I can hardly believe that in less than two months from the moment I write this, the one-year-anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will already be upon us. As we are also coming up on a year's worth of podcasting, with almost a year’s worth of radio shows on the subject, it's easy to find myself reflecting what being a Potter fan has meant thus far. How I got into this whole thing, this devotion and passion for what, at the end of the day, is a handful of storybooks, is something I think about a lot and I think every fan has thought about from time to time.
What’s interesting is how different the reasons are for so many people to love these books the way that they do. I have my reasons of course, and I'm sure they aren't the same as every other fan. Thankfully, it wasn't my obsession with Dumbledore that kept me interested, or Half-Blood Prince really might have turned me off for book seven without him. Sadly, though, I have read from more than a few fans how big of a turn-off this past book actually was. To be honest, for a brief time, I sailed that boat as well.
Book six seems to have put out quite a few fans as it dove into couplings of the characters we've all been following and grown to love. It also laid to rest a lot of other theories about how it will all end, and took a few surprising turns along the way. While I, personally, was not upset at who showed their feelings for whom (as to me the only really surprising one was Remus/Tonks) I wasn't particularly thrilled with other aspects of the book either.
I know I could list every book I've ever read on my toes and fingers, but I had my own ideas on how the books would end. I would have liked to see the series wrapped up with Harry coming to power, the boy prophesized to be the only person able to defeat Voldemort as the heir of Gryffindor. I would have been immensely entertained at that - and there were many clues and indications that he might be from the name of his birth village to pretty much all of book two.
Book six rolls around, and even though I know he's not the heir, I'm at least expecting it to really be go time for some real training, for him to become the sort of wizard who really has a chance at being someone as powerful as Voldemort. Around the third chapter, when Dumbledore tells Harry how he wants to have some special training sessions with him that year, I really started punching the air, excited to read about Harry learning a bunch of new techniques, advanced magic, fancy "wrap-you-up-in-water" type battling spells. I was sure of it, and I was excited, because that was how I had interpreted the series to play out.
Needless to say, that's not how book six played out. I thought the training lessons, whatever they were, had nothing to do with training Harry to be a more powerful wizard. At the time, as I was reading, I remember being disappointed after every "training" session, and thought "OK, maybe the next one. Next time he'll actually focus on Harry, maybe actually show him how to use the sword he's been keeping so safe in his office." A session like that never came. Instead we were presented with a whole new type of thing, these horcruxes. An interesting idea of course, very cool in their own right, and they are an idea I’d never seen used before in any other story. However, I could not help but be a little angry at Dumbledore for what he wasn't doing, how throughout his entire 16 years of knowing what he knew about Harry, he never made a direct contribution to actually training Harry to be a stronger, more knowledgeable wizard.
Arguably, he had an indirect hand in giving him some hands-on experience fighting baddies. He said he watched from afar as he battled the dementors in his third year, and I assume he was never too far away so that he couldn’t step in and help/save Harry in his first two years either. I mean, all of the "trials" to get to the mirror that just so happen to rely on the individual strengths of the trio... yeah, like they weren't meant to go down there. And in Chamber of Secrets, Fawkes found his way down the chamber, and we know Dumbledore can apparate with him by holding onto his tail; he very well could have been watching from the shadows down there too, ready to step in and help. Harry was being tested, and that makes all the sense in the world if he was someone who was destined to have to do great things. So why not take a more proactive role in his training once the beans of the prophecy where spilled?
I loved Dumbledore before book six, and while I'm upset he is gone, I couldn't help but remain angry with him for the missed opportunities, the time he'll no longer be able to spend now helping Harry strengthen himself. The next couple days after I finished the book, I really couldn't form a real opinion to tell everybody who asked me what I thought. Sure, it's just a book, its just a series, but as a slightly more-than-casual fan (like most of you all reading), the emotion attached to the story, the characters are just that much more real. It was that emotion that clouded my mind just enough for me to actually brood about how it all played out for those couple of a days, to actually rationalize in my mind that I was upset at Dumbledore, while I'll along the feelings were misplaced and in fact something else entirely. The source of any disappointment with the characters can't lie with the characters, but with the source of the characters - with Jo. Funny enough, as soon as I made that connection, I felt a little guilty.
Here is a woman who has spent the last however many years of her life living and breathing Harry Potter even more than any of the biggest fans could attest to. It's been her story, her characters that she has been creating, nurturing, and developing with I daresay as much care as if it were one of her own children. Here I was, complaining and getting upset how she chose to develop this child of hers. Immediately I realized, "Do I really think I could write a better book then she could? Do I really think I'm as clever as she is, or more clever? Who am I to tell her story - It's not my story to tell." And then I came to the final thought, "What do I think of Harry Potter now?"
It has been that thought that really has to be considered and reconciled with before you can continue to call yourself a fan. It's also when the fandom suddenly got that much more complicated and diverse.
What is a Harry Potter fan these days? Are you a die-hard book fan, loving everything to do with every character, main plots and subplots, writing style... everything? Maybe you like a lot about the books, but could have done without a few things, like SPEW, or Deathday parties, or Grawp (coughcough, Steve Kloves). Do you love the books for particular characters and are indifferent to the rest? Maybe you love characters so much you already made up your minds years ago about how their last years of Hogwarts and beyond will go, and either don't prefer or don't care about the plots present in the final books. Or maybe you just like to watch the movies. There is a lot you can like about Harry Potter to be a Potter fan, and apparently there is a lot you don't have like to be one either.
But is that valid? Can you be Potter fan even after saying you weren't happy with last two books? I don't know, but I don't have to know. People can are free to feel however they want; it apparently doesn't keep them from buying the books or movie tickets. Unfortunately it seems these different kind of fans feel as though they have to separate themselves into communities of similar minds and opinion. I would say TLC readers are the first sort of fans, the die-hard book fans, canon fans, and also Jo fans. Fanfic sites, while drawing a lot of die-hard fans impatient for the next book, tend to have more of the 'character fans,' who prefer writing the destinies of their favorite characters how they would rather see them. There are also a lot of sites individually devoted to such particular destinies. The latter two categories are certainly sites devoted to Harry Potter, but at the same, most often not 'Jo's Harry Potter'.
I consider myself a fan somewhere in between these types of fans, which I think a lot of us are. I love the Harry Potter books; I wouldn't spend all the hours that I do with all this stuff if I didn't. At the same time, I won't renounce the desire I had to see them play out differently. That said, I still await with bated breath the hunt for the horcri book seven will bring, and I have since went from not liking book six for what it wasn't to loving it for what it is. I think that’s alright, and I don't think anyone can fault me for it.
Superhero Harry would have been cool, but after book six it has been made increasingly more apparent that isn't Harry Potter.
Harry being the heir of Gryffindor still would have been super cool, and he can be in the world of fan fiction, but that isn't Harry Potter. Neville and Luna falling in love, Ron sticking it out with Lavender, and, yes, even Harry and Hermione as more then just friends, is not Jo's Harry Potter. Fans of alternative forms of Harry Potter are certainly well in their right, but they have no right to spite, or be upset with, the fans (or fan sites) of the real Harry Potter, canon Harry Potter -- Jo's Harry Potter.