Potter Fans Reflect On Growing Up With Harry
In 1999, Helena Morris was an articulate 9-year-old from Simsbury with firm opinions. In an interview with The Courant that year, she described "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the first in the J.K. Rowling series, as "the best book in the world, maybe in the universe."

Twelve years later, as the final Potter movie — "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" — is set to open at midnight Thursday, her feelings haven't wavered much.

"I still love the books very, very much," says the 22-year-old, who's ever more aware of what a huge part they played in her childhood.

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"I used to pray every night that J.K. Rowling would live to finish the series," says Morris, who will soon be a senior at St. Olaf's College in Minnesota. "I'd say, 'Dear God, and let her live beyond that, but especially until she finishes her books.'"

Lately, she says, it's been a "huge point of contention" that her boyfriend has not read any of the books.

"I keep telling him: 'You have to read the books. I can't go out with someone who hasn't read the books. You don't have to love them, but you have to read them to understand so much about my childhood.'"

In the coming decades, Harry Potter will no doubt find a place in the hearts of many children, but perhaps none will have the deep-seated passion for the world of Hogwarts shared by those who grew up with him through the seven-book and eight-movie series.

To explore that special relationship, The Courant contacted five first-generation Potter fans we interviewed a decade or more ago. Their experiences with the books are woven deeply into their childhood memories.

Lily Wilkinson, who was 10 and living in Durham when the first Potter film came out, recalls that "most of the books came out when I was at summer camp, which was sort of an issue." So she'd pre-order the book before leaving for Vermont and await the day when a larger-than-usual mail truck pulled in.

"For the next week, no one cared about the [camp] activities," says Wilkinson, who is turning 20 this summer and lives in Boulder, Colo. "It was just a bunch of girls walking around with their noses in Harry Potter."

Brett Carroll of Farmington, who spent a couple of Halloweens as Harry Potter and posed for The Courant at the age of 9 in costume, says the books "were definitely our generation's series."

"I still think they are interesting books," says Carroll. "I still like the story-line … It's just kind of cool to imagine there was a whole different world … It was pretty easy to read, lots of action."

Carroll, who is now 18 and 6 feet 4, will be attending college in Salt Lake City starting next month.

Holly B. Gonzalez, who was 12 and living in Plainville, helped critique the first Potter film for The Courant and says she's not as obsessed with the books as she used to be, but her interest is still strong. For a college party, she dyed her hair red to be Ginny Weasley, while her boyfriend dressed up as Harry Potter. Now 22 and working for a bank, she hopes to eventually get into publishing.

"I want to make things like [the Potter series] for other kids," she says.

Potter devotees talk about common elements in their childhood: attending midnight book store parties in character costume; the sweet-but-torturous waiting for the next installment; the bittersweet feeling on reaching the final page; reading and rereading to try to discern and predict future plot turns; arguing over the finer plot points and details with the intensity of scholars.

Sally Reis, a professor of educational psychology at UConn, says the books had a particularly deep impact on kids who grew up with Harry, partly because the readers were transitioning through life's stages with him.