Today is the day, in the epilogue of the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that Albus Severus Potter, the son of Harry and Ginny Weasley, boards the train to go to his first year at Hogwarts. The fandom is on fire, of course. And I’m with them.
I’m not a native fan, though. Being a “fan,” of Harry Potter or anything, is a skill I had to learn.
Learning to love
I grew up holding on to my older brother’s coat tails. A true nerd and pure geek, my older brother was a devotee to all things internet, computers and computer games, video games (on Atari and in arcades back then), Dr. Who, Star Wars (SW), and all else sci-fi. He was “in it to win it” as they say. I watched Dr. Who over his shoulder. I was small but I was there along side my brothers and my dad when all three SW films hit the theaters. I struggled at pong when my brothers would finally give me a turn. I sat for hours drawing elaborate futuristic scenes in 16-bit colors once I had time alone with the family desktop. But I never considered myself a “fan” of anything. I doubt my brother did then either.
Things were different then. Only the utterly social-resistant types, like the Dungeon and Dragons players, would be brave enough in those days to identify and present as “fans.” To feverishly support any team was considered over-the-top and unhealthy. To have that same level of excitable enthusiasm for a book, say, or a movie, was considered downright strange. SW fans who “came in costume” (we didn’t have the term “cosplay” then) were so odd that most of the time news cameras would be present to display them like a sideshow attraction of old. To be sure, the term “geek” originates from traveling circus oddity shows.
Today that’s all changed. Maybe it started with SW. Perhaps it was spurred by a generation unabashedly raised on Harry Potter. Now we have a phenomenon called “fandom.” Merriam-Webster (MW) first defines “fandom” (subscription required) simply as “fans considered collectively in a group.” This implies “fandom” is a term used by a non-fan to refer to people who have in common a love of something.
MW’s second definition is “the state or condition of being a fan” – a self-referencing term to be used by the lovers of said something.
UrbanDictionary (UD), however, adds a little more of the current fervid flavor of what “fandom” means today. It’s first definition speaks to the alliance of people involved: “The community that surrounds a tv show/movie/book etc. Fanfiction writers, artists, poets, and cosplayers are all members of that fandom. Fandoms often consist of message boards, livejournal communities, and people.”
That definition seemed closer to my sense of the word. But only with UD’s second definition does its full image come home: “A cult that will destory [sic] your life.” A bit tongue-in-cheek I’m sure, but effective in portraying the deep ties personal identity has in this phenomenon.
Day of cosplay
While many will disagree on what constitutes a “fan” in any one particular fandom, I consider myself a true fan of J.K Rowling’s fictional world of Harry Potter and Hogwarts. My criteria of “true fan,” personally, is whether or not I’ve participated, in any way, in cosplay of any character or aspect of the story. Clothes make the woman and the woman makes the clothes. If I’m wearing something on my body, you can believe I identify with what those garments “say.”
What have I cosplayed for, you may ask? Harry Potter was my first major adventure, as I dressed my entire family along with me. Granted, it was only robes. But I designed and made the Hogwarts robes by hand and even fashioned crests to sew on them. I made the robes for us to wear when we attended a Harry Potter festival hosted by an anthropology and cinema class at the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. As part of their field study of fandom, students in UPenn’s “Mythology and the Movies” course invited the public to their transformation of the Penn Museum into Hogwarts. The scene was full-immersion in the Harry Potter universe, complete with a life-size Diagon Alley, potion classes, a sorting hat, wand games, a treat cart from the Hogwarts Express, dark mark tattoos, quidditch games and more. Amazing isn’t sufficient. It was Disney-level effort and it was a day to remember. We still have a few of the items from that day in frames on our “Potter Wall,” along with a “Free Dobby” lost-sock station I constructed for the laundry room.
The professor and the class have not produced another festival like it, but Chestnut Hill College and the surrounding town have been working on a Harry Potter festival for the past several years. Having attended the festival in the early years, we weren’t very impressed; We haven’t been back. In the ensuing years, though, the festival has become a phenomenon of its own. We’re planning to attend this year. In preparation, I’ll make new robes and knit scarves for my husband, daughter, son and myself, this time reflecting not Gryffindor but our respective houses pottermore.com‘s sorting hat has chosen for us, namely Ravenclaw for my husband and son, Slytherin for my daughter, and Hufflepuff for me.
Identifying as a Harry Potter fan, for me, means many things. Wearing my robe and scarf at the Harry Potter festival will hold no shame, no fear of being seen as a freak show oddity like those SW fans, broadcast to late 1970s audiences for their amusement and scorn. Loving all things Harry Potter means I can find kindred spirits. We all felt good when we discovered our summer-exchange student also loved Harry Potter (and SW). He was just like us.
I don’t really get to cons, although I will someday. My costuming has been mostly relegated to Halloween. Many cosplayers would not “count” Halloween in their domain, but I do try to keep high standards for my costumes nonetheless.
One year I designed and made Princess Peach and a Bowser costume. I was a pink Peach while my preschool son was Bowser, making us a scary couple from the Mario Brothers story. I’ve been catwoman. I was Supergirl while my husband went as Clark Kent. At 6’2” with black hair and glasses, he fit the bill. I was the Leg Lamp from A Christmas Story and he was the “Fragile” box for a Santa bar crawl once. Last year for Halloween I dressed as Harley Quinn, with whom I identify in her awesome, unabashed craziness, a trait I like to interpret, for me, as bravery. Costumes are fun and I make elaborate ones when I catch the fan spirit.
Sometimes my fandom comes across in daily wear. Over the years I’ve had different clothes and accessories for daily use that express my love of stories. We have at least 3 branded Harry Potter tote bags in the house. I wear Wonder Woman tees and earrings. I own a Mockingjay pin but have yet to get around to knitting myself one of Katniss’s scarves. I have the the Evenstar pendant necklace the Elf Arwen wears in the Lord of the Rings films. There’s probably some items I’m forgetting.
The Chosen One
None of this matches my love for the world of Harry Potter. I read the books as they were published. I watched the fever sweep the western world’s children. I begged my husband to read the books but he didn’t come around to their astounding amazingness until he began to read them aloud to our daughter. His enthusiasm now matches or even exceeds mine. I think I could spit out some words if I ever met JK Rowling, but I’m not so confident he could. He adores her and her work, including her other books. Different ways of expressing one’s love, but all fandom nonetheless.
Like many others, my fandom brings me a sense of community. Reading about Hufflepuff qualities gives me a strong sense of pride. Is it all made up? Yes. It’s a fiction. But can I aspire to be loyal, faithful, hard-working and true, as Hufflepuffs are known to be? Yes. Can I share a warm moment with strangers when we discover we’re both sorted into Hufflepuff? Heck yes. Do I find a path to connection with humanity, our shared lot, our hopes for the future? Profoundly, yes. For me, fandom is fun. Cult-like devotion isn’t my thing. Perhaps others fall into that danger but I am lucky enough to take the good and leave the all bad parts of fandom.
Today the good part is the wide celebrations happening on this one day in history: Albus Potter’s first day of school.
Good luck, Albus! I’m with you. I always will be.