Grownups in Cloaks: A Celebration of Dorky Fandoms

For a discussion topic this week, Masha chose literary fandom. I took her cheery post as license to break from heady theoretical essays—or what passes for them on my blog, anyway—and have some fun.

After all, she introduced the topic with anecdotes of her own:
I can catch [an unkind attitude toward fans] in any review of Tolkien because I'm a fan. Not the dorky kind, the one who names her kids after characters or watches the awful movies Peter Jackson made from The Lord of the Rings over and over. I’m the kind that learned elvish and Old English in College, studies the Appendices and can tell you all about the First Age of Middle Earth. So, the dorkier kind, I guess.
To which I must say: How did I not know you studied Elvish, Masha?! Nai i Valar nauvar as elyë.* (All right, I admit I had to look that up. I didn't study that much Quenya.)

Dork on exhibit at a WWU Yule Ball
Anyone who has read this blog for more than a couple of days knows I take Harry Potter fandom very seriously. It's also true that I've got Jane Austen's books half memorized, have written two songs about Wheel of Time characters, have at various points made it through the first chapter of the Council of Elrond's Quenya workbook and most of The Silmarillion, and am only waiting for MissPhotographerB's next visit to buy a jar of glittery makeup and drive to Forks, but none of that quite compares to what happened when I met Harry. More on that later.

Masha notes that devoted fans are responding, in part at least, to the creation of a myth:
...there is something similar in the way all fans relate to their books. For me the real relationship [to Tolkien's work] was possible because there was a whole mythology, there was depth and meaning and intention, along with a story to follow and characters to love.... I like being able to fall into a world that is real enough to believe in.
Nearly all fantasy and science fiction fandoms, from Tolkien's to Trekkies, arise to some extent from just this sentiment. The Wizarding World is certainly part of Harry's appeal. Given an audience, good immersive worldbuilding usually results in at least a cult following.

Commenter BTanaka suggests, over at Masha's, that fans are made when a story generates personal investment during formative reading years:
...I suspect that most 'hardcore fans' of a particular story or character encountered their story early on in their reading/viewing career and found it to be the most engaging story in their experience to date. From then on, it sort of becomes the 'benchmark' by which they judge other stories, and they retain a nostalgic fondness for it even as they develop into a more mature consumer of fiction.
He's right about some of us, anyway, depending on how you define early on. I read Lewis, Grimm, Austen, Dostoevsky and Hemingway before I came across Rowling, but Harry Potter—and literary analysis thereof—transformed me from a passive reader to an active one. Literature, instead of being either museum or playground, became the Hogwarts castle: a massive school full of talking portraits, magic rooms hidden behind doors pretending to be walls, and staircases that go different places at different times—in other words, a living and mysterious world of infinite secrets and endless corridors to explore.

When something opens up your perspective that dramatically, you love it. So yes, I'm a fan of the dorkier kind: a wizard rocking**, trivia-spouting, occasionally costume-wearing, text-analyzing geek. I sit with the Blogengamot at The Hog's Head—my proudest fan moment was joining that circle. I've even threatened to name my kids after some of the characters (not seriously, though. My relatives would kill me. And a name like Hermione or Luna would be rather hard to live up to.)

Dork being unoriginal at Vancouver
HP club's Yule Ball
It's true, as Masha noted, that outsiders often look askance at fandom or condemn it outright. It looks like obsession to the uninitiate, especially if they've heard a news story or two about someone who took fandom from crazy fun to just plain crazy.

To most of us in the cloak-wearing crowds, however—whether the cloaks come with wands, Darth Vader masks, pointed plastic Elf ears, or glittery makeup—fandom simply celebrates something that changed us. It seems no more likely to be harmful than an annual hard-core session of fantasy football, or a willingness to drive a few hundred miles to see a favorite band, or a lifelong quest for the perfect home brew.

But now I've gotten to my own point: the stories that make us into fans change us, I think, or quicken something in us. Sometimes that's quite subtle, but Harry wasn't. To this day, I lean on that boy for some of my relationship to life and faith and books and what it means to be a decent person. It's not that he taught me something I didn't know; it's that he turned knowledge into emotion and planted it in my soul like the astronauts planted the flag on the moon. This ground has been gained.

Sometimes I show my gratitude by blasting wizard rock while I clean house. If the world doesn't understand that, well—I don't understand their love for MTV. So we're even.

Tell me a tale of magic
Carry me away into a land where anything can happen
Anything at all
Tell me a story
Lay adventure like a road before me
Capture me in glory and the wonder of it all

* "May the Valar be with you."
** wizard rock: music inspired by and/or including lyrics based on the Potter stories.


  1. Didn't know that you knew Professor Snape! Are you close enough to call him Sev?

    1. Well, I was getting there, but then I gave him bunny ears in a photo... :P

  2. "Studied" should be used loosely..Old English was an actual class, elvish was just an obsession ;)

    This was such a fun post! We might have another week of the non-theoretical, I've posted more discussion of fandom - specifically the textual aspect, but it's short and not terribly on point.


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