Harry Potter Changed My Life, Too: Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli

Let’s start this post with a sad story, okay?  It’s a sad story that has a happy ending, so don’t worry about that, but this story begins in a sad place.  Middle school is bad for most people, but I had a particularly torturous time.  Kids were just so mean.  I was a chubby kid, who loved to read, who didn’t listen to cool music, who had horribly uncontrolled frizzy hair.  I didn’t know how I was going to make it through middle school and was  terrified that, if anything, high school would just be worse.   I read constantly, just to escape the world I had to live in every day.  I would hide books in my textbooks during class (and get made fun of for it).

Then, somewhere in the middle of seventh grade, Harry Potter came along.  No, Harry Potter didn’t help my popularity or make my time at school easier, but it gave me something better.  At first, Harry Potter was just a pure escape to a world as complete as my own that I could get lost in.  Then, it gave me my first online community.  Though Regular Rumination is my first blog, I’ve been an active and proud member of online communities since 1999.  I immersed myself in Harry Potter, from fan fiction to fan art, and no longer was going to school so unbearable when I knew that I had the books and plenty of people to talk with about them just a click away on the computer.  Harry Potter brought me out of a particularly dark time in my life.  I crave the feeling I got from reading through the first three Harry Potter books and wish I could anticipate a book as much as I anticipated Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, probably my favorite book of the series (tied with The Prisoner of Azkaban).

So when Amanda of The Zen Leaf linked to her review recently of Harry, A History by Leaky Cauldron webmistress Melissa Anelli, I knew I had to read it.  I frequented The Leaky Cauldron regularly when I was in the throes of Harry Potter fandom, but didn’t know much about the creator or its history.  I would call this book a memoir, rather than just a history of Harry Potter.  It’s more like a combination of the two, because while there is quite a bit of information about the Harry Potter phenomenon, it is also Melissa Anelli’s personal experiences with Harry Potter and the way being a part of the HP fandom changed her life.

A lot of this wasn’t necessarily new to me, but I was quite a bit younger than Anelli when all this happened, so it was interesting to see a lot of events that I remember from a more adult perspective, because a lot of it is clouded in my adolescent memory.   The book begins with Anelli’s story of how she became involved in HP fandom and how she became editor of one of the post popular websites for Harry Potter news and ends with the culmination of all that work with a post-Deathly Hollows interview with Rowling.

What I loved most about this book was how much Anelli’s own excitement about Harry Potter reminded me of my own and how I could relive a little of that through her.  It has made me go back and reread all my fan fiction (some of it laughably bad, some of it actually pretty good, if I do say so myself).  It has made me want to reread all of the books, for the umpteenth time.  I want to feel all of that again, all the joy and sadness and community that is Harry Potter.

I’m sorry if this post seems more like a collection of my own experiences with Harry Potter, but that is kind of what this book is like.  Yes, the book is specifically about Melissa Anelli’s experiences as webmistress of The Leaky Cauldron and the Harry Potter phenomenon, but in turn that leads to you talking about your experiences and remembering where you were when all this was happening.  Part of you wants to be the biggest Harry Potter fan out there, you want to love it more than the next person, but the rest of you wants to share everything you love about it with everyone you know.

I did learn some things from Harry, A History, such as I had no idea how big Wizard Rock had gotten since I stalked Harry and the Potters website for news about a library tour date that was close enough for me to hitch a ride to (it never happened!).  Or how intense the Hermione/Harry and Ron/Hermione shipping wars actually got. I went back to read my fan fiction to determine which ship I belonged to, but I wrote mostly fan fiction about the previous generation, so Harry’s parents.  So I really don’t remember! I don’t think I ever saw Harry and Ginny getting together, but I was ultimately happy they did.  I loved having an inside look into the movie premiers and the interactions Anelli had with Rowling were amazing and I’m so jealous.  I’d love to get to meet her, as I imagine anyone who has read the books would.

And those were just the topics that struck me.  There’s so much here, that even the most seasoned and knowledgeable Harry Potter fan will find something to love here, if it’s only another way to relive that experience all over again.  Anelli does such an amazing job capturing that joy.  Like this!  This makes me so happy:

At Leaky, we were always hearing from people who had been taught to love books through their love for Harry.  We also  heard from dyslexic children who’d fought to overcome their disability in order to read Harry and by doing so realized they could overcome dyslexia almost entirely.  Priscilla Penn, a Leaky reader, told me that her niece, Kaitlin, had a substandard reading comprehension level before she started reading Harry Potter in late 1999.  By the next year her grade level had been brought to normal, and she was enthusiastic about reading.  The same happened for Kodie, a late-teen juvenile delinquent from Terre Haute, Indiana, who was illiterate before he discovered the series; his foster mother Shirley Comer, a nurse, had started reading Harry Potter to him while he was in a juvenile rehabilitation center.

