Bookseller, substitute teacher is quite possibly the world’s biggest Harry Potter fan

So you think you’re obsessed with Harry Potter?

Do you have professional-style displays dedicated to the books inside your home? Craft homemade wands? Dress up in wizarding garb when you go to work?

Did you found a fan club that’s been going strong for 12 years? Organize elaborate Harry Potter-themed events, including a straight-up, actual conference?

Do you re-read the books twice a year and fiercely guard the Rowling canon?

I didn’t think so.

Well, I’d like to introduce you to someone who eats, sleeps, lives, and breathes Harry Potter. Her name is Ann-Laurel Nickel and J.K. Rowling’s beloved book series isn’t just a pastime to her. It’s a lifestyle.

(And get this, Muggles, witches, and wizards. She’s “house fluid.” I didn’t even know that was allowed!)

When Ann-Laurel is passionate about something, she goes all in, and the result is loads of wizarding fun for everyone who happens to be around her. 

You are the most devoted Harry Potter fan I know. Why do you love it so much?

This is such a difficult question for me. There are so many reasons. Of course, I could boil it down to that I love a quality “good vs. evil” plot, but that’s so simplistic.  Jo’s world simply captivated me from the start. I have always been fascinated with the world of boarding schools and I also possess a childlike excitement and enthusiasm for fantasy.

The trio’s friendship moves me because I have often felt like an outsider; I am a ginger like Ron, a devoted student like Hermione, and often picked on like Harry.  The fact that they, the outsiders, are the heroes validates me in so many ways. I must add that the series has connected me to other like-minded people around the world.  I have really enjoyed finding a posse.

How did you first become interested in Harry Potter and how did your passion for the series grow?

I actually saw the first movie before I read the books — I know that’s hard to believe since I’m such a book-purist. (Hey, I’d been busy desperately trying to have my nine desired children, eventually being rewarded with my one amazing child!) I knew I had purchased a few of the books for my husband’s fourth grade class library, so I immediately located them.  

I read the first four books in a day each. My husband found me, more than once, sobbing on the couch late at night devouring the series. The death of Cedric Diggory hit me, and surprised me, because I had absolutely no clue it was coming, unlike those fans who’d wondered and speculated for years awaiting the book.  

My amazement at Jo’s writing was solidified during “Prisoner of Azkaban” when I realized she’d given us info in book one that was so important to the plot yet she didn’t highlight it. I was devastated that I’d have to wait months for book 5. I turned to my niece and father who were into the series long before I. My sister had actually picked up “Sorcerer’s Stone” at Costco and thought it would be fun for her 11-yr-old girl. She and her friends immediately loved it, and continued to do so as they matured right along with Harry through the series.

My father, being an Anglophile, had been recruited by them into the fandom. During those beginning years there were no Harry Potter-related party supplies or shirts, etc., so the young girls took to making items themselves and soon learned of others who did the same.  

My pre-teen niece began reading and writing Harry Potter fan-fiction online and was fully immersed in online fandom long before I was. She happily dragged me under as well. I read endless theories and speculations, but I did not join in the fanfic world. I love that it exists, and appreciate the desire and dedication of its authors, but I am fully a canon girl. If it isn’t canonically accurate, it’s not for me. (I still don’t believe (stage play) “Cursed Child” is canon.)

I found eBay and started filling my world and my home, much to my husband’s chagrin, with every Harry Potter-related item I think was ever produced.

A Harry Potter display inside Ann-Laurel’s house. 

Twenty years later, do you still feel the same way about the series?

Yes, I still love everything (canonically accurate) Harry Potter. My devotion to it remains the same, but I have actually become a bit jaded regarding “fake” Harry Potter fans. That’s a harsh term; let me rephrase to “part-time” HP fans. The best I can describe it is this:  It’s like when Ron accused Cho of only supporting the Tutshill Tornados after the team started winning, that she’d jumped on the bandwagon. That’s somewhat how I feel now.  

Too many muggles are “pretend-fans” and they have mass-produced Harry Potter merchandise they wave around … the fandom has been “cheapened” by overexposure. I miss the days when we fans made our own school robes and wands … we were the pioneers, the “real” fans. This is a ridiculous feeling, I know — especially since I haven’t been here since the “actual” beginning.  

But I remember attending the first-ever Harry Potter con fully dressed in my HP robes, with a measly 600-like-minded fans. It was true kinship. Newspapers and media outlets interviewed us as “extreme fans” and we were treated like weirdos. I bet if I was to walk through that same Orlando hotel today, wearing my full HP garb, I wouldn’t get a second glance.

