Imagining future possibilities

Honour fandoms by engaging with them in new, imaginative ways

Gabrielle Funk

Amidst the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have turned to the comfort of familiar TV shows.

“Like routine, it eases our cognitive load, which is suffering after all these months of immediate and implicit uncertainty,” Allison LaSorda writes in a recent Globe and Mail article.

It is true that it’s easier to engage with well-worn fandoms than it is to seek out new content. As an avid Harry Potter fan, I’m always re-reading the series – whether it be the actual books, audiobooks or the movies.

As LaSorda says, re-engaging with a favourite series is an opportunity to hone in on details that may have previously been overlooked. That deeper appreciation, however, can be taken much further.

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text is a podcast where hosts Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile examine the Harry Potter series by using traditional sacred reading practices. 

Both graduates from Harvard Divinity School, Zoltan and ter Kuile guide the conversation with a different theme in every episode – for instance, the reading of Book 4, Chapter 5, “Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes,” through the theme of masculinity.

Through their conversations, Zoltan and ter Kuile address a myriad of difficult themes present in the text – including power relations, toxic masculinity and fatphobia, to name a few – with tact. The hosts are always willing to share new perspectives on the motives of the characters, particularly those vilified in the standard reading. The episode ends with a blessing to two characters deserving special recognition.

Reading a beloved text with the intention to treat it as more than a vehicle for escapism and entertainment is helpful not only to better understand the series, but also as a mindfulness practice. Zoltan and ter Kuile encourage listeners to ground themselves in the text, providing the opportunity to meditate, process and imagine new possibilities through the practice.

The two hosts sat down for a livestream of their final episode together on March 25, 2021, reading Chapter 1 of Book 1 through the theme of transition. 

The theme of transition felt particularly relevant besides the evident reason (ter Kuile leaving the podcast). It has now been over 20 years since the first book in the Harry Potter series was released. 

Since then, so much has changed: not only in conversations around the Harry Potter world and She Who Must Not Be Named, but also in the lives of everyone who has been part of the fandom along the way.

If we continued to read Harry Potter with the same eyes that we did when we first sat down with the book – be it many years ago or more recently – who would we be? 

The reason we engage with our favourite series is because of the way they resonate with us on a personal level. It’s important to give ourselves the opportunity to carry our fandom forward as we continue to grow and imagine future possibilities. 

For those who feel queasy about the author: the website has a section with voicemails from trans and non-binary listeners sharing their views on the series, the author and transphobia – a conversation worth listening to.

Published in Volume 75, Number 24 of The Uniter (May 1, 2021)

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