From Books to Blogs: Harry Potter and Social Media
Abstract: Originally written for a college communications course, this essay analyzes the use of social media networks, as it relates to the Harry Potter community. Through the creation of an online environment that is enhanced by social media capabilities, the fans themselves have initiated a growth of community centered around a common interest and have also helped perpetuate the Harry Potter series, even after it has come to an end. Ultimately, the creation of community and perpetuation of the series, resonates with the themes of friendship and love presented in the Harry Potter series.
The New York Times has called Harry Potter “one of the most successful book publishing sensations of all time” and referred to the movie franchise, based off the book series, as “hugely successful” (“Harry Potter”). These statements are not surprising. Inspiring a huge fan-base since the publication of the first novel, the Harry Potter series has become a worldwide phenomenon, captivating fans for years. In fact, the series has become so popular that devoted fans have taken the responsibility upon themselves to create the best experience possible around this magical series. This sense of responsibility has initiated fan-led responses, ranging from midnight book and film releases, to the creation of a structured and organized sports league (based off a game in the series), to the creation of a genre of music called Wizard Rock (“Harry Potter fandom”). This feeling of responsibility is also accountable for the creation of online social media sites dedicated to the Harry Potter series, which have acted as an incredibly important part of the fan experience. Through the use of social media, fans of the Harry Potter series have acted as the driving force behind the promotion of community and the preservation of the series, by means of fan-to-fan interactions.
From its very beginning, fans have fallen in love with Harry Potter, the story of an ordinary boy who discovers that he is a wizard. Over the course of seven novels, Harry's story is told. Attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry spends time with his friends, learns about different subjects relating to magic, frequently chats with enchanted talking portraits and ghosts, and navigates his school by means of moving staircases. At first glance, it seems that Harry has an exciting and easy-going life. However, throughout the series, Harry is confronted with great danger. Lord Voldemort, the dark wizard who tries to kill Harry as a baby, in attempts to gain control over the wizard world, presents the main conflict in each novel. With every passing novel, Lord Voldemort becomes more and more powerful, but despite all his attempts, he is defeated by Harry in the final book.
The first novel of the Harry Potter series was published in 1997. Due to both its enchanting plot and many of its themes, the whole series has become an international sensation, popular among both children and adults. Eventually, a movie franchise was made and it became one of the world’s highest-grossing film series (“Harry Potter”). But what has now become such a huge success, started off as a small idea. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, states that “the idea for Harry Potter simply fell into [her] head” (“It All Started...”). At the time, she had no idea how successful this idea would make her. Now, after fourteen long and successful years, the books and movies have finally come to an end. However, that does not mean fans have given up on the series that has enticed them for so long.
In an age where technology was improving rapidly and internet use was becoming much more common, internet-based Harry Potter fan sites began to appear. Created and run by fans, these fan sites aimed at enhancing the Harry Potter experience. With the click of a mouse, the fandom was born. In his dissertation, Paul Booth defines "fandom" as a “collective community, not fans as individual audience members,” that center around a theme in popular culture (Booth 11). It is with the introduction of these fan-based Harry Potter websites that a mass collection of fans began to form around the series. Through these online websites, fans were able to take control of their own interests for Harry Potter, create large social communities and perpetuate the series.
One of these fan sites is MuggleNet. Created in 1999, MuggleNet's purpose was to provide news about the series and information about the books to fans, and today it has expanded so greatly, that it calls itself the world's number one Harry Potter site (MuggleNet). Though there are many features available on MuggleNet, the most interesting is a fan-based library: containing over one hundred editorials, opinion essays and analyses. Using this feature, fans can write and submit an article about any topic they want, as long as it relates to Harry Potter. Most articles discuss themes or situations taken directly from the novels. Some articles address social and political injustices that are paralleled in the real world, such as the essays “Harry Potter and the Nerdy Feminist” and “Harry Potter and the Complex of Inequality.” Love relationships are also a popular topic, as are character analyses. There are also a wide variety of miscellaneous topics discussed, like “A Theory on the Origin of House Traits” and “Case Defending Lord Voldemort” (“The MuggleNet Quibbler”).
The fan-written essays of MuggleNet act as an incredibly important community booster within the Harry Potter fandom. Dustin Kidd states that “most readers will consume the novels in privacy … But private reading becomes a social experience when it becomes an important feature of conversation” (Kidd 84). These online essays are the perfect catalyst to provoke conversation with other fans. Since MuggleNet offers social media capabilities, fans are able to read essays, and actively discuss the themes and issues presented in these essays with other fans. In this way, an ongoing discussion about Harry Potter is able to take place. Furthermore, this ongoing conversation creates an intimate sense of community with people who share the same interests. Because of these essays, the fans themselves are initiating the formation of a positive community between the different users of social media.
