Some Notes On … is a section which features my autoethnographic fieldnotes as I document my thoughts throughout different parts of my PhD project. Here, I write about the text resources discussed in our podcast episode.
For Episode 1 “More Inclusive: The Journey of Three Indian Fangirls”, we discussed two texts.
As a ten, then an eleven-year-old Harry Potter fan, I desperately wanted a letter from Hogwarts (I still kind of do as a nearly-thirty-year-old). I didn’t even consider that an Indian magical school might exist. The idea of British boarding schools may seem strange to American readers – as someone in the podcast mentioned – but the system at Hogwarts was something I completely took for granted.So much of my childhood is shaped by British literature (especially Enid Blyton), and now much of my adulthood is shaped by American culture.
When I was a younger reader of the books, I always identified as a Gryffindor because that’s how the books and Harry’s perspective position you. I was in the Red House in my school and I was very proud of the Gryffindor connections because all the heroes and good guys are in Gryffindor right? So in school inter-house sporting events, I was convinced we were the heroes. As I grew older, I realised I was obviously a Ravenclaw (as attested by several online Sorting quizzes I’ve taken over the years). It was only a few years ago, that a few then-new friends convinced me I had many Hufflepuff qualities, which is why I now identify as a RavenPuff (and I’m proud of both these identities). I’m unsure of why these fictional characteristics seem so important to my sense of self – what sort of framework they provide for my identity.
Why is Harry Potter so important to our generation? We who’ve grown up with the series? I suppose it offers a huge cultural, global resonance regardless of religion and national boundaries. I know of many other people who identify with their Hogwarts houses and Sort their friends into houses too.
The books are extremely biased when it comes to the four Hogwarts Houses. It’s only the conversations in fandom which introduced me to the biases and expanded my brain to alternative possibilities. Slytherin is othered to a ludicrous degree – the comparison in the podcast to the Second World War Japanese internment camps in the US made me think of real-world implications of vilifying a group of people so single-mindedly.
I love the theory that someone on the podcast proposed that the Sorting Hat chooses students with a diverse range of qualities to go to a House to make them a stronger team. For example, Hermione brings Ravenclaw qualities to Gryffindor, Luna brings Hufflepuff qualities to Ravenclaw, Harry brings Slytherin qualities to Gryffindor. Thus, the Hat performs a pedagogical function in this school of witchcraft and wizardry where it sneakily imparts lessons to the students about being more broad-minded about the characteristics you identify with. It does make me wonder though, how many students actually receive this message? Perhaps the Hat needs to be more explicit in its song-writing. Another real-world theory someone in the podcast proposed was that Harry Potter is making people more team-focused than individualistic, in terms of the examples of the Houses. However, I think it’s more Dumbledore’s Army than the Houses which do this – by having a group of students working together in the resistance to fascism. Real-world parallels in this case are much more pertinent to our current times. This also made me think of similarities between being a fan and being a citizen. As a fan, you critique your favourite media because you love them and are so invested in them. As a citizen, you critique your government and country because you want what you love to do better, to be better.
Hogwarts may not prepare you for a career in the magical world (as the episode pointed out, your job options are quite limited once you’re out of full-time education. However, Hogwarts does (well, sometimes) fulfill a broader role of education – it helps the students how to learn and think. Admittedly, some teachers do this more successfully than others, and the pedagogy employed by Hogwarts may have some significant gaps, but this isn’t unlike educational institutions in the real world.
“Ruined my childhood” is an extremely contentious term for different reasons in the Harry Potter fandom (with Rowling’s increasingly problematic statements) and in the Doctor Who fandom (a small part of which is railing against the “forced diversity”). In the former’s case, I think the series belongs to us, the fans. As soon as Rowling released it out into the world, it was no longer just hers. Especially since it’s had such a huge impact on countless lives (including mine). I refuse to let the series go but I am less reluctant to let her go. With the latter, I’ve been lucky not have witnessed the really toxic side of fandom, largely due to the spaces I inhabit (I like my safe-space-echo-chamber thankyouverymuch).
“We don’t want our heroes to get supplanted and old.” Could this explain some of the backlash against Harry Potter and the Cursed Child?
“Belongs to a new generation of kids to love.” Lots of parallels with Doctor Who, where Jodie’s Doctor and the increasing diversity in the series is resulting in drawing in brand new audiences. In my own case, this has also been true with comic books – both of well-established DC and Marvel franchises as well as emerging new stories. I’ve discovered that comics are also written for someone like me – and I’ve been devouring them ever since I stumbled upon the first volume of Ms. Marvel in a local Leeds library.