be in the first generation of Harry Potter fans.
J.K. Rowling lived and breathed the world of Harry Potter, and that was plain on the page. You believed it when you read it. And perhaps most important of all, it was a world you wished you could live in. I stayed up all night on my 11th birthday, waiting in hope for an owl to deliver my Hogwarts acceptance letter.
Of course, now I know that Muggle-born children don’t receive owls — a teacher from Hogwarts arrives at their door with the letter, to explain everything to their parents. It’s that kind of attention to detail that made the world of Harry Potter so special.
It’s no coincidence that my own first novel takes place in a boarding school setting, where teenagers learn to control their powers. Harry Potter’s Hogwarts is one close to my heart, and it inspired me to make my own magical school. That being said, [mine is] more of a military academy. Training involves learning how to fight as military officers, in a war against the savage orcs of the Southern Jungles.
The magic is also very different; no wands or broomsticks here. But even here, Rowling’s influence can be seen — students’ powers involve summoning demons from another plane of existence. These demons are magical creatures inspired by world mythologies, not unlike Rowling’s own bestiary of fantastic beasts.
Hank Green on the power of Harry Potter fandom and community
Along with his brother, young adult author and icon John Green, Green is one half of the YouTube power duo Vlogbrothers, the founder of VidCon, and a longtime member of Harry Potter fandom. His debut novel An Absolutely Remarkable Thing comes out this month.
The way we loved Harry Potter while the books were coming out was so good and big and pure, and the fact that some of the younger, nerdier parts of the internet were simultaneously on the rise can’t really be separated from each other. The community and passion of the Harry Potter fandom was, for a lot of people, how their experience of the internet began. That community was vital to my growth not just as a creator but as a compassionate, thoughtful citizen of the internet. Weird, but true.
Laura Lam on the wonderful escapism Hogwarts provided
My best friend since I was 6 thrust the first book into my hands when I was 11 or so. I devoured the first three books and became an instant fan. I waited in line at midnight for the next book release, dressing up. When a new film came out, my mom would let my brother and me play hooky and we’d go watch a matinee showing. In a roundabout way, I met my husband and moved to Edinburgh, the birthplace of Harry Potter, through the books too, because he was a troll on a Harry Potter Yahoo chatroom that me and my friends posted on (it’s a long, nerdy story).
My favorite thing about the books is the sense of magic. It was pure escapism. It didn’t matter that if you thought too hard about certain things about the world, it didn’t exactly make sense. Because it was such a wide phenomenon, it was fantasy that all my friends also read. It was my first fandom, where I read fanfic and started thinking about where else the world could go and who else could live within them. I was especially drawn to fanfic about the marginalized that didn’t show up that often at Hogwarts — the queer and POC characters, for example.
I once uploaded two chapters of a Harry Potter fanfic called The Black Cat. I have zero recollection of what it was about — I only know the title because I referred to it in my teen diary. It’s better lost to time. My first love is fantasy, and that’s what I started writing. Harry Potter’s influence has creeped into my Micah Grey trilogy, starting with Pantomime. Micah runs away to a magical circus to escape his stifling real life, changing gender presentation within the process. There’s even a trio — Micah is definitely the Gryffindor. Cyan is Ravenclaw. Drystan is Slytherin but with a little bit of hidden Hufflepuff. I’ll always be thankful to Rowling for the magic.
Lauren Spieller on the immersive experience of magic
Spieller is a literary agent and author of the YA novel Your Destination Is on the Left. She recently revealed her Harry Potter allegiances via Book Twitter’s version of fuck/marry/kill: “Write Gryffindor. Edit Ravenclaw.”
I heard Harry Potter before I read it. My seventh-grade computer teacher read the first chapter to the class, then helped us build basic HTML websites inspired by the story. I remember a lot of pixelated, rotating witches’ brooms ...
My favorite thing about the books is how they make me feel. Reading even a single line takes me back to childhood, when all I wanted was to receive my Hogwarts acceptance letter via owl. J.K. Rowling makes Harry’s world feel lived-in and real by including lots of small details. I try to do that with my own books.