FAIRFIELD — Fictional boy wizard Harry Potter, known for years as “the boy who lived,” is becoming, for a new generation of young fans, the boy who lived — a long time ago.
It’s been six years since the final book was published in 2007, capping off a decade of book releases that were cultural events in and of themselves.
Today’s young teen fans won’t remember how each publication resulted in a national discussion about the sales numbers and length of each book, the long lines for midnight release parties at booksellers and, most important to the rabid fans, what would happen next in the ongoing struggle between the downtrodden orphan and the evil Lord Voldemort.
But in Fairfield and 14 other communities throughout the nation, young fans will get a taste of the days when celebrating Harry Potter was a group activity.
The Lawrence Public Library was one of 15 winners chosen from a pool of hundreds of applicants by a panel of judges from U.S. publisher Scholastic.
For submitting a winning entry in the contest, the library received $100 and Potter-themed gift items, including 100 copies of the new trade paperback edition of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” to give away during a party on Thursday, celebrating the 15th anniversary of the domestic release of the first book in the seven-volume series.
For Alyssa Patterson, the children’s librarian at Lawrence who submitted the winning essay, the party will be a chance to recreate some of the excitement she felt when she picked up her first Potter book.
Patterson, who recently graduated from the University of Maine at Augusta with a degree in information and library services, said Potter has an appeal that spans both generations and genders.
People can relate to Potter, she said, because, like him, they sometimes have a hard time at home, are concerned about being able to make friends, or deal with bullies, young love and death.
Unlike many adventure books with male protagonists, Patterson said, the Harry Potter series appeals to girls as well as boys, partly because of the strong female characters and partly because of Harry Potter himself.
“You kind of feel sad for him. He’s just a kind little boy,” he said. “He’s not aggressive and that kind of thing. He’s just Harry.”
Areas of the library will be decorated to represent different locations from the book — Diagon Alley, Platform Nine and Three-Quarters — and activities will include a costume contest, a wand-making shop, trivia, and a sorting by house, in which attendees choose to be members of house teams known for a particular attribute: bravery, slyness, friendship or cleverness.
Members of the first generation of Harry Potter fans, including Patterson, have moved into the workforce and are now encouraging the young people they meet in their jobs to pick up the books they loved so much when they were younger.
In addition to the young children who come to her in the library seeking reading advice, Patterson also plans to initiate her 2-year-old daughter as soon as she’s old enough to enjoy them.
Ellie Berger, president of trade publishing at Scholastic, said part of the reason for Harry Potter’s continued popularity are librarians who remain, she said, “passionate and committed to spreading their love of Harry Potter.”
Bryn Mayo, 12, of Fairfield, was only six years old when the final book in the series was published, an event she doesn’t remember at all. She, too, was convinced to pick up her first Harry Potter book by a first-generation Potter fan — her sixth-grade teacher.
Today, Mayo is a full-fledged wizarding convert, decorating her room with drawings inspired by the series and occasionally visiting fan websites.
When she heard about the library party, she planned a costume — she will be going dressed as Luna Lovegood, Harry Potter’s endearingly spacey friend — and sent out emails to friends, including the teacher who got her into Harry Potter in the first place.
The goal of teachers and librarians, to spread a love of knowledge and reading, is well-served by the book series, which can be thought of as a 4,100-page reading and vocabulary lesson for children who might not otherwise pick up books for fun at all.
First-generation readers and the newly initiated have experienced the books and movies in different ways.
For Patterson, who got caught up in the Harry Potter craze part way through the series, going to midnight release parties was part of the experience.
At the publication of the last book, she went to a party at the Mr. Paperback bookstore in Waterville, dressed as Nymphadora Tonks, a nymph who can change her hair color at will and who eventually marries a werewolf. She will dress as a different version of Tonks on Thursday.
“When I got home, I started reading right away until four or so in the morning and got up at eight and read until it was finished,” she said.
She spoke to others, including her friends and her adviser at Kennebec Valley Community College, who were experiencing the new books and movies right along with her.
When the final book was read and done, she said, it left a hole in her life.
“I would have kind of Harry Potter withdrawals. I would be working at Marden’s and all of a sudden it would hit me,” she said. “Now I don’t have that as bad. I have so much else to occupy my time.”
By contrast, Mayo has been surrounded by all of the Harry Potter material there is for as long as she can remember. She doesn’t have the same sense of urgency that Patterson felt, and so she spent about a month reading each book.
She didn’t use the series to meet new friends or talk much about the book outside of her social circle. Instead, the book was something she could share with existing friends.
Her teacher and a close friend, who were well-versed in the Potter universe, were able to act as guides by explaining things or giving hints of what was to come.
Her friend, she said, “would almost tell me something about the book and then slap her hands on her mouth.”
That relationship added to the enjoyment, she said, of both the series and her friendship.
“I kind of liked it. It was kind of almost torturing her, but in a fun, friendly way,” she said. “It was kind of fun doing it like that.”
Mayo said she wouldn’t want to have had the same experience as a first-generation fan for a simple reason: She doesn’t think she could have waited for the months to pass between the publication of each book.
“If you’re into having cliffhangers or something, that would be cool,” she said, “but I like to know how it gets resolved the next day instead of the next year.”
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287