If you have been here to my blog before, you will know that I really enjoyed reading Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, a love story between two teenagers who both felt like outsiders in their homes and class. Rainbow Rowell hits another home run into my heart with her book Fangirl. There are two things you need to know about the protagonist Cath: 1. She is a writer, and 2. She loves Simon Snow (a fictional book/movie series that has taken the world by storm, similar to the Harry Potter craze several years ago). These two facts come together in the form of Magicath, a username she uses on Fanfixx.net to write her very own Simon Snow fanfiction. She is actually very well known in the fanfiction forums for her fanfiction.
Rowell emulates the power and lifestyle of being part of a fandom in her book, using Cath and her love for Simon Snow as the vehicle. At the beginning of the novel, Cath’s twin sister Wren shows an aversion from being part of the fan community, no longer wanting to make time for her love of the series. She insists that it is now behind her and it is time for her, and possibly Cath, to grow up and move on. It was a fun obsession while they were young, but they were in college now! It was time for them to go out, have fun, meet boys, and party. There was no more time to stay inside to read and write fictional stories about another writer’s characters. No time to play pretend.
These words are still words that I hear today as an enthusiastic/avid fan of many things. These words of being “too old” or “this obsession is childish” pierced into Cath’s heart, especially coming from her lifelong best friend/twin sister, someone with whom she has shared this love with for most of her memorable life. She feels like nobody understands her anymore, nor do they understand how much Simon Snow means to her, so she begins to close herself off from people. She denies the company of people for the company of her laptop and her stories.
Despite the huge positive communities that appear all over the world in the form of conventions, such as ComiCon, or FanExpo, there are still people who share the same notions as Wren, causing these people to retreat into their own little worlds. This is possibly how being a “nerd” was actually something negative several years ago.What they failed to notice what these fandoms can bring to us if we decided to open ourselves up to the world. Now nerd culture is becoming mainstream culture because people are stepping out of their nerd closets to start a conversation.
Cath herself does not take the initial step to open up about her love of Simon and Baz. In fact it took other people to share how much they loved Simon Snow or to show interest in how much she cared about these characters. While working on a project in the library, a stranger on campus approaches Cath to ask about her shirt, a homemade shirt based on a reference from her Simon Snow fanfiction Carry On. She admits to also being a Simon Snow fan and is also a fan of Magicath’s fanfiction – Cath’s very own fanfiction! The stranger does not become a primary (or even a secondary or tertiary) character to the story, but this moment gives Cath a bit more confidence in herself. She is happy that she wore a her Simon Snow shirt because not only did she find a fellow fan to have a great conversation with about the final instalment to the series, but she also gained a little bit more confidence in her own writing abilities. This stranger was who Cath needed to carry on with her own endeavours of trying to start her final writing project of the term.
Cath also finds connection with her roommate’s best friend Levi thanks to Simon Snow. He himself is not a very dedicated fan of the series – in fact I believe he has only watched the movies and read none of the books. But he wants to learn more about Cath. And Cath being the awkward shy girl she is, finds it difficult to open up about herself, so he uses his resources (mainly his ability to look at a poster over her desk) to find a way to talk to her. All he does is ask Cath about the series and takes a genuine interest in her interests. He wants to learn about what she loves and hear what she has been writing in her fanfiction. Levi is actually the primary reason that Cath learns to truly embrace Simon Snow as a part of her rather than a secret part of her. He constantly insists on Cath reading her fanfiction to him, wanting to hear what is next in her version of the story. Her love for these characters helps to even bring her closer to someone she didn’t ever expect to get close to.
Lastly, Simon Snow brings Cath and Wren together in the end. I know what you’re probably thinking: “But Christina, wasn’t Wren the one to make Cath feel insecure about her obsession in the first place?” Why yes detached reader voice, you are correct, but character progression helps to rectify their relationship! Cath gains an understanding of the importance of making friends and having a social life away from a computer screen. She learns that although Simon and Baz are very important, her real life is equally, if not more, important.
Wren also learns a very valuable lesson that helps her meet halfway with her twin. Growing up does not diminish the importance and meaning of the things you loved as a child. She understands that her relationship with Simon Snow is very different than Cath’s, so perhaps it means that much more to her sister. But that still doesn’t diminish the love she had/has for the series either. In the final scenes of the book, after Cath and Wren have rekindled their lost friendship, they hold each other crying as they both held onto their copies of the final book of the Simon Snow series. These two sisters go through a roller coaster of emotions with each other, but in the end, they are still able to cry in each other’s arms as they share in the final moments of their favourite childhood story.
I am an enthusiastic member of a lot of fandoms, and I very much relate to Cath’s feelings towards her beloved Simon Snow and in her journey of becoming more comfortable in her own skin, especially when you feel like your interests are a defining trait in your identity. I have become a recluse before, finding more enjoyment out of sitting at home watching television, or playing video games, or watching a certain webseries on the Internet, but I am learning to become more vocal about my interests. I can share these interests with others. I have been able to find a place in several fan communities and connect with folks all over the world (thanks to that good ol’ Internet). I have been able to become a writer, a podcaster (on the rare occasion), and even a Twitch streamer for a few of these fandoms now. All it took was for me to start and become engaged with another person about something we both think is awesome.
It has been a long process for I have been on Cath’s side of the conversation regarding the whole “aren’t you too old for that?” (in fact I actually had a conversation like that only a couple weeks ago with an older gentleman regarding how people who go to things like anime conventions and cosplay are “childish and refuse to grow up”). It is not childish to continue an interest from childhood – that’s how you get people who dreamed of going into space become astronauts. Being enthusiastic about things like Pokemon, Harry Potter, anime, Critical Role, comic books, etc. have come together to form a very important part of my own personal identity, just has it has for Cath: I am a person who loves to indulge in the things that interest me – that’s the entire reason I decided to create this blog. When there is something I like, I want to talk about it and let people know about it.
These interests can be cultivated into something bigger than you’d think. They can lead to something as large as a career and life goal, or something as simple as a friendship sparked by that initial conversation about the mutual love of a thing. For Cath, Simon Snow became both. It has helped her become a very capable writer, and brought her closer to Levi and her sister by the end of her first year of college. Rowell encapsulates the power a fandom in this novel. She shows the impact a large franchise can have on its fans, while still showing a very wide spectrum of fans, ie. the Caths (fully in it) vs. the Wrens (loved it as a child, but priorities have changed) vs. the Levis (have only seen the movies). Fangirl emanates the effect a Harry Potter-esque giant fandom can have on our world today. It doesn’t matter if you were brought to the series/fandom at the very beginning, or last season, or right now; being open about your interests and taking a genuine interest into what other people love can become the foundation of creating a strong bond.