Review: Harry, a History

Harry, a History by Melissa Anelli

I have a confession to make. Just as I did in middle school and high school with the Harry Potter novels themselves, I stayed up late to polish off Harry, a History. I drifted from the fandom pretty much immediately after the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but reading this brought everything flooding back—the theories, the discussions, the jokes… the memories of a hearty fandom. I can’t believe that I found this in the bargain bin at Books-a-Million—for shame, Books-a-Million, for shame! This is a thing of beauty.

Harry,a History follows the Harry Potter phenomenon from publication to the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, all through the eyes of The Leaky Cauldron webmistress, Melissa Anelli. Anelli’s experiences as a fan lead her to not only run the most popular Harry Potter fansite, but interview Jo Rowling herself, and, of course, write this book. By examining the fandom from different angles—wizard rockers and evangelicals trying to ban the books alike—Anelli presents a fandom history of a very unique fandom.

Alright, cards on the table—I used to listen to PotterCast a lot in middle school and high school. Hell, I even auditioned for a fanfiction radio play series they were going to do, although it never went anywhere beyond open polls, for whatever reason, but still; my voice appeared on PotterCast! I probably squealed in delight. It was a well put together show that I quite enjoyed and used to distract myself on trips as a kid. (Y’all know about my travel issues.) But drifting away from the fandom meant drifting away from PotterCast. So I am wildly biased here, not only as a fan of Harry Potter, but a seasoned member of fandom, eager to help bewildered newbies and defend key points of canon to the death. Anelli couldn’t have pitched this me harder even if she chucked it at my head. However, I did find Anelli’s explanation of certain fandom terms clunky… but I can’t tell how well it worked for non-fannish folk.

But otherwise? I loved this book. There’s a feeling I get when I just can’t stop myself from reading that’s remarkably close to food satiety (hence my food metaphors for books). Anelli runs two parallel stories together—the lead-up to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the story of the book and her entrance and involvement in the fandom. Anelli is a wonderful person to go on this journey with not only because of her status in the fandom, but also because she’s an intelligent woman with a sense of humor who is not afraid to admit she’s looked like an idiot in her time. The chapter on publishing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone naturally fascinated me; as I mentioned to Lu on Twitter, it absolutely stunned me to ponder a world where the first novel was just an advanced reader copy in someone’s hands. Anelli’s writing concentrating on Rowling is respectful but human; towards the end, Anelli renders the aftermath the release of the seventh novel as a series of vignettes, and I had to copy down the moment Rowling sees everyone in the train station pull out a copy of her work pretty much immediately.

But it’s not all respectful gushing. In the interests of fairness, Anelli visits Laura Mallory, an Evangelical woman in Georgia who fought the hardest and most publicly to ban the Harry Potter books. Anelli allows her to make her case and respectfully disagrees; after all, “It was the first time I’d met someone who had used the wall of faith to block every line of logical reasoning I could find” (196). Wizard rock doesn’t interest me all that much, but the connections Anelli makes between fandom and truly independent creativity is fascinating. On top of that, it’s a wonderful fandom history of the first fandom that really developed on the Internet—Anelli walks us from message boards to frantic e-mails to forums, as well as through the development of fan journalism from cute at best to taken seriously by the studios. Harry Potter allowed Anelli’s journalistic talents to bloom, culminating in multiple interviews with Jo Rowling and her own trusted Harry Potter news site. And to see a book about how fandom can bring out the best in you in print just makes my heart so happy I could bust.

Oh! I feel I just scratched the surface, but I could probably gush for hours. I don’t know if this book will work as well for anyone who isn’t part of the Harry Potter generation and well-acquainted with fandom, but I sincerely hopes it works just as well for people who aren’t, well, me. I think I’m going to go catch up with The Leaky Cauldron now…

Bottom line: A glorious fandom history of Harry Potter by an important woman who lived it, Harry, a History is fascinating, nostalgic, and satisfying. Accessibility might be an issue, but I’m too biased to be able to tell—still, I sincerely hope it works well for everyone, not just Harry Potter fans well-acquainted with fandom.

I bought this book at Books-a-Million.

  • Anelli, Melissa. Harry, a History. New York; Pocket Books, 2008. Print.

8 thoughts on “Review: Harry, a History

  1. I’m so glad you loved this book! I felt the same way that you did. I was not as involved in podcasts, but was big into fanfiction and looking at fan art, not actually drawing it, haha. Reading this book brought it all back and so did rereading HP last month.

  2. I so want to read this! The Harry Potter phenomenon of course was my whole adolescence, and I feel absurdly lucky to have been born at the right time and of the right age to be swept away by the Harry Potter stuff. I feel sorry for my potential kids, who will read this book and be like, Wow, this was a phenomenon!, but won’t be able to experience it their own selves.

    • It’s amazing; I highly recommend it, obviously.

      I get that feeling when I think of any fandom whose peak has come and gone—I feel so blessed to have been at least tangentially related to The Lord of the Rings fandom when the movie boom came, not to mention Harry Potter.

  3. I’d tried really hard to forget Laura Mallory.. I don’t even particularly like the Harry Potter books.. but the one way to get me to side with their fans is to have a nut like her open her mouth..

  4. Being rather older than you, my exposure to the Harry Potter phenomenon came in my late twenties and early thirties, and started with the third book – I’d never heard of Harry Potter before Prisoner of Azkaban came out. And I was never very invested in the world of Potter to an extent that I read anything about the books other than the books themselves. I’ve read all the books and seen most of the films (I think), and enjoyed them, but they were never important to my life in the way that, say, Arthur Ransome’s books or Tolkien’s have influenced my later reading and writing.

    Harry, A History sounds rather like it documents a primarily US fandom – is that your impression? Or is it a reflection of a truly worldwide (if English-speaking) fandom?

  5. Pingback: The Sunday Salon: 2011 in Review « The Literary Omnivore

  6. Pingback: The Sunday Salon: Fandom Histories « The Literary Omnivore

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