Harry Potter fandom made me more accepting of other people

My entry to fandom came at a young age, through the gateway of a fandom favorite you’ve probably heard about: Harry Potter. I’ve been a huge fan of the  series since I was eight years old. I remember buying that first paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at a school book fair and absolutely falling in love with the world, the characters, and the magic. Growing up alongside Harry, learning as he, Ron, and Hermione learned life lessons, and anticipating each installment was a huge part of  my journey to adulthood

As a high school student, I devoured fanfiction on MuggleNet.com whenever I had the chance. I dressed up as a Hogwarts student and stayed up until all hours of the night on release days, for the books and the movies. I discussed all the characters and plot lines with my friends. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I spent more time talking about Harry Potter, reading the books, and watching the movies than I spent doing homework.

But I was a bit of a snob back then. When I read or watch something that I like, I feel almost territorial about it. It’s kind of like “finders, keepers” and I found it, so I get to keep it. As a young Harry Potter fan, it was all “Oh, you didn’t read the books? You only saw the movies? You must not be a true fan.” I attribute this partly to my enthusiasm for the written word and partly to my teenaged self’s superiority complex.

As an adult fan of several multimedia, multiplatform franchises, I look back and cringe. Am I less of an enthusiast of the Marvel Cinematic Universe because I have not read the original Avengers comics? Do I love Mad Max: Fury Road less because I never watched the movies that came before? I don’t think so. But that kind of ownership felt very real to me back then.

Eventually, what I found out is that here is a lot to learn from listening to fans who consume media in different ways than I do. I started hearing other people’s stories of how Harry Potter shaped their lives, and how they got into it. Suddenly, it didn’t matter as much to me if they were original fans or late adopter. If I was only seeing Harry Potter through the lens of my childhood, I would miss how the books have shaped countless other lives for the better. Similarly, if I discount the experiences of other fans and the love they have for the underlying story or content, I discount their voices. If fandom has taught me anything, it is that all our voices matter, and all of them can make a difference.

This is the heart of fandom, to me—the creation of a community where people feel comfortable discussing books and characters, where they feel comfortable sharing their stories. A community where we all feel special because we all have something amazing in common and our love for that thing crosses national borders and oceans and political divides. Fandom should not be about who is the best fan, or who has shipped a couple the longest, or who read the books first. Fandom should be about community, creating friendships, and celebrating the things we love—together. I have bonded with more people because of the Harry Potter books than I have any other single thing in my entire life. Seven books made a generation of readers, a generation of people who remember how it felt to watch that movie the first time, stay up until midnight just to buy a book, how it felt to close that final book and know that our time together had come to an end.

Whether you stick with a TV show through years of faithful viewing or discover it and binge watch all four seasons on Netflix, the end result is that you love the show enough to spend an exorbitant amount of time watching it–you have feelings and opinions and thoughts! Any way you watch it, you can feel invested. Let’s stop penalizing people for the way they enjoy things or when they discover something amazing. The important thing is that they discovered it and now there can be discussion and the exchange of information and ideas.

Fandom is about what we have in common. It is about having a shared experience and remembering that we all, readers or not, are humans. We all could stand to remember our similarities more often as we discuss our differences of opinions. We all feel deeply and love whatever makes us feel special, so let’s not be snobs.

Annie is a graduate student who spends most of her time researching plants and studying bioinformatics and ecology. When she’s not at work or school, you can find her reading a book, discussing the merits of feminism, or stalking her friends’ cats and wishing for one of her own. She tweets @annemakerofhats and blog about books at anniesimaginarylives.blogspot.com

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[Image via Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone]