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Allow Us to Explain
Of the many (
many) fandoms that have cropped up over the past century, the Harry Potter fandom is one of the most impressive. "Pottermania" has been documented at some time or another by virtually every news stations in America, and I'm assuming Britain and many other western countries as well. J.K. Rowling inspires nothing if not a loyal following of people, but at some point things seem to have gotten a little out of her control.
And though the series technically ended four years ago, even the most hardcore of book purists would be hard pressed to win an argument against the mark the movie franchise has had on helping to make the Harry Potter series even more lasting than it might have been otherwise. And for what could be considered the core of the fandom, those who largely stayed the same age as Harry & friends throughout the latter books, the movies may represent something slightly different.
Like many of my friends, I was roughly Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint's age when they were cast in the films. I personally had discovered the books not long before that. I, along with the rest of the world, saw the Vanity Fair article featuring the very first images of little Danny as Harry in the cupboard under the stairs. A generation of kids not only watched these actors grow up in front of them on screen, but actually grew up with them. For these people this series has taken up literally half of their (and my) lifetime. It's not the end of an era because the series is "ending" (it will never end, not for us), it is the end of an era because for many of us it represents the closing of what has been one of the largest chapters of our lives. If there are no more midnight releases to dress up and congregate for, does that mean we now have to hand up our robes and enter adulthood ready to leave our fanhood days behind us? Is childhood over? (in some ways yes, in some ways hell no). Whether or not you agree with the evolution of Hermione's hair the re-assignment of Ron's lines, or the strange violent anger of Michael Gambon's Dumbledore (I vehemently disagree with at least two of those choices on the film makers' part), it's kind of hard to over estimate the power these films have had.
With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 being released later this week, effectively putting an end to the franchise itself (until the BBC miniseries in 2024, of course), we thought we'd take a look at the group of fans who prove that even when Warner Bros. have stopped making billions off of it, the Potter legacy will live on.
The Harry Potter Alliance
The HP Alliance is one of the largest examples of the politics of the books being applied to do real world good. Founded by
Andrew Slack in 2007, it was meant to shine a light on the genocide in Sudan through an analogy that was sure to reach the zillions of Harry Potter fans worldwide. Describing the founding of the organization, Slack said (emphasis ours): "The Harry Potter parallel to Darfur is simple: With both the Ministry of Magic and the Daily Prophet in denial that Voldemort has returned and evil is afoot, Harry and his underground rebel group, 'Dumbledore’s Army,' work with the adult group, 'The Order of the Phoenix,' to awake the world.
We in the Alliance seek to be Dumbledore’s Army for the real world, working with anti-genocide organizations, to wake our governments, corporations and media up to the fact that 'never again' means 'never again.'
Since its founding, HPA has expanded the repertoire of evil that they fight, championing literacy, equality, human rights, media reform, climate crisis, child slavery, and a whole lot more. In February 2010 they put together a massive fundraiser after the earthquake in Haiti, raising over $125,000 and using the money to send five planes full of aid to the suffering country. The planes were named Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, and DFTBA (Don't Forget to be Awesome).
In 2007 even J.K. Rowling herself commented on the work the organization was doing: "It's incredible, it's humbling, and it's uplifting to see people going out there and doing that in the name of your character. What did my books preach against throughout? Bigotry, violence, struggles for power, no matter what. All of these things are happening in Darfur. So they really couldn't have chosen a better cause." Given Rowling's own past involvement with Amnesty International, as well as all the charity work she's done since coming into those billions of dollars, and considering the political themes presented throughout her books, it's no surprise that fans rallied to do their own good with her work as a jumping-point.
Quidditch was just a game in a book, where people flew around on broomsticks and tried not to get murdered (or was that just Harry?). But never ones to pass up a chance to bring the wizarding world closer to their own, fans took what they were given and ran with it, adapting it so it was more physically possible to perform in the muggle world.
In muggle quidditch, the sport is played largely as it is in the books: there are fourteen players and four positions on a team (seeker, chaser, beater, and keeper). They do not fly, but rather run around a field holding a broom between their legs (one of the challenges of the sport is handling the quaffle and bludgers with one hand). The snitch, instead of being a small, flying, little trouble maker, is a large trouble maker, usually taking the form of an acrobat or track runner dressed entirely in yellow, who is allowed to run anywhere (on the field or off) while being pursued by the seeker.
Think it sounds silly? It is. But it's also surprisingly epic. Colleges around the country have been playing the sport for years; even forming the Intercollegiate Quidditch Association (IQA), which was founded on the campus of Middlebury College, one of the first schools to get serious about the sport. It's been described as a mash-up of a number of different sports, including rugby, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. Oh, and people dress up in things like capes and robes and top hats. It's both badass and dapper.
