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Books

Not so accidental magic

It’s been a long time since reading a book made me want to write something, and well, to be honest it’s been a long time since I read a book, given the slump I’m undergoing where I just haven’t been able to read as much. But the book that I read today – start to finish, yay – was about fandom – a topic that’s been really close to my heart over the last few years. I was curious to see what sort of treatment it got in a novel that was billed as ~literary~ and also intrigued that it was about Harry Potter fandom, which I guess I was once a part of, though not in the same way as the characters in the book are.

The book, Accidental Magic by Keshava Guha, is about a group of strangers brought together by being a part of the Harry Potter fandom, at the start of the millennium when fan clubs and fan fiction started to be easily accessible through online forums. Fandom itself had been around for decades in various forms by the years the book takes place in  2001-2, but what I found interesting about what this book brings forth is the how the internet broadened the scope for _who_ could enter fan communities.

The protagonist is Kannan, an engineer from Bangalore who immigrates to Boston and becomes a leading voice in one of the fan communities for Harry Potter, and how it makes being a superfan or what we now call “stan” an all-too-easy rabbit hole to fall into. We see Malathi, another of the protagonists, a young woman from Madras, dip her toes into the world of fan communities encouraged by Kannan.

Fandom and superfans have long been a part of Indian mainstream culture, if you take Rajnikanth or Amitabh Bachchan or any of the cricket or movie stars who are billed “superstars” – but how many women, young or old, are a visible and active part of the these communities and what they do? The processions, the prayers, and the first day first show rituals?

What I also liked was how the book captured the unlikely friendships formed in fandom and how easy it is to get from a point of being a casual fan to the point where you plan your days around fan activities and where it becomes detrimental to other things.

I appreciate that this is a book that uses fandom as a way to answer bigger questions about how we form our identities, and how having an online persona, in an earlier age where online and offline were still two separate worlds, could shape this, but I found as I was reading this that it was the exploration of fandom that was the most interesting bit for me.

What I found disappointing is that while we see the different aspects of fandom – it’s treated as something that everyone eventually grows out of, an interloper that takes over your life for a brief period of time, and while perhaps that is true – at least, it was for me – there is so much joy that fandom brings that does not come through in the story. For a lot of people it isn’t something to be grown out of, but a legitimate part of their lives that does not come at the cost of everything else like it is suggested at the end of book.

Maybe that’s not the story the author was trying to tell, but I’d like to read that account of fandom – especially in 2020 – about how seductive it is to become a superfan given the right void in your life, how much joy it can bring, but how it can take over your life as well, and how it can bring out both the best and the worst of people and how this manifests online where we’re all hiding behind egg avatars.

Note to self: Hey, you know what they say about writing the story you want to read? 🙂

By Sadhana C

I'm interested in technology, culture, and the business of Hallyu. I currently work full time in tech and have previously reported on start-ups. In my free time I like to read fiction and learn languages.

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