The world in Fangirl

From the beginning, Fangirl lets you know that the book’s world is really close to, but not quite the same as, our own:

The Simon Snow Series
From Encyclowikia, the people’s encyclopedia

This article is about the children’s book series. For other uses, See Simon Snow (disambiguation).

Because Internet fandom plays such an important role in the story, Rainbow has created a fictionalized book series with a huge online following for Cath to be a fan of. By about the fourth line of page one, I was pretty sure that:

  • Encyclowikia is Wikipedia
  • Gemma T. Leslie is J. K. Rowling
  • Simon Snow is Harry Potter

Because the fictionalized analogs are so close to their real-world counterparts, it makes it easy to understand Cath’s backstory. But then in chapter 12, when Cath is reading her fanfiction to Levi and they’re discussing the Simon/Baz pairing, I read this line:

“I don’t know,” Levi said. “It’s hard for me to get my head around. It’s like hearing that Harry Potter is gay.”

It’s just a passing mention that isn’t discussed or repeated. But it really surprised me (and surprised other readers, too; I’ve seen it mentioned at least three times in reblogbookclub posts).

Whoa. Harry Potter exists in this world.

Harry Potter apparently is well-known enough in-world for Cath to know what Levi is talking about. Presumably Cath’s Harry Potter is more or less the same as our own. But that means that in the world of Fangirl there are two hugely popular seven-book series about a young orphan who goes to a British boarding school for magicians where he is viewed as a super-important potential savior against the forces of evil. And that just seems… weird.

I realize there have been knock-off series in our world that follow the Harry Potter format. But the Simon Snow stories follow the Harry Potter format really closely. The Simon Snow books were each published about four years later than the corresponding Harry Potter books. According to Wikipedia, the Harry Potter series has sold roughly 450 million copies as of today; according to Encyclowikia, the Simon Snow series had sold more than 380 million copies as of August 2011. Both Harry (at least in our world) and Simon (in Cath’s world) have spawned blockbuster movie franchises.

It’s hard for me to imagine that in Cath’s world, Gemma T. Leslie is viewed as a great author, rather than someone whose work is really derivative of J. K. Rowling. It’s also hard for me to imagine how that fact wouldn’t come up in the course of Cath’s chapter 11 discussion between Cath and Professor Piper, given that the whole point of that discussion was Gemma T. Leslie and the nature of original work, plagiarism, and fanfiction.

The more I think about it, the harder it is for me to explain Harry’s presence in Cath’s world. But I’ve given it a shot. One explanation I thought of right away was: Maybe it’s a mistake. Since Simon is clearly a stand-in for Harry, maybe Rainbow just goofed at and typed “Harry Potter” when she meant to type “Simon Snow”, and for some reason no one caught it. But no: That doesn’t work with the line as delivered by Levi. It couldn’t have been intended that he’d say “Simon Snow” there; he’s comparing Harry Potter to Simon.

Or maybe the Harry Potter mention was a joke that was meant to be taken out, but was accidentally left in. But that doesn’t work either. The rest of the book (along with Rainbow’s other writing) is too good, too thoughtful and well-edited, for me to think they just missed something that significant. It must be there on purpose.

The likeliest explanation, I think, is that it was meant as a bit of an in-joke by Rainbow for fellow Harry Potter fans, a way of mentioning, if only in passing, the boy wizard who was so important to the online fandom at the core of the story. It’s true that it’s a little awkward if you think about the in-world implications, but it’s just a quick, throwaway line. And besides, there are ways you can make it work if you really want to.

Maybe the Harry Potter of Cath’s world is actually really different than our Harry Potter. Maybe he’s a macho action hero, more like Rambo or Jack Bauer than a boy wizard (which kind of works with Levi’s line, if you assume he was making a joke). Or maybe he’s the Harry we know, but in Cath’s world the Harry Potter books never caught on, and J. K. Rowling only wrote the first one before moving on to other endeavors. It eventually got made into a low-budget movie that Levi just happened to see, so he mentions Harry Potter in that line, but actually Cath has no idea what he’s talking about, and just doesn’t say anything out of politeness. Or it could be something else. The point is, you can explain Harry’s presence if you really want to.

Cath’s world is fiction, after all. It’s Rainbow’s book, and if she wants to populate it with Harry Potter and Simon Snow, that’s her prerogative. On some level, too, it’s kind of ridiculous of me to make a big deal about it, especially since my argument, boiled down, is that by including the real Harry Potter from our world in her fictional world, Rainbow is somehow making that world seem less real, rather than more.

But nerd that I am, I can’t help wondering. And maybe that’s the point of Harry’s inclusion: To make the reader think about what his presence means, to populate the made-up world with interesting enigmas, to layer the correspondences and meanings one layer deeper. Our world has enigmas and layers; why not the fictional world inhabited by Cath? Tolkien wrote about that in explaining his choice to include Bombadil in FOTR; maybe Harry is meant to serve a similar purpose in Fangirl.

I’d like to know the answer. I’d also like to know what was on Eleanor’s postcard. But until or unless Rainbow choses to answer those questions, I’m perfectly happy just thinking about them myself.

Reposted from

Tags: rainbow rowell, fangirl, reblogbookclub.

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