The magic touch of Harry Potter

Fans celebrate fictional books, movies in real-life ways

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Trivia nights. Beer festivals. Running clubs. Theme parks. Symphony concerts. Quidditch teams.

All are present-day examples of groups and activities inspired by the magical world of Harry Potter in which people can participate in the real world. The book and film series forged a lasting legacy — the last book was released in 2007 — and created a global community of people connected by their love of the story.

Local enthusiasts say it boils down to author J.K. Rowling’s use of a wide range of characters that the reader, or film viewer, can relate to. Strong themes of working together, standing up for what’s right, living as an outcast and never giving up inspire people in the books and in daily life, they say.

The story of a young wizard caught in a battle of good versus evil spans seven books and later came to the screen in eight films (the final book was split into two movies).

In 2007, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” took the Guinness World Record top spot for fastest-selling book of fiction in a 24-hour period. In 2016, Harry Potter became the most liked fictional character on Facebook.

Aside from inspiring, the story also galvanizes people.

Take for example, Fanthropy Running Clubs. The organization is a virtual running group managed by the nonprofit Random Tuesday. It includes a Denver-based chapter of the Harry Potter group called Potterheads. Random Tuesday began as a Harry Potter-based running group in 2014 but has expanded by offering groups for other “fandoms” like Doctor Who and Gilmore Girls.

“We are currently recognized by Facebook as the largest Harry Potter independent community,” said Keir Hansen, the organization’s communications director.

About 65,000 have participated in the group’s Facebook discussions and events. They schedule race events online and members complete them on their own time from wherever they’re based. Proceeds go to charity.

Hansen said the storyline and universe in Harry Potter revolve around creating a better world, and that appeals to people. There are also examples of groups from different backgrounds joining forces. But what is it about Harry Potter that motivates them to run for a cause?

“They all found ways to be able to work toward their common goal and to better the world,” Hansen said of the series’ characters. “Our community does the same thing.”

The same lessons that drive people to do philanthropic runs are ones that Kim Reeder, of Parker, passes on to students in her classes. Reeder teaches social studies for an online public school.

She said the books and movies helped her when life got tough.

“It’s just kind of the arc of the whole story about perseverance and what’s right and never giving up, even when all of the obstacles are stacked against you,” she said.

Reeder, 35, began reading the books in high school and fell in love with the world’s aesthetic, she said. She found the books cleverly written, with enough detail that she could visualize the places, and she enjoyed the characters.

“They’re really human,” she said. “They’re flawed. They’re not perfect.”

Denver woman Alex Hatch, 30, said Harry Potter became her escape at age 11 when her parents were going through a divorce. She hasn’t connected to any other series like she has Harry Potter.

“I think there’s a lot of correlation with what happened in the books and what happened with today’s day and age,” she said. “In the books, good prevails, so that’s a message of hope for people.”

Fans flock to the Colorado Symphony when it shows the Warner Bros. and CineConcerts Harry Potter Film Concert Series, which travels globally. Spokesman Nick Dobref said by email it has been an audience favorite since it began in 2017.

The concerts allow audiences to “relive the magic of the film” on a 40-foot screen “while hearing the orchestra perform each unforgettable score.”

“Each installment has drawn huge crowds to Boettcher Concert Hall,” he said, “and it’s always a hot ticket with fans of all ages.”

Fanthropy isn’t the only competitive way Harry Potter enthusiasts are celebrating their fandom. Alex Bihlmeyer, of Denver, leads the local Mile High Quidditch Club, part of the US Quidditch league. They play the fictional game of quidditch made famous by Harry Potter that’s turned not-so-fictional.

During the game’s season, Bihlmeyer and the team of about 16 people practice for three hours every Sunday.

“I loved the books when I was growing up,” Bihlmeyer said.

He related to the plots involving Harry Potter growing up as an outcast but “finally reaching a good place with a good group of friends.” When Bihlmeyer moved to Colorado roughly two years, ago, quidditch helped him find community.

MORE: Quidditch takes off in Cheesman Park

Reeder said she and her family celebrate in many ways. They read the books for her 2-year-old daughter. They’ve seen the Colorado Symphony play the film concert series. They visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida. It’s all a fun family experience she’s glad to share with her daughter, she said.

“Throughout history, throughout modern times, there’s a few select books and/or movies,” Reeder said, “that really resonate with people. I think it’s kind of something that hadn’t been seen before.”

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