A Very Potter Retrospective

PART THREE:  Beyond the Canon.

Melissa Anelli.  Harry, a History.  New York: Pocket Books, 2008.  334 pgs.

Or, The Girl Who Circumnavigated the Potter Fandom and Led the Revels There.

Melissa Anelli is webmistress of The Leaky Cauldron, one of the most popular Potter fan-sites on the web.

If there was such a title as Professional Fan, Anelli would have it.  In addition to working for MTV and the Staten Island Advance, she kept the Potter fandom informed about everything from the book release dates to the latest wizard rock concert, all the while dreaming of the Potter journalist’s ultimate big break – interviewing J. K. Rowling.

Which, of course, she did.  Several times.

Some of my favorite bits:

  • The time Melissa was so intent on getting a copy of the Vanity Fair issue that would reveal in-costume photos of the Sorcerer’s Stone movie cast, she tried to bribe a local convenience store clerk to give her the issue a day early.

Another glance at the box showed me the edge of the magazine peeking out.  I grunted a bit and reached for my wallet.

“I’ll pay”—I shuffled around in the billfold—“ten dollars.  Ten dollars, OK?”  The clerk turned to me with an eyebrow and half a lip raised in what seemed like amusement.  “No, no, no bribe.”

“Fine, then I’ll take…” I cast my eyes around at the candy rack below me and grabbed an Almond Joy, a pack of Bubble Yum gum, and three packs of Tic Tacs.  The junk clattered on the countertop.  “I’ll take all this stuff and the magazine, then.”  Then I grabbed a TV Guide and threw it on the pile for good measure, and looked at the clerk earnestly.  Begging. [6]

  • The chapter on Harry and the Potters, which has inspired me to start a Wizard Rock playlist on my mp3 player.  Said playlist includes such names as the aforementioned Harrys, as well as Gred and Forge, Ministry of Magic, The Parselmouths, and The Hermione Crookshanks Experience.
  • Tales of the shipping wars.  Ron/Hermione or Harry/Hermione?  I do remember debating this in Contemporary Novels, back in high school (“But Ron and Hermione are constantly fighting!” “Well, yeah, exactly–they’re like an old married couple!”).  And the poll on one Potter site, which offered the third option of Grawp/Hermione.

David Colbert.  The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter: A Treasury of Myths, Legends and Fascinating Facts.  London: Michael O’Mara Books, Ltd., 2007.  300 pgs.

This is an unofficial encyclopedia of concepts and characters from the Potter books, with Colbert’s analysis of the historical and literary influences behind them.  For example:

  • The phrase “Avada Kedavra” ironically comes from an ancient healing spell—the Aramaic phrase “Abhadda kedhabhra” means “disappear like this word.” [7]  It might also be connected with the phrase “abracadabra,” also once used in healing.  (Side note:  when I was watching Deathly Hallows pt 2 with family, one person who hadn’t read the books thought Voldemort yelled “Abracadabra!” to kill Harry.)  I just wish Colbert had followed through and explained why Rowling would have chosen such an ironic phrase for the death curse.  Was it, in other historical cases, used as a curse rather than a cure?
  • There actually is an Order of the Phoenix – it’s a Greek honor given to foreign citizens who have somehow helped the country.
  • Oh, and I finally know what the heck a “Mugwump” is!  It comes from the Algonquin word for “chief,” and now refers to an independently thinking politician.

J. K. Rowling.  The Tales of Beedle the Bard.  New York: Arthur A. Levine and Children’s High Level Group, 2008.  107 pgs.

They really do read like fairy tales, and I loved “Dumbledore’s” analysis of each story’s evolution – how different wizards have censored or changed certain elements of the tales (particularly the Muggle-friendly messages) to fit their own ideologies.  It takes me back to my RhetComp classes, where one unit focused on the various versions of Cinderella, and how its message changes from story to story, how it’s used in pop culture today, etc.

And, of course, anyone who’s read “The Pardoner’s Tale” from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales will hear an echo in “The Tale of the Three Brothers.”

Enid Blyton.  The Magic Ice Cream and other stories.  Illus. Lesley Smith.  London: Award Publications, Ltd., 2000.  192 pgs.