My first concert ever was a Wizard Rock concert. I was fourteen, and I went to see Harry and the Potters and Draco and the Malfoys duke it out over who could sing about a book the hardest. At the time there were probably less than 100 wizard rock bands (Harry and the Potters being the founders, followed by acts like Draco and the Malfoys, The Whomping Willows, The Remus Lupins, and The Moaning Murtles), bolstered by the Myspace music boom that was happening at the time. These days, there are over 880 wrock bands out there, and many convene at festivals like
Wrockstock and at fan conventions.
One of the most popular locations of wizard rock concerts are libraries. When you're singing about a world you read about in a book, why not surround yourself with books? The only problem with this seems to arise when innocuous parents being their young, innocent children to a wrock show only to discover that approximately 75% of the songs revolve around the sex lives of one character or another. Just take a look at the titles of some songs by The Whomping Willow: "When You Touched Me In That Special Place," "I've Had Harry Potter Inside of Me," "Crawl Through My Treehole," and "In Which Draco and Harry Secretly Want to Make Out" are only a few, and The Moaning Murtles' entire discography is pretty much an ode to how hot they think the boys of Hogwarts are. And then there's this.
Despite the occasional accidental exposure of children to NSFW material, wizard rock really is a very wholesome genre. After all, like many things inspired by Jo Rowling's creation, it follows the tenants of love and friendship laid out in the books. At its heart, wizard rock is just a community of people who loved a story and its characters and the world surrounding it so much and in such strong numbers that they've created a lasting musical genre out of it. They wanted to step into those roles and take part in what Jo Rowling laid out, and so they did. In song, no less. It's part fanfic, part filk, but fully wizard.
A Very Potter Musical
Perhaps the most famous and widely beloved parody of the
Harry Potter series, went viral in April 2009. A mish-mash of all the books with some fan-fantasized stuff thrown in, A Very Potter Musical A Very Potter Musical followed Harry & Co. through roughly books four through seven, as well as a little of book one, and...
You know what? It's complicated. The production also introduced fans of the show to Quirrelmort, a shockingly touching ship between Quirrel and Lord Voldemort. They're plotting the death of the beloved Harry Potter, but all we can focus on when they're on stage is how cute they are attached to each other's backs, and how disturbing it is to find Voldemort that hot. It's all fantastically silly (what else would you expect from a show featuring a number in which Voldy tap dances to celebrate his return?), but like any worthwhile Harry Potter venture it's got a whole lot of heart to back it up. It taught us that Hufflepuffs are surprisingly good finders, that Zac Efron is an integral part of the wizarding world, and that Draco is a girl who likes to roll around on the floor a lot. It also proved the superiority of Red Vines over Twizzlers.
The show featured the talents of a group of University of Michigan students (who used the opportunity to launch their own theater troupe, Starkid Productions) who wrote and rehearsed the show together over the course of only a couple of weeks. Joey Richter (Ron), Bonnie Grueson (Hermione), Joe Walker (Voldemort), Brian Rosenthal (Quirrel), Lauren Lopez (Draco), and Jamie-Lyn Beattie(Ginny) were all introduced to the powers of the HP fandom when the show took off. Oh, and Darren Criss. He became an overnight mainstream success when the video for his first song on premiered, but by then he already came equipped with an army of fans who'd been following his every move since he made his public debut as Glee Harry.
AVPM also produced a sequel (aptly titled A Very Potter Sequel), which premiered at Infinitus 2010, one of the biggest annual Harry Potter conventions held by the HP Educational Fanon.
Also now we want to go to Pigfarts. And so does Tom Felton.
Wizard People, Dear Readers
The presence of this particular entry on this list could be contested by the fact that it is perhaps the only one not created by fans (rather it was created by a man who had never read the books, but saw ample opportunity in mocking the films), but it has become so popular among both fans and outsiders that we couldn't let it just slip by.
For those unaware,
Wizard People, Dear Reader is an alternative (unauthorized) dub of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, a narrative retelling created by comic book artist Brad Neely. The idea arose after a long night of drinking (natch), when Neely mused about the potential hilarity of an audio track telling a completely misinformed version of the story almost every body else already knew. So he recorded it. In 2004, at the New York Underground Theater Festival, a copy of the film version of Sorcerer's Stone was rented and screened on mute, with Neely's soundtrack played instead. Soon after, copies of the recording were made available for free download, and other theaters followed suit with screenings. Then Warner Bros. found out. Notorious for their dogged pursuit of laying claim to their copyright, the studio told theaters to cancel all showings of Neely's version of the film. If they refused, Warner Bros. wouldn't only take legal action, they'd pull all Warner Bros. films from future screenings at those theaters. The fight between Neely's supporters and the studio is now famous within the Potter fandom; according to some, Neely appropriated the plot and characters and interlaced them with humor, which constituted itself as a separate work of art.
