Harry Potter And The Trophy Of Fantasy Fandom
Because sometimes things are popular for good reasons
Okay, listen. I tried to think of a different series for this challenge, I really did. I’ve read plenty of amazing fantasy, so the choices were endless. HoWeVeR, when it comes to not only my favorite fantasy story but my favorite fantasy world, the one that has subjectively impacted and touched me the most, as well as the one I feel is objectively the most influential… well, I had to go with a more popular answer: Harry Potter.
I am a part of the generation that essentially grew up with Harry. I remember when the phenomenon first started popping off- I was maybe nine or ten when a bossy girl from my class waved Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone in everyone’s face and loudly said we needed to read it, it was so good. As a rule, I didn’t listen to anything that came out of her damn mouth, so I ignored it. Maybe a year or so later, my mom and my younger brother both started reading the books. They would often talk together about the characters and the world- they seemed so into it. And so was everyone else at this point.
Fact about me: I am the type of person who heavily resists new things that are extremely popular. I’m not one to embrace trends. If people are raving about something everywhere I look, I start to feel sick of it before I’ve even tried it for myself. I think, ‘it can’t possibly be THAT good,’ and resent being assaulted with it wherever I go. I form an idea of the thing that might be completely off base, but that makes me feel like I’ve already watched/read/done it already and found it lacking.
Yes, this kind of makes me a judgmental asshole. I have missed out on a lot of great fandoms this way, only giving the books a chance and jumping on the bandwagon once the hype died down and no one was talking about it anymore. I’d find myself obsessed with no one to talk to about it; no one would be making fan art or fiction anymore to feed my hunger. And I’d have only myself and my premature judgments to blame.
When the Harry Potter craze started really mounting up, I began experiencing that same pressed feeling whenever someone talked about it. “Harry Potter is so dumb,” I would declare to my mom and brother and literally anyone else who brought it up around me.
That was until the fateful day came that a simple event made me shut my own damn mouth. The event was this: I had nothing to read.
As a kid, reading was like breathing for me. I was so shy most people thought I was mute. I didn’t really make friends easily, or to be honest, have much interest in doing so. I spent all my spare time laying on my bed, on my stomach, turning pages and getting lost in books. Fantasy was my favorite: at eleven, I’d already read classics like Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia, among others.
Having no more books, and no way to go out and get them, I snuck into my brother’s room to raid his bookshelf. Most of the fiction books he had were about sports, the type I only read if I had no other option. But shoved among them I saw it: Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone. I hesitated before reaching out, grasping the spine and pulling it free.
Let me just look at this stupid thing, I thought haughtily, opening it up to the first chapter.
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much,” I read. The next thing I knew, an hour had passed and I was still sitting on my brother’s floor, reading. I could barely stop long enough to get up and go to my own room before he came back, I was too invested in the next chapter, and then the next.
And just like that, I was sucked past the point of no return. Well, this is awkward, I thought. How was I supposed to face all these people I spent the last year making fun of when I’d now become an even bigger fan than they were?
I kept it quiet for a while, but my Harry Potter mania was like the liquid in a much-shaken bottle in a freezing car and I couldn’t keep the cap on it forever before it exploded all over me and everyone standing within a mile radius.
What was the cause for my sudden (and long-lasting) obsession? Why these books over any other series? I didn’t think about it then, but I think I have a better understanding now, as a writer myself, what made these books so consuming and the world inside them so vibrant for me.
Right upfront, the premise totally sucked me in. As a loner kid who didn’t like going to school, the idea that this other, magical dimension existed with a school that taught spells and all this fun shit- it was like crack. Magical academies are big in publishing right now, but at the time, there weren’t really any books like this. The world was so exquisitely crafted that I believed it could be real; it felt rich and so well-thought-out. In many books I’ve read, the world seems crafted around the characters and plot so that it’s hard to picture it existing outside of the story. This was not the case with Harry Potter.
When JK Rowling revealed she had notebook upon notebook filled with random facts and history that never made it into the books, I was not surprised. The world really felt like that- like there was so much more to know beyond this story and Harry’s point of view. I would look out the window of my bus and wonder if a shut-down shop was really the entrance to a wizarding establishment, disguised from my Muggle eyes. I would pray nightly for my Hogwarts letter, hoping maybe it just got lost in the mail.
The characters felt just as rich and vibrant as the world they lived in. Rowling’s notebooks also contained a lot of unused character backstory, and it shows. They felt fully real enough to exist outside of the premise of the story. This was especially true in the case of Severus Snape, who became my favorite from book one and is responsible for my obsession with morally grey, complex characters. My Snape obsession grew into a beast of its own and I could write a WHOLE other essay on that, but suffice to say for about a decade I think my friends and family actually thought I was mentally ill due to the sheer amount of space he took up rent-free in my brain.
