By Sarah Clayville
The other day as I was strolling through Target by the rack of impossibly inexpensive items at the entrance, a young man charged at me from across the store. His arms waggled with every intention to knock me over. Rather than call security which is what most sane people might do, as a writer I humored my incessant need to wait and see exactly how the scene played out. Even if it meant personal injury.
“Your shirt. I get it.” He was out of breath and smoothed his shock of black hair against his forehead. Half my age, the young man pointed perilously close to jabbing my chest.
In an early morning haze, I’d forgotten what I was wearing and nodded groggily, still cautious that he might have intentions of tackling me.
“Weird Sisters. I get it.”
Peering down I remembered that I was in fact wearing one of my most favorite and most obscure fandom t-shirts.
And so began the encounter of fan meeting fan. If you’re not a Harry Potter enthusiast, or even if you are but haven’t read the books, you might not know that the Weird Sisters is a wizard wrock band (spelled incorrectly out of whimsy). The shirt was procured from an Etsy shop run by a savvy seamstress who knew that there exists a handful of folks that need this particular item. And the strange acknowledgment that we both were enamored with the same story led to a pleasant twenty-minute conversation that left both of us smiling as we went on our merry ways.
There is something enveloping about loving a story. As an English teacher I’d happily replace the word story with book, but today’s reality is that many fall into fandoms based solely on films and the internet, and that’s ok. Not everyone has access to texts. Not everyone can read well, or well enough to be pulled into a story. Not everyone even has the time. But we’re all suckers when it comes to a narrative that introduces a world we wish we could obtain a day pass to visit when necessary. Where the characters are not exactly real but instead mirror a reality that offer us a reprieve from the difficulties of our own daily drudgery.
And this fictional intimacy is a safe one, relatively speaking. Of course, the deaths are brutal, and spoiler alert, your favorites will die because every truly great story must wrench our hearts from our chests. But it’s a familiar tragedy. We jump into the moments that wreck us and like a perverse Groundhog Day, embrace them and continue. While not all fandoms can claim this, I stick with JK Rowling’s world because there is a pervasive strand of optimism that provides a beacon through those disheartening tragedies. And each time I hit the end of a movie marathon or a summer where I’ve allowed myself the indulgence of rereading the entire series, I feel renewed.
My love affair with Harry Potter started unceremoniously during a horrendous flu. Previously I’d listened to NPR where a cocky commentator compared the series to Lord of the Rings, and I swore that I would never read it because such a comparison had to be foolish. Friends took this as a challenge, and three copies of The Sorcerer’s Stone ended up on my nightstand taunting me to try fantasy, a genre I had never ventured into. However, after three chapters and a fever of 102, I was hooked in a way that I can truly say I have never experienced before despite my history as a passionate lover of literature. The series only cemented my secret belief that an infatuation with a story may be one of the only truly healthy obsessive loves out there.
This summer I am making my fourth pilgrimage to the Wizarding World in Orlando where I will no doubt walk the fabricated streets with other fans, ranging from the casual connoisseur to the ardent devotee with a Deathly Hallows tattoo firmly planted on his or her forearm. We will all share a degree of this love affair and regardless of our backgrounds, our political inclinations, or our other tastes, we will gather at this Mecca of magic and lose ourselves for a few moments. Because at the end of the day we all need a love that momentarily carries us away from ourselves, even though secretly we are probably learning more about who we are then we’ll ever admit.
I can’t wait.
Sarah Clayville has had her work appear both in print and online in The Threepenny Review, Mothers Always Write, Bella Grace, and other journals. She is an assistant editor for both MAW and Identity Theory, and teaches high school English in central Pennsylvania.