Wizards in love

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News Media Commentary
Title: Wizards in love
Commentator: Collette Bancroft
Date(s): July 23, 2003
Fandom: Harry Potter
External Links: Floridian: Wizards in love, Archived version
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Wizards in love was a 2003 article by Collette Bancroft published in the St. Petersburg Times ("Floridian" section), July 23, 2003. The subject was Nimbus 2003, a Harry Potter symposium.

The article's teaser: "At a conference for Harry Potter fans and academics, the young sorcerer and his friends are portrayed in ways you'll never see in the books."

A local reporter lurking around the hallway between the event rooms asked the usual stupid questions like "Why are there so many girls here?" and wrote an article that described fanfic as being divided into "slash" and "het slash" but which was otherwise a fairly accurate and evenhanded description of Nimbus 2003.[1]

Some Excerpts

It's not the newest Disney attraction. It's Nimbus 2003, the first literary conference on the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling's blockbuster series about a boy wizard.

And there are hardly any children in sight. Heidi Tandy, 32, is a Miami Beach lawyer specializing in copyright and intellectual property law and one of the conference organizers.

"I don't think these are children's books," she says. "Not anymore."

More than 600 grownups would seem to agree. Academics and fans from all over the country came to Nimbus 2003 last weekend to talk about Harry Potter. The vast majority were women, most of them ranging in age from mid teens to 30s.

The sessions focused on everything Potter: censorship, technology, geography, romance, Christian perspectives, Jewish perspectives, pagan perspectives, fashion analysis.

Literary conferences tend to be a long way from wild. For one thing, hardly anyone dresses up in costumes for them. For another, they don't often feature panel discussions of fiction written by fans in which the books' young characters grow up and have really busy sex lives. Nor do they usually feature Quidditch matches.

But this is Nimbus 2003, where the official T-shirt bears the slogan, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

Some of the presentations are scholarly and sedate, analyzing the books in the context of heroic myth, Gothic novels, bildungsromans. They stick to the canon, the five novels written by J.K. Rowling. Some fans would include the two films in the canon, as well as interviews with Rowling.

And then there are the fans, and they are legion, for whom the canon is only a jumping-off point. The other half of this conference (and it's probably more than half) is all about the fanon. The term refers to the burgeoning world of Harry Potter fan fiction, a curious and exuberant offspring of the books and the Internet.

Fan fiction got its start before the Net, back when enthusiasts of TV shows such as Star Trek wrote and circulated stories based on the characters. The stories sometimes ran in small magazines or were passed fan to fan.

But fan fic really exploded with the Web, where writers can post their stories for a much wider audience and get immediate feedback.

Harry Potter rules the fan fic universe. The biggest fan fic site, FanFiction.net, has more than 83,000 Harry Potter fics. Several sites are devoted only to Harry Potter fic, such as FictionAlley.org.

Some of the fan fic is good, some is very good, and some is dreadful. Some of it is for kids, but most is not. Fan fic is the domain of older teens and adults.

A lot is what's called slash: stories about the canon characters that put them in sexual situations, ranging from the mildly erotic to the downright pornographic. A lot of slash portrays gay sex. Strictly defined, the term slash refers to stories with gay sex. Stories about a male character and a female one are "het slash.

During Tosenberger's discussion of incest themes, a hand goes up in the audience. A tall, slender girl in her mid teens asks, "Couldn't the whole Draco-Lucius ship (fanon shorthand for relationship) be related to Margaret Mead's theories of marriage alliance?"

Tosenberger grins at the anthropological interpretation: a good student. The girl goes on. "You know, the idea that incest evolved as a taboo among the elite because they needed to make alliances with outside forces."

"Very good," Tosenberger says.

The good student is Madeline Klink, a 16-year-old Sacramento, Calif., high school student known in fandom as Flourish. She is a presenter on two panels, probably the youngest at the conference.

She has been writing fan fic for four years and is a co-founder of FictionAlley.org. "I started at 11 as an X-Files lurker," reading fan fic based on the show for a while without contributing any herself. "Maybe it was strange, because I got my sex education in X-Files fandom."

She began writing fan fic at 12, with a story (not slash, she says) about Harry and Hermione. Now she's deeply involved not only in writing but in workshops and other forms of feedback for fan fic writers.

Her mother is with her at Nimbus 2003, and, she says, her parents support her writing. "Their attitude is if we're old enough to be interested in and understand something, we're old enough to do it."


  1. published in the St. Petersburg Times ("Floridian" section), July 23, 2003. Accessed June 2, 2009.