SPOILER ALERT: I may discuss Potter plot. If you have been meaning to read Harry Potter – any of it – and still haven’t gotten around to it… what’s wrong with you? Go read it. Just close this window and go. Shoo!
For the rest of you… here we go. It’s a doozy.
We humans are constantly forming hierarchies. Just as in the Canadan military, for example, there is a continuum from Second Lieutenant to General, Harry Potter fandom also exists on a scale (sorry, my terms are just not as pithy as the army’s):
- Level 1 – Tragically Unaware (Non-Fan): “Hi, welcome to my cave under this rock. No, I’m afraid I’m not acquainted with any hairy potters.”
- Level 2 – Too Cool for Hogwarts (Negative Fan): “I don’t read Harry Potter, it’s just too popular. I try to avoid/hate on things thousands of people say are good.” [N.B.: if you are this, I’m not sure you should be reading this blog at all. Perhaps you should go here instead.]
- Level 3a) – Likes It but Doesn’t Get It (Rookie Fan): “Yeah, Harry Potter. I read a few of those… they were cool.”
- Level 3b) – Thinks The Movies ARE Harry Potter so Doesn’t Get It (Rookie Fan): “I love Harry Potter! Daniel Radcliffe is so cute!”
- Level 4 – Gets It (Classic Fan): “I love Harry Potter! I’ve read all the books and could hardly put them down!”
- Level 5 – Feels the Passion (Minor Potterhead): “I love Harry Potter a lot and think JKR is a genius! I’ve read all the books multiple times and seen all the movies and I can name over 100 characters. I also have seen real HP artifacts up close and/or waited in line for HP books and/or own some HP paraphernalia.”
- Level 6 – Lives the Passion Every Day (Major Potterhead/Big Name Fan): “I am obsessed with Harry Potter! I run a fan website dedicated to HP and/or write fanfiction based on HP and/or have attended HP conferences (pref. in costume) and/or have spent countless hours on fan forums dissecting the books and/or have done live podcasts about HP and/or have seen Harry and the Potters live in concert and/or have met J.K. Rowling!”
- Level 6+) – Queen of Potterhead Fandom: Melissa Anelli – wrote the book on Potter Fandom (literally). Done ALL of the above, runs the biggest fan website (The Leaky Cauldron), toured with Harry and the Potters, is buds with Jo Rowling… (Just not as big on fanfiction or costumes.)
- Level 7 – Empress Mother of Harry Potter and (ipso facto) the Fandom: J.K. Rowling.
What level are you? Can you guess what level I am?
I’ll just tell you. I’m Level 5. (I haven’t actually waited in line for the book, but my husband works at a bookstore so my copy was secured.) (And at the moment my record is 144 characters in 18 minutes. It was my third try, over the course of a week.)
I well remember being introduced to Harry Potter. I had heard a few people talk about this kids’ book about magic that adults were sincerely enjoying too. I was one of the last people in my family to read the books – there were four by that point. My dad regarded me with an envious smile and said, “You’re lucky. You get to read all four – for the first time!” (Much like Melissa’s experience, actually.)
I basically ate them up. I was in their thrall until they were done, and read all four again to warm up when Order of the Phoenix came out, by which time I was fully invested in the characters and they had the power to affect my mood. When Half-Blood Prince arrived, I’d heard rumours about Dumbledore, but I was still floored that they actually killed him… it was like the universe was crumbling.
At the time Deathly Hallows came out, I had been wondering – basically since the beginning – how J.K. Rowling (and for the record, people, it’s “Rowling” like “bowling” – Melissa says so, and she would know) could possibly pull off an adequate finale to such an amazing series. I knew I would be sad for the books to be done, but I was also worried that I would be disappointed.
I should have known better. After finishing Deathly Hallows, I spent a good three hours on the phone long-distance with my friend Amanda, marvelling at how exquisitely JKR did pull it off. She somehow created an ending so satisfying, so fulfilling, that, in a way, you can’t be sad it’s over. I, for one, am happy just knowing that Harry Potter is there, that I can go back to the glorious, innocent beginning and read the whole splendid thing over again whenever I want.
I’m not saying I think the books are perfect, or that they’re the most beautifully written literature ever – certainly not. But I do think that to say J. K. Rowling is a gifted storyteller is an understatement. She has accomplished the creation of something wonderful, something that inspires people (in many cases, has actually inspired literacy) and makes them feel good – and she has made it so accessible that I can talk about it not only with peers but with my grade-school students and my parents. And if I went and taught in Europe or Asia or South America, I could probably talk about it with those people too (if we could find a language in common).
How many authors can say they’ve done this? It’s a phenomenal achievement.
