Fans, wands and rock and roll

Harry Potter used to dominate my days, before Deathly Hallows. I remember after I read about [Spoiler alert! -Ed.] Dumbledore's death, I was in true mourning for three straight days,” says Julie Webster, Vancouver resident. “I kept thinking, 'How is the world supposed to keep spinning after such a great man has died?'” Indeed. Dumbledore was a great man. His death affected us all. But it seems to have affected some of us more than others.

Julie is, in her own words, “ on some small level, a musical star in the Harry Potter world.” She parodies popular songs by making them about Harry Potter (these are called “filks”), and has performed at dances, on podcasts, and elsewhere on the Internet. She even has the distinction of being a searchable result on Youtube.

But the fandom doesn't stop there. In 2007, she attemped to go live in London england. Her goals for her time abroad (before she was denied entry to the country and generally fucked over by government officials) included seeing the Order of the Phoenix film in London; attending Sectus, an unofficial Harry Potter conference; and securing a private room at said conference to enjoy the seventh book in the series, spoiler-free.

Julie is simply a wonderfully approachable example of a hardcore Harry Potter fanatic. One of an apparent nation of millions, including authors (of fan fiction), collectors, and performers of Wizard Rock.

Wizard Rock, or as it is sometimes known on the Internet, WRock, is a sub-genre of rock and roll that focuses primarily on Hogwarts-style witchcraft and wizardry. Note that I called it a genre. There are seriously enough bands playing this music that it qualifies as such. Even more remarkably, there are enough people listening to it that these bands can do regular band things, like release albums and go on tour.

The most famous Wizard Rock outfit, Harry and the Potters, are largely credited with pioneering the whole thing. After recording their first full-length album (they have three), the band started touring outside of their home state of Massechussets in 2004. Since then, they've been all over: the United Kingdom, the rest of North America, even Vancouver. And with the rising fame of these... keeners, other acts have followed suit. The aforementioned band, Draco and the Malfoys, and The Whomping Willows have all enjoyed what could be considered generous success in North America.

And, like their fictional counterparts, these Wizard Rockers and their fans are nearer to us than we may think. One of Harry and the Potters' most notable gigs so far has reportedly been playing for free outside the Vancouver Public Library in 2005, but many Vancouver Harry Potter fanatics were probably unaware of the impending “magic” (sorry) that was “brewing” (sorry) right under their noses.

The 2nd annual Vancouver Yule Ball was held on December 27th at the Grandview Legion Auditorium in East Vancouver, and was attended by over 200 people.

22 year-old Elektra Torgersen-Williams, who is one of the four organizers of the ball, an employee of the wizard-themed Imagine That clothing shop, and future Wizard Rock front-woman, called organization of the event “tedious and complex,” but said that it pays off.

“The attendees were absolutely delightful,” she said. “They were respectful of eachother, cleaned up after themselves and participated in games and contests with humility and good sportsmanship. We also had a great bar staff, serving up non-alcoholic concoctions such as Butterbeer and Voldemortinis.” I don't know what's in a Voldemortini, but it sounds delicious.

“We were actually able to make double the profit this year that we made last year, a total of $2600.” said Kate Streifel, another of the Ball's promoters, and owner of an online “sorting” forum, where users can fill out a questionnaire and be sorted into one of Hogwarts' four houses. “$1000 of that has gone to the food bank, $500 will go to each of two school libraries, and the remaining $600 we are keeping in the bank to go towards the initial stages of next year's event.”

The ball offered an oppurtunity for Vancouver's most fantatical Harry Potter fans to soberly dance, amongst their own, to the sweet, soothing sounds of local Wizard Rockers Charlie and Dragon Tamers.

The lack of judgement could very well be the main appeal of Wizard Rock. Sure, it's easy to get behind the politics (pro-magic, pro-literacy), but what's more valuable is the sense of community. As with other cultish phenomena, the appeal lies in belonging to something bigger. Just as full-on communities have developed around fan fiction, cosplaying, and punk rock, a full on community has evolved here. Which sort of makes sense, as Wizard Rock is more or less a combination of those three things.

Like Harry Potter and his fictional chums exist in their own secret world, parallel but  isolated from the muggle public, Wizard Rock has become a niche form of expression in an already seemingly segregated cultural world. Except that instead of verging experimental or outspoken, Wizard Rock simply verges on nerdy.

