Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Harry, A History

Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon by Melissa Anelli. Simon & Schuster. November 2008. My personal copy. Official Website.

Melissa Anelli (of The Leaky Cauldron) delivers what the title promises: a book about Harry Potter, the fandom that developed around HP, and a fan's life inside that fandom.

Anelli weaves her personal story of HP fandom involvement with the bigger fan picture. As a journalist, her interaction with the fandom is that of a journalist. She began contributing to The Leaky Cauldron website; gets added to staff; and keeps her "news hat" on throughout, fighting for press access to HP events for the website, just like other news sources.

That this is a very personal book is its strength; you can hand this to someone who, well, doesn't get the attraction of any fandom to show the friendships and community that develops. Anelli smartly points out the similarities to the more widely accepted "fandom" more popularly known as sports.

The history of HP fandom is covered; as is specific parts of HP fandom, such as wizard rock, shipping wars, and fanfiction.

As with many things, a strength can be a weakness, and Anelli can only cover so much. For example, she doesn't participate in cosplay, so it gets just a cursory explanation.

Anelli writes primarily for the fandom audience who will recognize names and events. People like me (fans whose fandom participation is reading news and the occasional fanfic) will be intrigued by this whole world -- but may occasionally be confused by the first-name only names (tho most end up eventually explained) and wish that conventions had been given a more detailed explanation. As I said, despite the moments of confusion to those who aren't HP fans or knowledgeable about fandom at all, I would put this in their hands so they could get a glimpse about what all the fuss is about and yes, fandom is "real life", thank you very much.

And what about the HP controversies? Anelli does not address the Lexicon trial at all; but, her book ends with the publication of the last HP book so well before the lawsuits were filed. Steve Vander Ark & his Lexicon are mentioned; as is Cassandra Clare's background in writing fanfiction. Anelli knew she HAD to mention things like these; but takes the high road and doesn't turn this into old gossip.

While I recommend this book, I was also left wanting more. Anelli herself is a major player in HP fandom (a "BNF", or big name fan); and while I liked the "fandom through the eyes of one person" approach, I was left wanting MORE. Specifically, I would love an oral history of HP fandom (like Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk), providing multiple viewpoints and perspectives, is a must-write.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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