So, I’ve never read a Harry Potter book. Maybe I will, one day. If ever I fall victim to a strain of influenza that confines one to bed but leaves one capable of sitting up to read, 3,500 pages of continuous narrative about adolescent wizards might be just the ticket. For the time being, though, I have a lot of other unread books on my shelves.
However, as a symptom of my ongoing fascination with cults and their adherents, I am endlessly fascinated by the subculture of “shipping.”
As in, transporting copies of the new Harry Potter novel to bookstores or customers, you ask? No. A “ship” is a relationship, romantic or sexual in nature, between two* characters from the Harry Potter universe. Writers of Harry Potter fan fiction, of whom there are thousands, have spent a great deal of time arguing about which characters ought to hook up, and writing stories in which the characters they are “shipping” enact their loves and lusts.
If you don’t believe me, Google it; because “shipping” has a more common and less insane meaning, you’ll get some irrelevant results, but you’ll easily find plenty of material. (Try “shipping wars” in the search to narrow it down.) Read this, for example:
Some people ship exclusively het; others like a healthy mix of het and slash, and still others prefer only slash. Some people are fond of the possibilites of pairings between minor characters, and nevermind the R/Hr vs. H/Hr debate.
...and then try to tell me there is any hope for humankind.
Anyway, I gather that in the new, final Harry Potter novel, some of the commonly “shipped” characters actually pair off by the end, which would tend to render moot all the fervid speculation about which characters “might” or “should” pair off. I haven’t yet had a chance to investigate how the shipping community is reacting to these developments, but I look forward to doing so, and reporting back.
Yes, I realize the irony here: I’ve spent multiple hours reading online discussions about fan fiction about the world of Harry Potter, yet only a few minutes glancing at said fan fiction, and zero time directly immersed in the world of Harry Potter (except for seeing some of the movies, which were decent). Go figure.
(I’m also intrigued by the weird outrage exhibited last week by Rowling fans who couldn’t wrap their minds around the fact that the New York Times reviewed a book prior to its publication date. For the last word on that whole imbroglio, see Daniel Radosh here and here.)
* Or more. Wouldn’t surprise me.