Now that the curtain has risen on the Melbourne season of the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, it is time to recognise that the series has created a new rite of passage for pre-teen children.
A whole generation of children who have grown up with Harry Potter – it is over 21 years since the first book was published – have gone to sleep on the eve of their 11th birthday with greater anticipation than all their Christmas Eves combined.
Audiences for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child are the first to see the restored Princess Theatre.Credit:Chris Hopkins
If you are one of the millions of people who have read a Harry Potter book or watched a Harry Potter movie, you will know that those with magical powers receive an invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on their 11th birthday.
Most fully expect their invitation but for some, like Harry and his friend Hermione Granger, who are born or raised within "muggle" (non-magical) families, their invitation comes as a surprise. These are children who attend regular primary schools and live in families just like yours and mine. To them, the wizarding world is as fanciful as a story in a book … do you see where I'm headed?
Harry Potter fans queued up outside the Princess Theatre from the early hours of the morning to snap up free tickets to the final dress rehearsals of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Credit:Meredith O’Shea
For kids who are as immersed in the Harry Potter series as fully as many 10-year-olds are, the idea that they might be one of the muggle children is not far-fetched at all.
My niece and nephews’ hopes were strongest around age nine (an age where fantasy is very strong). As they’ve approached 11 (when more reality-testing and cynicism has kicked in) I’ve heard them say things like: "Of course I won’t get an invitation, it’s just a story," but I know them well enough to sense the yearning beneath.
As my daughter approached 11, she knew the Harry Potter stories so well that she could listen to the audio books on double speed (Steven Fry sounding like he’s sucked on a helium balloon) while simultaneously browsing a different volume.
Though she wasn’t devastated when the owl didn’t arrive, I knew she had secretly hoped to receive a Hogwarts invitation and I was sad that her birthday ended this chapter of a wonderful childhood fantasy.
To be honest, a small part of me was hopeful too. I confess to being a latecomer to the global phenomenon that is Harry Potter, thanks to inoculating myself against the fever 20 years ago by virtue of what I now realise was misplaced snobbery.
As with many things in life, kids gave me a second chance. I found myself listening in as my husband read the first book to my daughter and was instantly hooked.
As I reader and writer, I am in awe of the complexity of the Harry Potter plot.
As a family, both immediate and extended, the series has provided us with endless hours of entertainment, conversation and bonding. This year, it will be my son’s turn to anticipate his 11th birthday.
For the wider community, Harry Potter has introduced a new rite-of-passage into childhood, with nearly-11-year-olds hoping that an owl might come fluttering at the window delivering their coveted invitation to a life of magic.
Maybe that is magic enough.
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