As for the films, I like them. I think they have achieved a lot too. I remember, seeing the film for The Sorcerer’s Stone, being thrilled by the way they did Quidditch and wizard chess and the Great Hall and especially the Invisibility Cloak. Each movie has those wow elements, where the creators really brought magic to life. And I think most of the casting is absolutely brilliant.
As I recently mentioned, I went with my friend Skye to see Harry Potter, The Exhibition at the Toronto Science Centre last month. We were pretty excited about it: I geekily made Butterbeer for the car ride to Toronto (my own version, based on a slew of internet recipes), and we spent the trip naming as many characters as we could. (Skye was right, it was harder than you think it’s going to be.)
We thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit. I didn’t really know what to expect, though I’d looked at some photos on the web. (For the record, I got sorted into Ravenclaw on two different occasions.) I knew it would all be movie-related, which seemed sort of silly to me: Harry Potter isn’t a Warner Bros. phenomenon! But then, I’m not sure what they’d put in an exhibit about the books.
Arriving and seeing all the posters featuring the movie cast, I wondered what it’s like to have your literary creation represented as cinematic only, in a grand exhibit to the public. Once inside the display area, though, my thinking shifted. How incredible it must be to know that scores of gifted artists and technicians and actors spent countless hours just to bring your creation to life!
Everything was actual artifacts from the movies. There were all kinds of costumes – from street clothes to Quidditch robes to Death Eater masks to ball gowns. There was Harry’s bed, the Tri-Wizard Cup, the Goblet of Fire, and a re-creation of Hagrid’s hut (the dragon egg on the table moves!), and a feast table, and lots of Honeydukes candies, and broomsticks, and wands, and models of Dobby, Kreacher, Buckbeak, Aragog, a Cornish Pixie, and the Hungarian Horntail’s head, and interactive Quidditch and Mandrake displays… and of course small TV screens scattered around showing loops of compelling Harry Potter movie footage and soundtrack.
All in all, it was pretty great. We left there feeling all re-smitten. (We each bought a “Muggle” T-shirt.)
It was my same friend Skye who lent me Harry, A History, by Melissa Anelli. It was good timing after the Exhibition… and in a way, it was what I’d wished for to complement the exhibit: an in-depth tribute focused on the books. Readers take the journey with Melissa, from university student just cracking open Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or the real title, the Philosopher’s Stone, as we say in Canada) for the first time, to webmistress running her HP fansite and attending premieres and conventions and shooting the breeze with “Jo”. Melissa writes with great style and intimacy (and good grammar, which we know is a deal-breaker for Dilovely). There were quite a few typos, and some slightly confusing jumping around in time, but overall, I thoroughly relished the book. And read it in a very short time, for a mom with an almost-toddler.
As I said to Skye, it made me feel like both more and less of a fan – here I am, reading about the “life inside the Harry Potter phenomenon”, all excited to know extra details about the books, generally geeking out, etc… but also coming to the realization that I don’t know from fandom at all.
Did you know…?
- Not only was/is there a successful band called Harry and the Potters, but there is in fact a whole genre of Wizard Rock (wrock for short);
- There was a huge, vitriolic “ship” (relationship) war between fan factions regarding whether Hermione would/should get together with Harry or Ron;
- There are piles of fanfiction and fan art imagining complicated alternate scenarios for Rowling’s characters;
- Thousands of people gather at Harry Potter conventions to do things like discuss canon and debate cultural theories surrounding the books;
- Certain detractors, without having read the books, believe the Harry Potter series will encourage kids to try witchcraft (and succeed, because witchcraft is real, you know);
- There is intricate, fascinating backstory to everything!!! If we could chat with Jo Rowling (as Melissa gets to call her), it seems we could ask about any character and find that all of them are fully imagined and detailed.
The best thing about this book, for me, was that it helped me understand why I’m so thrilled, along with millions of other fans, by Harry Potter. It’s not just the incredible, beautiful, magical world JKR has invented, or the dramatic death matches with scary characters, or the comic moments that make you laugh out loud, or the times JKR uses a few simple words to cut straight to her heroes’ heart-wrenching vulnerabilities.
It’s because of the love. The moral messages are of courage and loyalty and inner fortitude, but especially love. Jo Rowling gets it, and true Harry Potter fans get it. It calls to the most human part of all of us. You may say it’s a cliche, but I say pooh-pooh to that. (Oh yes, I said it.)
Love is the most powerful message we have access to as humans, and it hasn’t gotten old yet.
All the best stuff revolves around love.
P.S. Thanks to Leaky Cauldron Galleries for the cover art… Please go check out the rest of them! They’re quite something – Ukraine is my favourite.