The Harry Potter Book Club, founded by Ann-Laurel Nickel, meets annually for fish ‘n’ chips and games in honor of Harry Potter’s birthday.

How is your love of Harry Potter currently manifesting itself?

I am still running the Harry Potter book club that I originated for Barnes & Noble in 2005. We now meet at a private home. I also re-read the series at least twice per year. And of course I still love finding and acquiring original Harry Potter pieces. When I get a chance, I also like to attend events put on by LADA. They are the Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army, an over 21 HP fan group. I think they are actually considered the largest HP fan group in the country, based on their Meetup.com numbers.

What did you think about the Fantastic Beasts movie?

I was happily surprised that the “Fantastic Beasts” movie was as amazing as it turned out. I didn’t know how Jo would bring such a tiny, informational text book to the screen. I actually find it a much better movie than many of the original Harry Potter ones (gasp!) and that may be because it was actually written by Jo, not adapted. The HP movies lacked so much of the series’ best moments.

Ann-Laurel raises a glass at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

This is probably a silly question, but have you visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

Yes. The first time I visited, in Florida, I admit I was overcome and actually broke down in tears after my first ride through the castle. The feeling that this was as close as I’d ever get to actually “being at Hogwarts.” I’ve heard from many others that they experienced the same strong emotions.

I, of course, have visited the one here in Hollywood, as well, but not as often as people would think. Once again, let me refer to the part-time fans. Not only they, but the ACTUAL MUGGLES — the people visiting Universal Studios who don’t have a clue about anything Harry Potter — really detract  from the ambiance. I’d love to have the HP part of the park to myself, and other dedicated fans. Then we could truly live out our HP dreams.

I attended the Yule Ball at Barnes & Noble last Christmas and I saw the amazing handmade Whomping Willow inside the store. I imagine you had a big hand in creating those.

Yes, that was my last Harry Potter event at Barnes & Noble.  Between the midnight release of “Cursed Child” and Magical Holiday Ball (“Yule Ball” is trademarked and not able to be used by B&N), I was quite busy. I believe the Palmdale store put on the most remarkable events because we did not follow company guidelines. I was able to helm the events and make them truly noteworthy. I doubt that will be the case in the future as the company cracks down on adherence to company specifics.  All stores must do the exact same sanctioned activities.

Tell me a little bit more about the Harry Potter club you’ve led for many years. 

Yes, I started the group as a Barnes & Noble book club in 2005. We still meet once a month at a private home since B&N no longer has book clubs. A few years back, I disbanded the group to take a break. Although I love it — and have since returned to leading it — creating and producing monthly events is exhausting and often unappreciated for the amount of time and effort I put into it. My club doesn’t have dues or fees, unlike other groups. For information, email fieldlodge@yahoo.com.

You once organized an actual Harry Potter symposium. What are your favorite memories of that? What was it like to organize such a complicated event?

I have many great memories of Sonorus. It was held a short time before the release of “Deathly Hallows.” Emotions were running high and speculation was rampant. The turnout was amazing and the feedback was also. I admit, I would have enjoyed being a participant at the event instead of an organizer! I am very proud of what was accomplished. I obviously was not alone in this. I must give a shout-out to Lani Revell, in particular, for her assistance. (Lani is currently the children’s librarian at the Lancaster branch of the L.A. Public Library).

What fandoms are you interested in aside from Harry Potter?

I consider myself a part-time fan of so many fandoms. Let’s see, the major ones would be “The Walking Dead,” “The Hunger Games,” and most currently I am obsessed with Supernatural. OMC, it’s amazing. I hope to attend a con soon. I’m really new to it, only four months in, but I’m on my third watch-through of all 12 seasons.

I am also currently passionate about GISHWHES (Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen). I just completed my first one. It was amazing and although it is being revamped for next year, I can’t wait for it! I’d be happy to bend the ear of anyone interested in hearing about it!

There are fans and then there are fans who make things happen. You definitely fall into the latter category. Why do you feel compelled to immerse yourself so completely in your pop cultural passions?

I just really enjoy knowing what’s going on, what theories are out there, and the complete immersion into like-minded groups. I am so passionate and so … let’s just say it, “bubbly” about my fandoms that I love to share them. When working at Barnes & Noble, I definitely have the opportunity to introduce others to books/movies/fandoms that I believe in. I guess my personality type just leads me to be this way.

Are you currently plotting/organizing/scheming anything related to a specific fandom?