So why did Wizard People become such a big hit? Well, it's frakking hilarious, that's why. Neely's gravelly, twisted voice quite a sound to hear while mangling J.K. Rowling's story. He also almost exclusively refers to characters by his own interpretation of their names: Hermiony as Harmony, Snape as Snake, Dumbledore as Near-Dead-Dumbledore, and Ron as Ronnie the Bear. Take this excerpt, from the scene where Harry wins his first Quidditch (or, rather, "Cribbage" match):
"Harry feels right with himself. He’s down there, a new god who has found his calling. He holds up the Snitch and bellows: “I am a beautiful animal! I am a destroyer of worlds! I am Harry Fucking Potter!” And dear reader, at last, the world was quiet."
I don't think much more needs to be said.
One of the most notable things about the
Harry Potter fandom is that, with the gaps between the releases of each book, and the mysteries inevitably raised in such an astoundingly intricate story, there was ample room (and invitation) for fan theorizing of what was to come, and what everything meant. Was Snape evil? How far exactly did the connection between Harry and Voldemort go? Who was most likely to die in the final installment? And, earlier, who the hell was R.A.B?
Serving as one of the most public centers of these discussions were the two biggest fansites surrounding the franchise, Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron, and their respective podcasts, Mugglecast and Pottercast. Both in existence since 2005, the shows have spent upwards of 200 episodes each discussing every topic under the Harry Potter sun, from news, to casting, to hours upon hours of theorizing and analysis of the meaning and personality behind JK Rowling's work. Also interviewing numerous big names involved in Harry Potter (including Jim Dale, Mary Grandpre, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch (who was a listener of Mugglecast before being cast in the films), Rupert Grint, Alfonso Cuaron, and others), the people behind the podcasts have become celebrities in the fandom on their own right, drawing crowds of hundreds (if not thousands) to the live tapings of the shows. Emerson Spartz and Melissa Anelli, the heads of Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron respectively, interviewed JK Rowling to mark the release of the sixth book. Both Spartz and Anelli went on to write books about Potter, Anelli with her combination memoir/rundown of the Potter fandom, Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon, and Spartz teaming up with fellow Mugglenet staffers Ben Scheon, Andy Gordon, Gretchen Stull, and Jamie Lawrence to write the theory book What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7, followed by another collaboration with Scheon with Harry Potter Should Have Died: Controversial Views From the #1 Fan Site.
Both Mugglecast and Pottercast have reached the number one podcast rankings on iTunes, and even after the release of the final book, both podcasts have continued on, moving into less frequent episodes featuring chapter-by-chapter and character analyses, as well as any news breaking around the franchise (i.e: Pottermore).
It's almost impossible to talk about Harry Potter without talking about Harry Potter fanfiction. It remains the most searched for term in fanfiction related searches, and as of June of this year, FanFiction.net has more than half a billion distinct works of Harry Potter-based fics. You'd be hard pressed indeed to find a Harry Potter fan who was unaware of the immense library of wild, unnoficial literature that thunders across the internet.
As fanfiction goes, it's like any other fandom: there's the good, and the bad. Because the fandom is very large and diverse in both age and background, there's a lot of each category. For the bad, well, we'd be remiss if we, The Mary Sue, didn't address the fact that a lot of Harry Potter fanfiction is dominated by Mary Sues. And the number of 5th houses of Hogwarts we've seen invented for them (that is, if they aren't immediately sorted into Slytherin or Griffyindor) would fill a city block. But as you may have guessed, we have a sort of "love the sinner, hate the sin" philosophy here regarding that particular characteristic of bad writing: the urge to create Mary Sues is pretty universal in anyone who has ever wanted to join a fictional world (the writers of this blog not excluded), and it's a testament to the world J.K. Rowling fabricated that so many people have wanted to be a part of it.
Stumbling blocks on the road to becoming better writers aside, there are even parts of Harry Potter fanfiction that have dribbled out of the fan ether and into the realms that dangerously approach canon, namely, Sirius/Remus. If you ever looked at the stray line in
Prisoner of Azkaban that says that Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, two canonically straight men, "embraced like brothers" and thought "Embraced like brothers, my ass!" know that you are not alone. Sirius/Remus as a pairing has spawned some of the best fanfiction this humble Power Grid writer has ever read, and, according to David Thewlis, who portrays Remus in the films, just between him and Alfonso Cuarón it was totally canon.
If you've read the books, seen the movies, conversed with fans of the series, and taken part in any of the above HP fan world activities, it is no secret that the movies are controversial among much of the fanbase. Transferring any literary story from page to screen is a challenge; doing so with one of the most beloved sagas in history--to the satisfaction of its hundreds of millions of fans--is damn near impossible.
And though it may seem dubious to include a billion dollar film franchise on a list of the doings of fans, these movies wouldn't have happened if
Harry Potter had just done OK upon publication. And so it comes back to the fans; those who lined up for the midnight release of a book (a rare thing indeed before J.K. Rowling came around), those who would follow these characters and the women who created them to the end of the world the trust levels were so high, those who never hesitated to let the studio know when they thought something they were doing was absolute bollocks. As J.K. Rowling said in her speech of the London premiere of the final Harry Potter film, "no story lives unless someone wants to listen." You've listened well, guys. Let's see what happens next.
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