Incredibly nerdy.

Not that there's anything wrong with that -- at all. Nothing that makes people this happy has any business being ridiculed. It's just that, unfortunately, as with those other phenomena, Harry Potter nerdiness isn't necessarily understood or condoned by the outside world.

There has been the odd negative comment towards us and our event,” Kate says, “mainly that it is 'lame.' But for the most part, the only people who respond are Potter fans, and they tend to be very excited.”

People who would see me reading one of the books and they felt compelled to insult me by asking, 'Why are you reading that? It's a kids book.' I always felt bad for them because they're the kind of people who choose stories not based on their interests, but based on another's opinion.”

It's hard to say, then, what exactly about Harry Potter (and other multi-million dollar earning fantasies) inspires such obsession on behalf of such sensible adults.

It could be that children's literature, by nature, encourages a sort of rebellion against reality. Or that books like Harry Potter offer an escape from a world that is cold, unforgiving, and seemingly irreparable.

I know the reason Harry Potter fascinates me,” Julie says. “[It's] for the same reason stories such as The Last Unicorn, The Neverending Story and Legend interest me. It's the belief and hope that this world isn't as mundane and boring as it actually is. Maybe I'll never get to be witness to it but 'knowing' that mermaids swim around in the oceans, fairies flit around the forests, and wizards and witches are performing magic just makes me feel a little better.”

That small belief pervades the consciousness of all of these people, and there's no reason that they shouldn't come together because of it. Yule balls and bands are certainly valid expressions of community, and, at their best, of art. Speaking on WRocking out, Elektra put it best: “Music connects people, and stories like Harry Potter touch the hearts of people of all ages and walks of life. So to take a story as powerful as this one, and set it to life through music, creates a powerful emotional connection shared by people of all age groups and lifestyles that might otherwise never have touched paths at all. The result is magical.”

It's true. I can't even think of a joke.

// Giles Roy

Possible explanation #1
They're addicted to escapism...

J.R.R. Tolkien famously highlighted the ever-present element of emancipation in escapist fiction in his 1938 essay “On Fairy Stories”. The aspect of escapism seems to be the most obvious reason that someone would develop a fascination with the fantastic. But given the long-form nature of these pieces of fiction, as well as their expanded universes and fan-generated content, it's possible for this escape to become less an obsession than an addiction.

Possible explanation #2
They've all got the P.P.S...

Sure, Michael Jackson probably had it, but his was an exaggerated case. True Peter Pan Syndrome comes from the latin Puer aeturnus (“eternal child”) and has been an unofficially recognized psychological phenomenon since 1983. In its different forms (and varying severities) Peter Pan Syndrome can manifest as a series of childlike habits or characteristics, or as a full-blown rejection of adult reality. These things couldn't necessarily be attributed to fantasy literature, but they could certainly support its success.

Possible explanation #3
Children's literature is subversive by nature.

In her book Don't Tell the Grown-Ups: The Subversive Power of Children's Literature, Alison Lurie says that the genre is continually appealing because it subverts the norms of the adults world. Potter books attack our humorous institutions like the church or the marketplace. They also applaud the act of making your real-life parents look stupid by claiming that your fictional family is smarter and more magical.
Children's lit supports the lifestyle of kids. It reinforces their creative, willful, and disobedient nature by propping up an antagonist, like a Voldemort or a Goliath. When the child grows up, their adult palate for such fare is driven by a new antagonist – reality.

Possible explanation #4
The hero myth is ingrained...

Harry Potter is a classic hero myth, the most mass-marketed and cliched crackerjack ever levied upon the public. The oldest written version was also perhaps one of the oldest recorded instances of writing, ever. It was a Sumerian tale entitled “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” written on clay tablets during the Third Dynasty of Ur (2150-2000 BCE), in what is now known as Iraq. The overlapping similarities between old King Gilgamesh, Harry Potter, and Jesus Christ are overwhelming.
This obvious pattern helped lead Carl Jung to his theories on the collective unconscious, which posit that patterns in our psyches, called archetypes, actually organize our lives according to their motifs. So Harry Potter fan insanity is a compulsion we cannot avoid. It's science.

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