It is through these articles on MuggleNet that fans are also able to act as the driving force of the perpetuation of Harry Potter. With the series over and no new material to base excitement off of, fans have turned to the text and have created a space where Harry Potter can be discussed thoughtfully and critically. These essays indicate that the books are still relevant and capable of bringing enjoyment. In this way, fans are aiding the continuation of the series by continually reading them. Also, by providing so much critical analysis, fans are aiding the series in becoming a timeless classic, not only by permanently preserving its themes and ideas on the internet, but also by treating it as a legitimate literary source to base thoughtful discussion on. Ultimately, Harry Potter fans are preserving the series through these essays on social media, even after the series has ended.
Another important part of the online Harry Potter community is Hypable. Created only in 2011, Hypable represents another fan-based website. Whereas MuggleNet specializes in the textual aspects of the Harry Potter series, Hypable's defining feature is the thorough and up-to-date news about the Harry Potter fandom that it provides to fans. Some recent news posted on Hypable is the coverage of the grand opening of the "Harry Potter Studio Tour," in London. In this tour, fans can visit and experience the actual filming locations of the movie series. Also of importance is the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" theme park, located in Universal Studios, in Orlando. Though this park has been open for only 2 years, there have already been plans to expand the theme park, and create new ones around the world. Possibly the most important news of recent was the unveiling of J.K. Rowling's new book; her first after Harry Potter, and an event likely to be as exciting and successful as any of the Harry Potter books (Sims).
These news stories provided by Hypable are vital in community-building within the fandom. Through the use of social media, fans are able to communicate with each other about current news relating to their mutual interests. Because of all the recent news, the general atmosphere on Hypable has been excitement. Fans eagerly discuss their desire to go to the "Harry Potter Studio Tour" and the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" theme park, someday. After the title and teaser of J.K. Rowling's new book were released, fans immediately began planning midnight book-release parties, and started speculation on the plot, style and merits of the new book. And sometimes, fans just like discussing their love of Harry Potter with other fans. Because of the social media capabilities available on Hypable, the fans themselves have been able to create an environment which is conducive for an intimate community to form.
These news stories also aid in the perpetuation of the Harry Potter series. Obviously, it is clear that even in the aftermath of the end of the book series and movie franchise, there is still plenty of news to he heard in the Harry Potter community. Hypable is so important within this community today for this reason. By providing current news about the series, Hypable allows fans to feel like they are still part of the magic of Harry Potter. And because of its social media capabilities, Hypable makes it possible for fans to continually express the excitement and joy of participating in a community they love with other fans. Without the fans' deep conviction to the series and their desire for news relating to it, Hypable would not have an audience to write for, and fans would lose out on an invaluable tool, that aids in the continuation of the Harry Potter. Because of their demand for, and discussion of thorough and up-to-date news on social media, the fans themselves are the driving force behind the perpetuation of the Harry Potter series.
Through the use of social media, fans themselves have been able to create an enriching Harry Potter experience that promotes community and perpetuates the series. But Harry Potter's presence in social media does much more than just creating community, and preserving the series. Because of its universal themes of love, adventure and social justice, and the ease of being able to relate to and empathize with its characters and situations, Harry Potter has broken down racial, gender and socioeconomic barriers, and acts as a common interest that brings people together. Today, as fans converse about the series, characters, themes, and values on social media sites, understanding and cooperation are formed. In the process, friendships are made.
In a pivotal moment in the series, Professor Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, speaking to an international crowd, says:
“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort's gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.” (Rowling, 723)
In the spirit of Dumbledore's message, Harry Potter fans have created an environment through social media which allows for friendship, trust and love to grow. The age of Harry Potter has passed. The books are finished and the movies seen. However, whether it is through social media or some other form, as long as fans continue to love the story and share its powerful and hopeful message with others, the story of Harry Potter will never truly die.
Booth, Paul. "Fandom Studies: Fan Studies Re-Written, Re-Read, Re-Produced." Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2009. United States -- New York: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses (PQDT). Web. 20 Apr. 2012.
“Harry Potter fandom.” Wikipedia. N.p., 17 Aug. 2004. Web. 18 May 2012. .
“Harry Potter.” Times Topics. The New York Times, 18 July 2012. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. hhhhhh.
“It All Started On Platform 9 ¾.” jkrowling.com. J. K. Rowling, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. .
Kidd, Dustin. "Harry Potter And The Functions Of Popular Culture." Journal Of Popular Culture 40.1 (2007): 69-89. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 Apr. 2012.