I just finished GISHWHES and I am recovering from a broken leg and broken foot, so all my scheming is currently on the back burner. Why? Do you have something for me?

Ann-Laurel Nickel’s son, Carter, shares her love of fandoms. Here they are enjoying some Disneyland time together.

Does your family share your interests or have geeky interests of their own?

Oh, loaded question. Um … yes and no.  My husband enjoys Harry Potter and has submitted to its huge existence in our life — sometimes not very happily. Having been a devoted Star Trek and Star Wars fan, he understands my enthusiasm, although perhaps mine is a tad larger (he has owned a Star Trek uniform in the past though!)

For my birthday this year, he and our son surprised me with life-size standees of the three main “Supernatural” guys!  It was an unexpected and hilarious reveal. He also has his own passions. He is co-founder and current president of a local nonprofit organization, AV Freethinkers.  He spends many hours planning and executing their events and monthly meetings.

I am very proud to say I’ve reared my son to fully understand fandom immersion. For 12 years, he’s devoted himself to Disneyland — more specifically The Haunted Mansion. He’s had three YouTube shows, and countless number of cast member friends. He’s attended cons and been featured in articles and I think one documentary.

On our first visit to Hollywood’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, he was actually recognized by a fan of his Haunted Mansion YouTube show! During high school, he also started two clubs — The Secular Club, and The Animal Rights Club. Being vegan is his current passion and he hopes to found a club at his new college. He is a member of my Harry Potter group and is also into “Supernatural” with me. Did I say how proud of him I am?

What’s the next upcoming event or release you’re really excited about?

Hmm. Well, since “Fantastic Beasts 2” won’t be released for over a year, I do look forward to “The Last Jedi” in December. I’m really awaiting October’s premiere of both “The Walking Dead” season 8 and “Supernatural” season 13. This will be my first season of “Supernatural” watched in real time. Oh, the anticipation!

As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change in the world of geek culture or fandoms?

I actually haven’t personally experienced sexism in fandom, but I know it exists. The gaming community, especially, remains horribly misogynistic. I think a lot of this comes from the older fans (like of my age, ugh!) who don’t like change. I hope that as more women continue to develop and produce fan products, the old farts will die off and the new generation will accept female representation as the norm. Now don’t get me started about AGEISM … .

Ann-Laurel Nickel arrives for a substitute teaching assigntment in full Harry Potter garb on Back to Hogwarts Day.

Is there anything else we need to know about you (life, work, hobbies, etc.)?

Since my son just graduated high school, I am now able to substitute teach more often, and I try to infuse my love of fandoms and reading into each class I visit. I’m so sad to see that an entire group of kids has not read Harry Potter. It’s unthinkable. For example, on “Back to Hogwarts Day” — September 1st, if you didn’t know — I dressed in full Harry Potter attire and garb. The librarian at the school particularly enjoyed this and insisted on taking my photo to be added to her HP display.

Ann-Laurel describes herself as “house fluid,” embracing all the Hogwarts houses.

I’d like to conclude by asking you a few pressing Harry Potter questions:

Favorite book?

“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

Favorite character?

I seriously cannot name just one.

Hogwarts house?

I am “House Fluid.” I even have a shirt and a plaque that says so!

Wizarding subject you’d most like to study?

Transfiguration. Or maybe charms … .

Favorite magical creature?

Dobby

Most devastating character death?

You’re killing me here! Um … Dobby, Hedwig, Dumbledore, and Snape.

Worst movie?

Three. (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”)

Dream Harry Potter locale you’d like to visit?

Besides the actual Hogwarts? The Burrow.

Favorite Harry Potter item you own?

I can’t even remember everything I own!

Any advice for those of us who never got over the books coming to an end?

Cast an Obliviation spell on yourself and start reading the series again. That’s what I’d love to do! Other than that, find a new fandom to be passionate about. May I recommend “Supernatural” and/or GISHWHES? If you have a few hours I could tell you about them … .

About the Geek Goddess Interviews:

 
Our top priority at No Man’s Land blog is giving voice to fangirls who boldly pursue their geeky passions in whatever form they may take.

That’s why we chat weekly with a “Geek Goddess” whose devotion to her fandoms manifests itself in unique and inspiring ways. We hope these simple snapshots motivate other women to passionately embrace the fandoms they love and to do so with pride.

I’m always looking for interview subjects, so if you know someone who might be ideal, please respond via the comments, private message, or email, lavendervroman@gmail.com.

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