Sunday, 26 August 2012

Review: Harry, a History by Melissa Anelli

During the brief span of just one decade, hundreds of millions of perfectly ordinary people made history: they became the only ones who would remember what it was like when the Harry Potter saga was still unfinished. What is was like to seek out friends, families, online forums, fan fiction, and podcasts to get a fix between novels. When the potential death of a character was a hotter bet than the World Series. When the unfolding story of a boy wizard changed the way books are read for all time.
And a webmistress of the Leaky Cauldron, one of the most popular Harry Potter sites on the Internet, Melissa Anelli had a front row seat to it all. Whether it was helping Scholastic stop leaks and track down counterfeiters, hosting live PotterCasts at bookstores across the country, touring with the wizard rock band Harry and the Potters, or traveling to Edinburgh to interview J.K. Rowling personally, Melissa was at the center of the Harry Potter tornado, and nothing about her life would ever be the same.
The Harry Potter books are a triumph of the imagination that did far more than break sales records for all time. They restored the world's sense of wonder and took on a magical life of their own. Now the series has ended, but the story is not over. With remembrances from J.K. Rowling's editors, agents, publicists, fans and Rowling herself, Melissa Anelli takes us on a personal journey through every aspect of the Harry Potter phenomenon--from his very first spell to his lasting impact on the way we live the dream.
The Harry Potter books and the phenomenon that surrounded them and sparked so much has been something that I’ve always been fascinated with. When I studied Creative Writing at University I was startled at how much derision the books were met with – particularly when you can look at the effect that it spawned with reading and books and the development and shift we’ve experienced since their first release in 1997. So the idea of a fan’s account, one who was right in the centre of a lot of the storm around the later books and the films really appealed to me.

For someone who isn’t a fan of the books it’s pretty much a no-brainer to say you most likely won’t enjoy ‘Harry a History’ but for anyone who is looking for a bit of the history and the backstory the book is a perfect entry into that. Anelli’s writing is on the whole pretty good. This isn’t an amateur account, she knows what she’s doing how to draw you in and how to engage the reader. She has the enthusiasm for all things Potter that really shines through and re-engages all those feelings that Potter geeks felt during the hype and the release.

There are a few problems that niggle me, for example the narrative style. The idea is a good one, to take the reader on a journey from the announcement of the final book right up until its release, interspersing that narrative with the story of the Potter books from that fateful train journey right up until the Half Blood Prince, and Anelli’s own journey and discovery of the books and the fandom. However it doesn’t quite work. The narrative is jumpy, you end up having to really try and work to keep up with where you are in the timeline. Also because of this style, people that are referenced by name from the first chapter are not fully introduced in some cases until Anelli actually meets them two thirds of the way through the book. It makes the book a lot less engrossing when you’re constantly flipping back and forth to try and work out what’s going on and who people are.

My other problem is the bias of focus on some areas of fandom. Anelli makes her low opinion of fanfiction pretty clear from the start, which is fair enough not everyone was on board that particular wagon. However it was still a pretty huge area, and not just for the shipping wars, and I didn’t feel that it was looked at in the same detail as, for example Wizard Rock, an area that Anelli clearly loves. The chapter devoted to Wizard Rock is nearly forty pages and filled with more of a backstory on the Harry and the Potters than Jo Rowling, and bogged down in statistics about how MySpace revolutionised music, particularly in relation to Wizard Rock. All very interesting, but not enough for me to be fascinated through forty pages. My interest in the book took a definite dip at that point, whereas prior to that chapter I was utterly engrossed.

However on the whole the book is well written and provides a truly fascinating account of one person at the eye of the Potter storm. I loved finding out extra details that had passed me by before. It took me right back into the whirlwind, reminded me of some of the big events that blew up out of the fandom, some of the things I’d loved about it, and gave me new insights and view points on the phenomenon. The only thing I really wish had been included were the interviews with Rowling in greater detail. Yes I could probably go and dredge them up online, but I think it would have been a really nice touch to have included those in the text itself.

For fans of Potter who want to delve a little deeper into the fandom as it snowballed, and the backstory, this is a great read. There will always be bits that interest other people more, and I do think Anelli does a great job of trying to incorporate all the different facets of the fandom that emerged. She tackles the subject with a commendable passion and enthusiasm and made me want to get up and go and delve straight back into Harry’s world.

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