The Fan's Journey
Getting from Here to "Scar" and Beyond
By Jason Edwards
One wonders how life might have been different for young Harry Potter, had he only been told a few additional pieces of information on his eleventh birthday. Finding out he was a wizard, and some of the truth about his parents and their murderer, was certainly shocking enough, it’s true. But what if someone had also explained to him that he was the hero of an epic series of books, destined to face down evil once a year, and go through some very harrowing experiences along the way? Of course this would have seemed unbelievably strange, even in comparison to the other news. But there’s no doubt it would have left Harry better prepared for the coming years—especially if he were already familiar with the traditional literary structure of the Hero’s Journey.1
Harry never had the benefit of such a road map to his future, but there are other heroes of the Harry Potter phenomenon, for whom it is not too late. These heroes, of course, are the loyal fans—the Hero-Readers—who bravely struggle from one day to the next, waiting and hoping for the last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to arrive.
This essay is intended to be both a guide to, and an analysis of, the Fan’s Journey from the sixth to the seventh book. Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth structure, as developed in his important book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, is the lens through which this journey will be examined and understood. The Monomyth (which itself finds inspiration in the works of great thinkers who came before Campbell)2 has inspired further study by countless subsequent scholars, coming to be known more commonly today by the familiar phrase: “The Hero’s Journey.”3 What follows is a description of the Fan’s Journey through the three major sections of Campbell’s Monomyth structure, broken down into the sixteen stages that comprise them.
Departure: “Now What?”
Just as for Campbell’s Hero, the first part of the journey that the Hero-Reader must experience is called Departure,4 or sometimes, Separation.5 This is where the erstwhile EveryFan leaves her Ordinary World and embarks on her quest to navigate that perilous stretch of time between reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and the mysterious Deathly Hallows. Chances are good that readers of this essay have already completed all components of this stage in their own personal journeys; nevertheless, it is the intention of this essay to examine this section in the same detail as the others. In addition to purely scholarly purposes, there may also be some benefit for those who might gain some insight into their own recent journey, or the journey they know a friend or loved one is soon to embark upon.
The Call to Adventure: Those Nasty Cliffhangers
The journey begins with The Call to Adventure.6 For the Hero-Reader, this call might seem subtle, and perhaps not be recognized at all for what it is. It all starts when the last word of Half-Blood Prince has been read, the book is closed, and our Hero-Reader exclaims out loud to no one in particular: “Wait—so is Snape actually bad after all?” Other questions jostle and fight for attention. “Who’s R.A.B.?” “Where are the other Horcruxes?” “When will Trevor the Toad have his day?” These may persist for some time.
Eventually, the Hero-Reader slows down her brain long enough to let the big thought sink in: I’m going to be trying to answer these questions—obsessing over them perhaps—and I won’t know the real answers until the final book comes out. How am I going to last until then?
Refusal of the Call: “Oh, No He Didn’t!”
Sometimes a Hero, heroic though he may be, does not immediately answer the Call to Adventure. This is known as the Refusal of the Call,7 and he will have his reasons for it. The Hero-Reader is by no means an exception to this phenomenon, and many are the fans who, upon reading the concluding events of Half-Blood Prince, felt so upset and betrayed that they refused to go on. Perhaps some voiced sentiments along these lines: “There’s no way that Snape killed Dumbledore—it makes no sense! I’m not reading any more of this.” There are even those who can point fondly to a dent in their wall, made by the book in question, when it was hurled in anger or alarm from the upset, would-be Hero-Reader’s grasp. (It has been posited by some that the freezer is an excellent place to keep a book that so offends or frightens;8 but that theory is beyond the scope of this essay.)
