How the Harry Potter fandom helped me survive high school
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Fandom tends to be a somewhat contentious subject. Depending on who you ask, the members of fandoms are either manic jerkwads or awesome people. But there’s one fandom in particular that has done a lot for me through its message and the people it brought into my life, and that is the Harry Potter fan community.
I have to start this love letter to Harry Potter with a somewhat embarrassing confession: I am a roleplayer, and have been for about ten years. I haven’t roleplayed as much recently, since adulthood has absorbed most of my time, but I used to write on a number of roleplaying sites. I have made some incredible lifelong friends through this hobby, not to mention what an amazing creative writing outlet it has been for me over the years. The most serious roleplaying years of my life started when I was 17. I joined a Harry Potter roleplaying site and met a group of girls, now women, that have been incredibly important friends since then.
My home life growing up, particularly as a teenager, was difficult. My mother had passed when I was 12, and my father had been laid off at the beginning of the recession. I fell into a long and isolating bout of depression. I had plenty of friends at school and through clubs, but I censored my personal life from them as much as possible.
But when I met my fellow Harry Potter fans, all that changed. I had grown up with Harry Potter: I was seventeen when Harry was, and the books reflected so accurately the struggles I was experiencing throughout my life. Harry Potter is a major part of happy childhood memories with my father. We used to order two copies of every book because neither of us could wait for the other to finish reading, and then we would read them excitedly and talk about them loudly as soon as they arrived. I have very vivid memories of curling up under the covers in my room well past my bedtime, a flashlight in one hand and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets propped up on my chest. Every now and then my mother would pop her head in and I would feign sleep until she left so I could snatch just a couple more minutes of reading time.
So when I got in touch with the Harry Potter community, I immediately wanted to open up to them. I felt like they knew the same people I did. They became an integral support network for me, and helped me through both the growing pains of adolescence, as well as some of the heavier stuff from my family. Whenever one of us had an adventure for the lot of us, we jumped in with gusto to help them realize it, whether it was starting a writing site or creating or creating video journals to keep up with one another.
In college, I started a chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance,an international activist group encouraging fans to internalize the messages of love and justice within the books, at my university. Although my chapter never reached the heights I dreamed for it, many chapters all over have made huge strides through the HPA’s campaigns for human rights, their Accio Books literacy drives, and their various awareness campaigns. By encouraging fans to direct their passion into real social change, the HPA has done good for hundreds of thousands of people in very tangible ways. Over and over, the Harry Potter fandom has provided an outlet for isolated children, teens and adults to find a place where they feel understood and welcomed.
It became difficult over the years to keep up steady contact as we all moved through college and into adulthood, scattering into different cities. Despite the distance, our friendship was always a priority, and continues to be. Through Facebook and Google chats we chat many times a week, and we try to see each other in person once every year or two; most of them came to my wedding last year. As each of us sees a career or personal dream begin to blossom, the rest are are there to celebrate loudly and with lots of exclamation marks; and I don’t doubt that it will be that way for a long time. When we get together, it feels like we’ve known each other since we were four and have seen each other every day since then. I’m constantly amazed at how something so seemingly silly as a fantasy book series about a boy wizard has made such an indelible impact on my life. We started our friendship as teenagers and have, with each other’s help, become awesome women.
Everyone’s reason for loving Harry Potter is different, and they are all profound. For me, Harry Potter taught me the weight of my choices—that anyone can be good depending on what they make of what they’re given. This was a lesson that I took to heart, and have remembered over and over again throughout my life. Friends, philosophy, and social change—these are all the beautiful gifts JK Rowling and her creation, that gawky student at Hogwarts we all grew to love, gave to me without her even knowing it.
Rachel Catlett lives in North Texas with her two dachshunds. She has degrees in literature and anthropology, and loves to put way too much thought into pop culture and feminism. In her heart you will find Legos, salsa, and a David Bowie album; on her head you will never find her natural hair color. If you would like to follow her on Twitter, follow @rachfab. Her blog is here: rachelmania.wordpress.com