Rowling in the deep

The first Harry Potter book was published 20 years ago this month. His story—and author J.K. Rowling’s—still mean a lot to some Renoites.

In 2006, Diana Grace was a teen who’d recently undergone chemotherapy treatment for cancer. She met Emily Watson and other members of the Harry Potter cast through the Kids Wish Foundation.

In 2006, Diana Grace was a teen who’d recently undergone chemotherapy treatment for cancer. She met Emily Watson and other members of the Harry Potter cast through the Kids Wish Foundation.


June 26, 1997, marked the beginning of an era. Who hasn’t fantasized about getting a letter from Hogwarts on their 11th birthday or dreamt of walking into the castle on the hill?

Harry Potter is now a household name. Last year, millions of people lined up in bookstores to have a peek into the world of Harry’s future, and movie theaters saw a horde of older people queuing up to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J.K. Rowling’s spinoff. It all began 20 years ago with a dream on a train and a book called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, as it's known in the U.K. and most English-speaking countries. It was first published by Bloomsbury, with an initial print run of 1,000 copies. Now, over 450 million copies from the seven-book series have been sold.

Fantasy fan worlds

Potter’s story is not just a story about the fantasy world of Rowling, it has a million other people’s stories attached to it.

One such story is that of Lindsey Novello, a case manager in Reno who is part of the Geek Girl Brunch group. She credits her love of reading and books to Harry Potter. She recalls her teacher reading the books in class one day, which made her fall in love with the story.

Harry Potter is the start of my geekiness,” she said. “Harry Potter turned me into someone who has a whole library in her house, and it also inspired me to be a writer.”

The books have been an escape from reality into a fantasy world. Novello said Potter’s story helped her when she was subjected to abuse, bullying and depression. She’s engaged to be married in September, and she has all plans in motion for her dream geek wedding.

“We have a whole table set up for Harry Potter with a personalized centerpiece for that table," Novello said. “I have also incorporated it into my bridesmaid, who will be Harry Potter themed, and my headpiece, which is the golden snitch.”

There have been a lot of themed weddings and events related to the wizarding world. Barnes & Nobles hosted its first ever Harry Potter Magical Holiday Ball last December in Reno. The Geek Girl Brunch has hosted Harry Potter-themed lunches, the most recent in August 2016.

Life changing events

The books, stories and characters have had a big impact on people through the years. Diana Grace, a former pediatric assistant and speech-language pathologist who recently moved to Reno, is one of them. As a cancer survivor, she's taken great strength from the books. In 2006, at age 16, she underwent chemotherapy. The Kids Wish Network offered to fulfil a wish, and at 17, her wish was granted. She met the cast of the Harry Potter films.

“He was courage when I was a child,” she said. “He was a friend I could relate to when I was an adolescent. He was strength when I was battling cancer. He was solace when I was upset and needed something familiar that I could lose myself in.”

But being a Potterhead is not only about the books and the movies. From collectible wands to visiting the Wizarding World, there are a multitude of options for indulging in fandom.

Grace has her collection of wands and merchandise from her favorite house, Ravenclaw. She would also love to one day have a custom license plate reading RVNCLW.

Ever since J.K. Rowling came up with Pottermore, a website where you can find your Hogwarts house, your patronus and unpublished content, people the world over have been confirming their place in the wizarding world.

M’Lisa Elgin, a stay-at-home mom from Reno, has a collection of books, wands, dolls and much more.

“I kept my ticket from when I went to Harry Potter world,” she said. "I even have a lunch box and the [writsband] that they gave out when the sixth book came out.”

Elgin also sports a tattoo that reads “Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus,” which is the saying on the school crest. Other common tattoos related to the franchise are the Deathly Hallows symbol—representing three legendary magical objects—a minimalist Harry and the famous utterance of Severus Snape, “Always.”

Apart from the books, author J.K. Rowling has one of the biggest rags to riches success stories in the recent past. In 1990, during a train ride from Manchester to London, Rowling came up with the idea for a story of a young boy studying in a wizarding world. After years of writing and personal struggles, including the loss of her mother, becoming a parent and getting divorced, she pulled through with her manuscript in 1995. Eight publishers rejected the manuscript before Bloombsbury offered a modest advance to Rowling, who eventually went from living off of state wages to being one of the richest people in the world. Several sources estimate her net worth to be about $1 billion.

Sara Anne Marie, who works at the Reno Little Theater, said that Rowling was a great inspiration and is super interesting to read about.

“One of my favorite things that came out of her fame was her commencement speech at Harvard University, where she talked to graduates of Harvard about failing and the benefits of failure,” she said. “As someone involved in the arts, one of the things I take from her story is that you have to trust yourself as an artist and that what you are doing matters.”

The beauty of the world of Harry Potter is that there is always more to add onto it. There are potential stories from the past about the Marauders or the fantastic beasts’ era and stories set in the future, such as the 2016 play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

To commemorate the anniversary, Rowling is launching a free online book club. Also, the first Harry Potter books are getting new covers with each Hogwarts house crest on them. Those are available for pre-order.

Seven books, eight movies, 4,224 pages and millions of hearts after the initial printing, one might ask a Potterhead about their love for the franchise, “After all this time?” The answer would inevitably be, “Always.”