“Now, he wants me to bring him any kind of book on mythology, or Star Wars books.  He even tackled Lord of the Rings,” Shirley said.  She even found him a book on psychology that was appropriate for his comprehension level.  “It’s helping him understand himself a little better, and that’s something that I would never have thought he would have been able to read and enjoy.” (160)

I also got a little reassurance that I wasn’t the only one who felt a certain way about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

“So far, Harry had become a whiny bastard and had shouted down everyone who had ever been good to him in his life.  Nothing was magic and happy and enchanting anymore.  Harry was arrogant and prideful and petulant, and kept doing and saying things before thinking, and, in general, had turned into someone I had little interest in spending eight hundred more pages with.” (163)

But eventually, and it took me years to get to this point, I really appreciated what Rowling did to Harry in book 5.  I was that lucky group of kids that got to grow up with Harry.  I was 11 when I started reading the books and I was 18 when they ended.  I was an emotional, whiny 15 year old when I was reading about Harry being a whiny, emotional 15 year old in Order of the Phoenix.  Maybe I saw too much of myself there?

Not only am I eternally grateful for the way Harry Potter changed my life, I’m thrilled that it changed other people’s lives as well and I’m so happy that Melissa Anelli committed that joy to paper.   So if you love Harry Potter, if you want to experience all that again, then read this.

So go read this!:  now| tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy, The Zen Leaf and Shooting Stars Mag all wrote posts on Harry, A History also.  Did you? Let me know in the comments and I will add your link to this list.

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11 thoughts on “Harry Potter Changed My Life, Too: Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli

  1. So glad I could bring this book to you! It’s been nearly two years since I read it and I’m thinking about going for a reread in the near future. Unfortunately I was obstinate about HP and never got into them until after the 6th book came out, so I missed out on a LOT of stuff!! Reading this book was like experiencing a whole new world. 🙂

  2. Fandom saved me, too—not Harry Potter, but The Lord of the Rings. Well, Harry Potter to a degree; I listened to The Leaky Cauldron too, and I remember Anelli talking about her book on the show before I stopped listening and drifted off towards Disney. I love fandom histories, rare as they are in print, so I think I’ll pick this up.

  3. This is such a lovely post, Lu. I was already an adult by the time I started listening to HP (to pass the time at a dull data entry job, after Book 6 was already out), but I caught a glimpse of what it’s meant to people who grew up with it when my partner and I went to the midnight release of the final book – pretty amazing! People crying and laughing and all talking together about what the series meant to them. It was great.

    I thought your reflections on Book 5 were interesting – I’ll confess it’s my favorite one of the seven, actually for the exact reasons you mention. Harry seems more real and flawed, and since I’m no longer a teenager I’m able to look back on my own similarly bad behavior at 15 with rueful amusement. Also, I think Umbridge is the best (e.g. most hateful) HP villain for her realism, & love the scenes of rebellion against her petty sadism.

  4. I was lucky to go to a geeky high school full of geeky girls, so I didn’t experience the same feelings of alienation that I know a lot of big readers went through in middle and high school. But I loooooved Harry Potter, and I loved the brief window of time when I was the same age as Harry.

    But I DID NOT have that reaction to the fifth book! It seems to have been nearly universal but it just didn’t strike me that way. I felt sorry for Harry. I’d’ve been screamy too if I were him. Except I’d have been screamy and a scaredy-cat, so…

  5. I think it’s wonderful that we live in a time when you can be amember of a very niche society, even if you live somewhere that it isn’t big. The internet is wonderful that way – 50 years ago, most of us would NEVER be able to be a member of a HArry Potter Club (or if we did it would be of the old fan club variety, corporate and controlled). I love that you can now 🙂

  6. The Harry potter series brought me happiness in the idea of escaping real life through now two means. Dreams and the Harry potter series. My mother-who has passed now- started reading the series in 2001.We thankfully got through all 7 books before her death in 2008.I truly believe that when she found out she had cancer the Harry potter world as well as those who supported it helped her to escape the fear and depression. The novels do so much for so many people, I only hope joane Rowling knows and appr this

  7. The Harry potter series brought me happiness in the idea of escaping real life through now two means. Dreams and the Harry potter series. My mother-who has passed now- started reading the series in 2001.We thankfully got through all 7 books before her death in 2008.I truly believe that when she found out she had cancer the Harry potter world as well as those who supported it helped her to escape the fear and depression. The novels do so much for so many people, I only hope joane Rowling knows what her imagination, dreams, and fantasies have done for millions of people.

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