Most that experience this initial refusal to enter the journey to Deathly Hallows eventually overcome their difficulties and embrace the adventure ahead like the true Hero-Readers they are. Sometimes, if they simply cannot reconcile certain revelations in the book to their own beliefs or hopes about the series, they will still find a way, intrepid adventurers that they are, to answer The Call to Adventure. If this means writing fan fiction about sunken ships, or creating websites to argue that what we think happened didn’t really happen,9 then that’s all the more reason to admire these extraordinary efforts that have allowed them to answer the call on their own terms.
Supernatural Aid: The Leaky Cauldron to the Rescue
Once the call has been answered, and the Hero-Reader has accepted the role of Fan-in-waiting for Deathly Hallows, she will be in great need of support from a guide—one familiar with the road ahead. Hence this step of the Hero’s Journey is often referred to as The Meeting with the Mentor10 (never to be confused with a Meeting with the Dementor, which nearly without fail is nothing but bad news). And for once the Hero-Reader catches a break: Wise Mentors are there to be found, in great numbers, if one knows where to look.
In fact, the beauty of the Supernatural Aid,11 in this particular journey, is that it is not provided by a single being, but by the wholeness of the Harry Potter fandom: a truly passionate and diverse community composed entirely of fellow Hero-Readers. Collectively, the fandom serves as the necessary Mentor to each individual fan, who in turn feeds knowledge and support back into it to guide others. This author feels confident in stating that nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than within that family of online resources known collectively as The Leaky Cauldron.12 From breaking news to discussion boards, from exclusive content to wonderful entertainment, there’s no better guide to be had for any Hero-Reader on her journey.
The Crossing of the First Threshold: Caring Enough to Ask the Tough Questions
This is a simple, but crucial step for the Hero-Reader. For any Hero, The Crossing of the First Threshold13 signifies that the old life has been left behind, and the future is unknown. It’s giving oneself over to the journey and whatever adventures lay ahead. For many Hero-Readers, who have survived one or more previous journeys from one book to the next, this might seem insignificant. They already have accepted this journey on a grander scale; they already know the source of their Supernatural Aid. But there is something new—something unique—about this last step in the series. The wait between Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows is of a different magnitude, not only because of the many unanswered questions fans were left with, but because of the knowledge that this stage of the journey culminates in the book that will be the final word on the series—the final official word on Harry. And crossing that threshold to adventure is as simple as daydreaming about how Grawp will possibly figure into the conclusion of the story, or any of the countless other ponderings one might have. At that point, the Hero-Reader has entered the world of the unknown, to grapple with questions and fears, committed to navigating that desolate stretch of time between books.
The Belly of the Whale: Lost in Cyberspace
Once our Hero-Reader has moved beyond the First Threshold, the sense of unknown can become overwhelming to her. Perhaps she wanders into an online forum where fellow readers seem to have already thought of every possible angle on the final book—twice—and are now resorting to obscure research and insane theories to maintain their interest. “This is all too much!” the Hero-Reader might cry out to herself. “I’m in too deep; why, oh why, did I embark upon this journey?” This can be a time of confusion and self-doubt. The Hero-Reader has left her old life behind, and seems very much to have been consumed by the world of Harry Potter fandom. Her friends and family, perceptive as they are, may make sarcastic comments about her being “sucked in” or “swallowed up.” It’s no wonder that Campbell called this stage of the Hero’s Journey The Belly of the Whale.14 It might be frightening, but it’s by enduring this stage that the Hero-Reader embraces her new life and discards the old, foolish life that would have been content not to think about Harry Potter again until happening to notice Deathly Hallows on a library shelf. And at that point, she’s ready to move on to the next important section of her journey.
Initiation: “What Do I Do in the Meantime?”
Having made it through the Belly of the Whale, the Hero-Reader will move through the central stages of her adventure: The Initiation,15 as Campbell called this portion of the Journey. It is in this section that the Hero-Reader proves herself worthy of receiving the prize she seeks, by toughing out many tasks and experiencing many adventures. This is the longest stage, by far, of the journey; fortunately, there is much of value and interest for the Hero-Reader to discover along the way.