What makes the world of Harry Potter fandom such an attractive place for so many people? No doubt there are many smart and devoted writers who can provide an entertaining and informative answer to that question with a good deal of confidence in their research. I do not intend to toss my name into that particular goblet, but rather to volunteer a personal case study of sorts – a look at one fan’s journey from skeptic to true believer. My hope is that this essay will not only prove to be amusing, but that it also might shed some light, by way of one individual’s account, on that which is universal in the shared experiences of Harry Potter fanatics. This is the story of how I embraced the Potter madness.
Four months ago, the concept of hardcore Harry Potter fandom was as incomprehensible to me as the Internet might be to Ron Weasley. (Well, I suppose I’d have had Ron beat, since at least I knew in a general sort of way that these fanatics existed.) I was, by then, a casual Harry Potter fan already, having eased into it by first seeing the movies. Watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in the theater (and finding myself absolutely charmed by the story) was, I think, what caused me to finally give in and read the books – something I had been resisting up to that point.
Once the decision had been made to read the books, I tore through the five that were available with increasing excitement and recklessness, barely coming up for air, but perhaps not dwelling on them long enough to get completely taken in. What else can explain the fact that I did not read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince until more than a month after it was released? Somehow, inexplicably, I was not completely hooked yet. (Perhaps I had been suffering from a particularly nasty Confundus Charm when I read the first five?) At any rate, it was HBP that finally solidified my status as a devoted fan of the series. And more than that, it set me on the path to joining the other crazies, although I didn’t know it at the time. Let’s take a look at two short passages from the September 12, 2005 entry in my online journal. The first reveals my reluctance to fully admit to liking Harry Potter:
“I recently read the latest Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (Obviously, I have read the previous five books as well). I’ve become a pretty big fan of the Harry Potter books, and think that this latest was one of the best ones so far. I always feel like I have to qualify my enjoyment of these books, I guess because they’re supposedly children’s books...”
This next passage, funnily enough, hints at my genuine shock and amusement upon discovering that people would take the time to write thoughtful and passionate essays about Harry Potter (imagine that!).
“Somehow, even though I understood in a general sense how popular Harry Potter is, I was blown away by how much of the internet is devoted to Harry Potter, and just how detailed people get with their analysis, theorizing, and questioning. I actually found a very long essay devoted entirely to demonstrating that Harry and Hermione are not suitable for becoming romantically involved in the future (which I take it is one of the major areas of fan speculation).”
Now, a mere sixty days later, one may find the following passage written in my online journal, in an entry dated November 11, 2005:
“Last note for the morning – I want to acknowledge the website that I have been wasting most of my time at lately, it’s actually a Harry Potter fansite called The Leaky Cauldron. Yes, that’s right. It was only a few months ago that I wrote an entry marveling at, probably somewhat snobbishly, the bizarre world of Harry Potter internet fandom. Well, they have turned me to the dark side.”
The entry continued, mentioning that I had been listening regularly to PotterCast (a Harry Potter podcast produced by the Leaky Cauldron staff, for those who aren’t in the know) and posting messages on the Leaky Lounge (the Leaky Cauldron’s message boards). Then there was this admission:
“Recently I have been spending too much time with it, though, even going so far as to write some song parodies with Harry Potter themes, then record myself singing them and send them in. (And oh yes, they got played on the podcast!)”
Now, while I may still be a newbie of sorts, and not as well-versed in the intricacies of Harry Potter as many of the people I have met, I don’t think there can be any doubt that by the time of that November 12 journal entry, I had been completely taken in by the magic. One doesn’t sing songs about Harry Potter (and let other people actually hear them) unless one has fully embraced that world. And one certainly doesn’t take the time to familiarize oneself with the known details of the life of Stubby Boardman, former lead singer of the Hobgoblins, without good reason. So what happened in those two months between journal entries? What did I discover that changed my stance so dramatically?
It all starts with the books. I know, I know, sounds like something Hermione would say, doesn’t it? But it’s true. If J.K. Rowling were not writing a story that resonated with so many people, then of course I would not be writing this and you would not be reading it. But it’s safe to say that we understand that already. There are other great stories out there, though – is there something particular about this one that made me willing, in spite of my preconceived notions about such things, to enter the world of internet fandom?
What begins to give the Harry Potter fandom its life, I think, is the fact that Rowling is not only telling us a story, but creating a world. And it happens to be a wonderfully creative world, with numerous places, ideas, and societies to explore that have only been hinted at. It’s a world that many of us would love to find ourselves in, and it has so many ties to the world we actually live in that it is not hard for us to imagine that it could really exist.
This was, I suppose, what got me hunting around online in the first place. I had just read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and not surprisingly I had a lot of questions about some of the more shocking and mysterious events in the book. I was invested enough in the storyline and the world Rowling created (along with the characters that inhabited it) that I felt the desire to seek out likeminded people and read their thoughts about it. But surely that was as deep as the whole fandom thing went, right? Just some people posting theories and such, waiting until the final book comes out?
Wrong again, of course. And had it just been that, I can’t believe that I would have stuck around for long. But there’s something about this community of Harry Potter fans. No matter how different we are, we all know at least one thing about each other – we have been touched, or inspired, or entertained by the story of The Boy Who Lived. And that, I believe, truly does go a long way. It comforts me to know that, regardless of what is being discussed on the message board, if I make a comment referencing something from one of the books, people will know what I am talking about. After all, aren’t inside jokes, shared experiences, and similar interests some of the great things about having a close group of friends that you know well? In some ways, participating in this fan community is like that. I think this observation begins to bring us closer to understanding what the appeal of being a fanatic is, to a person like me. Like a Niffler with a faulty nose, I have been sniffling and snuffling around the edges of this idea, and now perhaps can finally zero in on the shiny heart of it.
This is what the world of Potter fandom offers me: It offers me a chance to interact with (and even become friends with) interesting people from all over the world, who I would be unlikely to meet in my day to day life; it offers me a safe place to flex some of my sillier creative muscles, for an audience that I know will be generally appreciative of my efforts; it offers me assurances that I’m not crazy for being an adult fan of books which are, at least in principle, written for children; and it gives me a place I can come for a guaranteed smile, a frequent chuckle, and an occasional belly laugh.
If there is a more general insight to be extracted from all of this, it might simply be that, although we all embrace the Harry Potter fandom for our own reasons, there is also some commonality in it which unites us – something that is deeper and more complex than our basic love of the books that brought us there in the first place. It may not be easy to describe, but it can be known by experiencing it. The world of Harry Potter fandom exists because of the books, it exists to talk about the books, but it also in many ways transcends the books. And that is a delicate and powerful piece of magic that even we, as Muggles, should take the time to appreciate.
Edwards, Jason. “Harry Potter and the World of Internet Fandom…” Meditations on Sloth. 2005. Hosted by LiveJournal. 18 January,2006. http://www.livejournal.com/users/jasondedrick/2005/09/12/.
———. “Spidey’s New Opponent and my New Way of Wasting Time…” Meditations on Sloth. 2005. Hosted by LiveJournal. 18 January, 2006. http://www.livejournal.com/users/jasondedrick/2005/11/11/.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005 (abbreviated as HBP).