The book being limited to Harry’s point of view also gave it a sort of relatability that it would not have had if, say, there was omniscient narration instead. Sometimes an intro chapter will break away from this mold, but typically throughout the series, at any given point, you only know as much as Harry does. You’re going through each trial, loss, and success with him and the suspense of each discovery he makes is immaculate. I was the same age as Harry in the first book when I started reading the series, and when book 7 came out, I was 17, the same age as Harry in his final year. My adolescence was marred by a lot of mental health issues coming to light, and the Harry Potter books were totally a comfort series for me. When I felt stressed or overwhelmed or depressed, I would open to any part of the books and begin to read. There was something so calming for me in escaping to the Wizarding World and to someone else’s problems.
Of course, Harry faced much bigger problems than my own (I did not have a dark lord trying to kill me, surprisingly) but he walked toward each one even when he was terrified or clueless, and always came out of the scary stuff alive. The thing that made this different from other protagonists in books I’d read, is that Harry was completely ordinary. There was literally nothing special about him. The reason he was famous was that he survived an attempt on his life as an infant, not because of some insane power he had, but because of his mother’s sacrifice for him. He goes through all the books being this normal kid who’s kind of average in school and gets by in some situations by the skin of his teeth, lucky timing, and a couple of elementary spells. This not only makes him more relatable, but it makes his triumphs all the more empowering and encouraging for the reader.
As I got older, I came across people who would shit on the Harry Potter series for ‘not being well-written’ due to the simplicity of the language used, how easy it was to read. Certain fantasy buffs would scoff if you dared to rank Harry Potter with classic, canon works. Man, though, do I have to say- one thing I’ve learned from writing all these years is that a simple style like you see in Harry Potter is about the hardest thing to pull of. It’s quite the opposite of lazy writing: every sentence has to count, every word must be considered. This 'beach-read’ feel also allows for a light, enjoyable, and widely accessible read; it helps you to get so totally immersed you forget you’re even reading a book.
I would be amiss if I didn’t mention how Harry Potter was my gateway into the world of fan fiction. I wrote several fanfics set in the Harry Potter world (the bulk of them centered around Snape. No one is surprised)
At the time it felt kind of like a guilty pleasure, something I was doing instead of working on my original work. But in the long run, fanfic was incredibly useful for me as a writer. By already providing the world and the characters to me, I could focus on fine-tuning my voice and smaller elements like dialogue and description- the actual elements of language. People don’t say fan fiction is great practice for nothing, and the Harry Potter world was so full of deep characters and interesting concepts that there was no end of ‘what-if’s to explore, especially when the books were still coming out.
Even today, Harry Potter helps me in my original work. One thing I always like to do when sculpting my characters is to figure out what Hogwarts house they would belong in. After sorting them, I like to figure out what each person’s boggart would be, and what form their Patronus would take. These exercises are not only WAY FUN, but help me to really get an understanding of my own characters, their worst fears, and deepest natures.
And so it is that at the end of the day, I have to cast my vote for Harry Potter as the best fantasy fandom, both on a subjective and objective level. They are much more to so many people than a mainstream fad or stories written for kids. In fact, the amazingly gifted Philip Pullman said of his His Dark Materials series something that always stuck with me:
I don't write for children: I write books that children read. Some clever adults read them too.
I very much think the same thing is true of the Harry Potter series, and I do think that all the best ‘children’s’ or ‘ya’ books are those that transcend age.
There’s so much great fantasy out there, but I literally can’t think of any other books that have inspired years of conventions focused solely on those books alone. I’ve been to a few of them and they’re the most fun I’ve had in my life, no lie. It turns out that we ‘Potterheads’ tend to have a lot more in common than just our love for the books. I’ve met some of the best kindred-spirited people ever through Harry Potter cons, that I wouldn’t stand a chance meeting in my small town. Such a community has formed around these events, and you really get to know the people who show up year after year. The fandom at times feels like a big family, and attending a good convention feels like coming home.
You could call it a fad, but the fact remains that people are still organizing Harry Potter events now, over a decade after the last book was released. The last one I attended was just before the pandemic. People my age and much older are still making up recipes for butterbeer, taking sorting quizzes, and cosplaying as our favorite witches and wizards. The fan art and fanfic in this fandom are still running strong, and I can’t think of any other fandom that has invoked an entire genre of music (look up Wizard Wrock. Just do it.)
Anyway, I have pled my case and now I will leave it up to the jury. I just have to warn you that I am a Ravenclaw and therefore I know what I’m talking about when it comes to books.
Hope you enjoyed reading! Leave a heart down below if you loved it, or send a tip if you *really* loved it (jk, totally not necessary). I write lots and regularly post to Vocal, so subscribe for updates! xx Raist