Back in May 2011, Risa of Breadcrumb Reads reflected on her experiences with the Potterverse, including her initial skepticism toward the books –

I recall being rather horrified.  […]  No one but one person can write about such things and do a great job of it. Enid Blyton is the master of witches and wizards, elves and fairies, brownies and goblins. […] And you didn’t just read Blyton when you were two or three years old – you stuck with her right up to your teens. All of us, right from my mother’s generation (or a little before) grew up with the fairy world that we believed was exclusively Enid Blyton’s. [8]

She changed her mind after reading the first few chapters of Philosopher’s Stone

It didn’t take us more than a chapter or two to realise that J K Rowling was no imposter. There was absolutely nothing of Enid Blyton in her works. Blyton created a world for little children to get lost in yet never failed to remind them of their manners and good values. Rowling, on the other hand, had written for sheer pleasure, and her imagination is vast. She opened up a world that was both recognisable and yet absolutely fantastical.

But now I was curious to see some of the parallels – or not – between Blyton and Rowling for myself.  According to Melissa Anelli, Blyton is “a much-referenced favorite of Jo Rowling’s (whose stories also feature drafty old castles and runamuck children who, by working together, can outsmart adults).” [9]

So far, I see some of the witty narrator’s tone in Blyton’s stories, which made the Potter books so fun.  It’s more intrusive in the Blyton stories – but not in a bad way.  I could practically hear the kindly, amused voice reading the tales out loud:

Mr Winkle was always getting into trouble with Mrs. Winkle – and really, I don’t wonder at it!  If ever there was a silly, forgetful, careless man, it was Mr Winkle!  You won’t believe it, but one night he put the dog into his bed, and curled himself up in the basket by the fire. [10]

And, like the Tales of Beedle the Bard, these stories read like fairy tales, each presenting a simple message to young audiences.  For instance:

  • Share your good luck with others (“The Magic Ice Cream”)
  • Focus on the positive, instead of fussing over every inconvenience (“Fussy Philip”)
  • Kindness counts (“The Little Toy-Maker”)

Though, I found myself sympathizing a bit with “Fussy Philip.”  To the other characters, his constant whining was disruptive, and he missed out on good things because of his over-perfectionism.  But these days, a child like Philip might be said to have OCD rather than just being written off as “fussy.”

Mr. Stamp-About (“Pull, Mr. Stamp About, pull!”), on the other hand, reminded me of Anansi the spider, from Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock.  Like Anansi, he found his own tricks turned around to punish him.


[1] Deathly Hallows, pg 674

[2] Sorcerer’s Stone, pg 77

[3] Deathly Hallows, pg 671

[4] Deathly Hallows, pgs 756-757

[5] Deathly Hallows, pg 649

[6] Melissa Anelli.  Harry, a History, pgs 31-32

[7] David Colbert.  The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter, pg 31

[9] Harry, a History, pg 21

[10] Enid Blyton.  The Magic Ice Cream and other stories, pg 131


  1. Wow, this post is PACKED FULL of Potter love! It’s amazing, and thank you for sharing.
    I had to skip a few of your reviews since there are books I haven’t read yet (Harry, A History, The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter, and The Magic Ice Cream), but I enjoyed reading the other reviews.

    The main thing I want to comment on is Kreacher making Harry a sandwich. I haven’t re-read Deathly Hallows in a long time, and it’s coming up soon in my Harry Potter class, but we got into a long discussion about house elves yesterday, mainly because of SPEW. While we all agreed that it’s cruel to have slaves, we wondered about the reality that some house elves would want to stick with their masters because it’s better than trying to find work elsewhere and struggling. We compared it to after slavery was abolished and how many freed slaves stayed with their masters for pay because it was better than suffering without work elsewhere. It took up a big chunk of out class, so I won’t ramble too long, but there’s definitely a lot to think about in regards to house elves and slavery. The main thing we wondered was if Harry and Ron were so unkind about the house elves in Goblet of Fire because they are teenagers, and that’s kind of how teenagers act. Does it make it right? No. That being said, I almost want Harry to have someone make him a sandwich after all the torment he endured over the years with the Dursley family, not to mention everything with Voldemort. Boy deserves a sandwich, haha!

    • Boy deserves a sandwich, haha!
      LOL, he definitely does, after all that! And I do understand the point about him being a teenager, and that affecting his worldview. And he does feel very differently about Kreacher than about Dobby or other house elves, considering Kreacher’s loyalty to the Malfoys and his part in Sirius’ death.
      Still, it was good to hear Hermione and Dumbledore’s views — i.e. that Kreacher is the way he is because of who’s treated him well vs. who’s neglected him. Even Sirius made the point about a person’s character showing in how he treats those he considers “inferior” (which, ironically, came back to haunt him in terms of his treatment of Kreacher).

      Thanks for visiting! 😀

  2. What an incredible post! Thanks so much for sharing! It’s truly a great way to pay tribute to some of my favorite books!

    • Thank you! This was definitely one of my favorite posts to write…I’m very nostalgic in general, and it was just a matter of time before I had a Potter-related review 🙂

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