Reading “The Dark Fantastic”

When I was fifteen, my Dad saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on a plane. He liked it, and he immediately decided that the Harry Potter ban of my elementary school days was over. So I decided to find out what I’d been missing. A few weeks later, I sat down and read the complete set of Harry Potter books over seven days. Unlike my brief infatuation with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga in middle school, I never became a Harry Potter fangirl. But I did enjoy becoming a part of the fandom community. I wrote Harry Potter FanFiction, I caught the feather to open a Beta Pottermore account, I went to the Deathly Hallows midnight movie premiere, and I visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter not long after it opened. And more so than my Twilight fandom experience, the Harry Potter FanFiction community came to define my high school memories.

Perhaps that was why I was so intrigued to read Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’s The Dark Fantastic. Thomas is an author, a scholar, and a connoisseur of fantastical fiction. As a participant in online FanFiction communities, Thomas brings to her scholarship an analysis that goes beyond that of someone whose reading of fantasy goes only so far as what the author puts on the page. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, deals with the specter hanging over fantastical fiction — race. Thomas analyzes various black, female characters such as Bonnie Bennet in the CW’s Vampire Diaries television show and Rue in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy. In doing so, she examines black representation in mainstream fantastical fiction and the “implications for the larger culture.”

As a former FanFiction writer, and as a former member the Harry Potter fandom, I was particularly interested in her final chapter, “Hermione is Black: A Postscript to Harry Potter and the Crisis of Infinite Dark Fantastic Worlds.” Here, Thomas captures the way readers and fans whether through fiction, meta-essays, or fan art “restory” fiction. Going beyond what the author has provided, fans create Alternate Universes (AU) that can both build a new narrative out of a published one or provide representation where none exists. When the latter is done, Thomas explains it through the term “Identity Bending” such as racebending or queerbending characters. It made me think of my own experience as a FanFiction writer, beta reader, and forum moderater.

While I didn’t racebend characters, I was one of probably many Black Harry Potter fans writing Black Original Characters (OCs) and getting attached to the few named Black characters in the series. Although my favorite characters in Harry Potter weren’t Black, during my time as a writer I came to subconsciously insert characters who looked like myself in my own “restorying” of the series without having a word for what I was doing. Also, I was cognizant of the way non-black FanFiction authors made the few black characters in the series white in their own restorying.

This is one thing I wish Thomas had addressed even though it’s definitely beyond the scope of her project. During my time deep in the Harry Potter fandom I witnessed time and time again the ways canonically black characters like Blaise Zabini were turned blonde and blue-eyed because the author wanted to give him a love interest. While Thomas addresses aspects of this in her chapter on Bonnie Bennet and the way series creators stripped the character of her sexual desirability once they decided to make the character black, I would have loved to see more of this through the analysis of “restorying”.

All-in-all, The Dark Fantastic is the first work of academic scholarship that I’ve read for fun and actually enjoyed. Check it out: The Dark Fantastic!

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