Monday, May 12, 2008

Who are we? Where are we going?

[Note: I am a co-author of the book The Harry Potter Lexicon, but that's not what this post is about. I think there are larger things at stake.]

On my last visit, my doctor listened to my update on the book situation and asked me “What is ‘fandom’ – what do you mean when you speak of it? Is it one website? Two?” I knew she wanted me to explain it out loud because it might help me figure out why I have given it so much power to hurt, to control what I say and do. I launched into an answer but kept stumbling. Eventually I came up with something like “It’s the whole community of online Potter fans, people who come together to theorize, or draw the characters, or write fanfics. Not just people who love the books, but people who love the books and feel compelled create and to be together online sharing it all.”

I was surprised I had such a hard time explaining it, because I haven’t taken Potter fandom for granted. When I discovered my first fansite (HPANA) I dove in partly *because* I wanted to understand it as a phenomenon. As a children’s librarian I could see that what was happening in the name of Potter could have implications for the way young people of the future read books, why they read, and how they share them. Although I was initially hooked for professional reasons, I quickly learned to appreciate the energy and creativity of the fandom itself. I began contributing too. Soon, I added my voice to the community at HPANA, theorizing, and enjoying other’s theories. The reference librarian in me discovered that there was no reference book to consult, but that there was this nifty website called the Harry Potter Lexicon. Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine ever working there.

But anyway, I have been aware of Potter fandom as children’s literature history in the making since the very beginning. At the conventions I attended I sought out programs where people would be discussing what we were, and where we are headed. What will happen to us when book 7 comes out? I have even done presentations to area library professional organizations using Potter fandom as an example of how online communities can bring readers together in fresh ways, a sort of “best practices” for libraries looking for new tools to bring book lovers together online.

So part of my sadness about the lawsuit and fandom reaction has been an awareness of a massive loss of innocence, a lessening of freedom and openness to new ideas that I remember from early fandom. I know, I know, it was not always sweetness and light *coughshippingwarscough*, but we were so unself-conscious, so proud of our dorkiness, so unshielded, so glad to find people online to share it with. What the hell are we doing to ourselves? How is it that we seem to have been taking lessons from Seamus all along, and not Dumbledore? What does it say about people that a community centered upon books that celebrate tolerance, integrity and individual responsibility can turn into angry factions bent on wounding and punishing each other?

I think I am finally getting over the loss of fandom as a place I can escape to, but my sorrow over where we find ourselves is profound. Potter fans, let’s see if we can build bridges and stepping stones together, and remember how to have fun again.