It’s been a distinctly Potterish few weeks: I’ve just finished re-reading the series, yesterday marked two years since the release of The Deathly Hallows Part 2 in cinemas, while the sixteenth anniversary of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone was celebrated on the 26th June. I decided to wrap out my revisit to the Potter world by stepping back from the series itself and taking a look at some of the non-fiction which has sprung up around it. Harry, A History documents Melissa Anelli’s experiences within the Potter fandom. Melissa’s journey begins with her discovery of the books as a college graduate, and leads to her position as the editor of the popular fansite The Leaky Cauldron. Melissa’s perspective is particularly interesting because she’s not only a fan of the series, but also an insider: Melissa has personally interviewed J.K Rowling, attended film premieres, and grown friendly with the cast. As Melissa enjoys a level of access denied to most fans, her study of the Harry Potter series certainly provides insight into the people at the heart of the phenomenon.
J.K. Rowling’s foreword makes a fascinating contrast with Melissa’s experiences, as the Potter author stayed decidedly outside of the fan fervour surrounding the books for a long time. The sense of community which stems from a shared love of the series has developed to an astounding scale, previously unprecedented amongst young adult fiction.Melissa herself formed new friendships and had opportunities that would never have been possible without Potter. The internet also rapidly expanded during the same time period as the meteoric success of the series, and to an extent the two are inter-twined: the internet made it possible for large communities of fans to connect and engage from all across the globe.
Melissa’s study covers the most unique aspects of the Potter fandom, such as Wizard Rock, the censorship challenges surrounding the alleged promotion of witchcraft, and the furious debate between those who championed the Harry/Hermione relationship over Ron/Hermione. The meetings between Melissa and J.K. Rowling are fascinating to read about, and I also enjoyed reading of Melissa and her friends’ reactions to the revelations brought with the release of each new book. I think the biggest drawback of Harry, A History as a study of the fan phenomenon is perhaps that it focuses too greatly on Melissa’s own personal experiences, rather than exploring the reasons behind the series’ success. I’d still recommended the book, though, as the perspective of a devoted fan who managed to infiltrate the inside mechanisms of the series.