Harry Potter: Is Miriam Margolyes right that adult fans should 'grow up'?

Actors Emma Watson Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint in Harry Potter
Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe starred in the Harry Potter films

I visited Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross station as a child. Obsessed with Harry Potter, I was convinced that if I ran through the wall I would find myself arm in arm with Ron and Hermione boarding the Hogwarts Express on my way to becoming a fully fledged witch.

Sure, I would have to leave my Muggle parents behind, but aged 10 that was a sacrifice I was prepared to make.

However, my attempt at running into a brick wall left me with little more than a bruised head, and the magic had, quite literally, been knocked out of me.

While this abruptly brought my dream of going to Hogwarts to an end, for some Harry Potter fans the fantasy lives on into adulthood.

It is no wonder then that fans have been sent into a frenzied meltdown on social media after Miriam Margolyes, who played Professor Pomona Sprout in the film series, told adult fans to "grow up" and get "over it".

Miriam Margolyes during the filming for the Graham Norton Show at BBC Studioworks 6 Television Centre, Wood Lane, London, to be aired on BBC One on Friday evening. Picture date: Thursday November 2, 2023
Margolyes said adults having Harry Potter-themed weddings "should be over that by now"

In two recent interviews in New Zealand and Australia, the 82-year-old actress said she worries about adult Potter fans as "they should be over that by now".

"It was 25 years ago, and I think it's for children," Margolyes told New Zealand broadcaster TZNZ.

"I do Cameos [personalised video messages] and people say they are doing a Harry Potter-themed wedding, and I think, 'Oh gosh what is their first night of fun going to be?'"

The actress, who recently posed naked behind a stack of iced buns for a Vogue photoshoot, later told ABC News Australia that once teens are through puberty, "it's time to forget about it and go on to other things".

So, should adults set aside their wands, leave behind the wizarding world and accept that "it's for children", as Margolyes says?

For many millennials, Harry Potter is part of their identity. The books, written by JK Rowling, were released between 1997 and 2007, and the eight films between 2001 and 2011.

Most of us might occasionally re-watch the films on a Sunday afternoon and would do relatively well in a round of Harry Potter trivia, but for some people their interest extends far beyond this.

Jennifer Peiro and Hector Garcia are two content creators in their early 30s who run dedicated Harry Potter accounts on Instagram.

Hector Garcia
Hector Garcia told the BBC he has made "lifelong friendships" through the online Harry Potter community

Peiro, whose account has over 120,000 followers, says that as an adult it is difficult to make friends, but her account helped her "connect with like-minded people". For Garcia, creating Hogwarts content "has been one of the most rewarding and healing parts of my adult life".

Both say the wizarding world provides a form of escapism and community for them.

"I regularly get comments from people all over the world saying how the story has saved them during dark times, how it's their safe space and comfort," Peiro explains.

Garcia adds his account "has evolved into something I can use to forget about life in a healthy and therapeutic way".

It is hard to blame these fans for wanting to swap the mundanity of everyday life for a world where potion classes and Quidditch matches reign supreme.

One Potterhead who is part of the fandom is Rachel Parker, a 32-year-old wedding planner who specialises in "nerdy themed" ceremonies.

As an adult, she has become heavily involved in the online community, which she says is the most enduring legacy of Harry Potter.

Rachel Parker
Wedding planner Rachel Parker said many of her clients have had Harry Potter inspired elements to their big day

From online forums and fan fiction sites to real-life meet-ups and book clubs, the community "have almost overtaken the books themselves and created so much more", Parker explains.

Of course, Harry Potter is not the only fantasy world that some adults, like Rachel, are obsessed with. You will likely find people of all ages visiting Disney theme parks for the hundredth time or re-enacting Lord of the Rings battle scenes in their spare time.

In fact, the number of people attending Comicon, an annual comic convention where people dress up as fictional characters, has risen dramatically - there are now over 150,000 attendees every year.

Even more impressive is that Warner Bros Studio Tour London, where a number of the films were produced, has welcomed over 16 million visitors since it opened in 2012.

'Worst kind of bully'

So how have these diehard fans reacted to Margolyes telling them to pack away the robes and broomsticks in favour of more adult interests?

Maddi Harwood, 32, who runs an Instagram account dedicated to fantasy genre books , said she is "used to bullies making fun of me for loving Harry Potter".

"The worst kind of bully is someone who makes fun of another person for something they absolutely love and adore," she adds.

"It's unnecessary to shame people for enjoying something especially when she profits from Harry Potter," explains Peiro.

Jennifer Peiro
Jennifer Peiro runs an Instagram account dedicated to Harry Potter

Critics and commentators have expressed mixed views about Margolyes's comments.

City AM's film critic Victoria Luxford told the BBC: "This isn't a conversation we have about music or sport, you don't grow up and stop supporting a football team or listening to your favourite artist so why should it be any different for films?"

She said Margolyes made the remark because she "didn't understand".

"It's a generational thing," Victoria suggests. "The idea of holding on to things from your childhood that you enjoy is a relatively recent thing".

Film critic Siobhan Synnot called Margolyes's comments "snobbish", adding: "Classic children's films may speak to adults too, it's about ambition, sophistication and quality, not age range".

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince books on display in a shop
Multiple editions of the books have been released over the years

However, Lindsey Fraser who was one of the first book critics to write a review of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997 for The Scotsman said: "The books are definitely children's books.

"But it was a clever move by Bloomsbury to publish 'adult' editions - the only difference being the jacket design."

It is not just some critics that agree with Margolyes, but some adults who loved Harry Potter as a child also think it's time people got over it.

"It's cute if you're a parent enjoying it with your children or watch it occasionally as a guilty pleasure, but the full-on fandom stuff is a mega red flag," 26-year-old Ellie Piggott told the BBC.

'Not a child's story'

Beyond escapism and comfort, some fans argue that the books are actually more catered towards adults.

"There are lots of real world issues behind all the magic that you wouldn't normally think of directing at children - themes like the true cost of war, depression, racism, sacrifice and corruption in government," says 34-year-old Kelly Komar, who is an avid Harry Potter collector.

Ioannis Karellis goes one step further. "At a high level, the story is about an evil racist tyrant and his band of followers who regularly torture and murder opposition and take political power by force to enforce their own world view on people - clearly this is not really a child's story."

The 26-year-old who re-reads the books regularly said he recently discovered a new interpretation.

"The ministry's denial of Voldemort's existence until it was absolutely irrefutable because of the fear of what that would mean draws parallels to how governments responded to Covid-19."

Hogwarts Legacy Image
A major video game adaptation of the wizarding world called Hogwarts Legacy was released in February

It certainly seems that adults remain very interested in the franchise.

In 2018, Mastermind asked applicants to change their specialist topics after the quiz show received 262 applications to answer questions about Harry Potter.

Matthew Cortland, who founded a chain of bars that offer immersive wizardry and magic experiences, says people are "fascinated by fantasy because it provides an alternate reality for people to exist in".

"Everyone wants to find a place they belong and when society rejects you, you seek comfort elsewhere," he adds.

It was Dumbledore who once said "happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light".

For many adults, no matter what Margolyes says, that light comes in the form of Harry Potter.