Dickensians and Potterheads: A Tale of Two Fandoms
By Helena Sheffield
Abstract: Showing the parallels between the fandoms of Charles Dickens and Harry Potter
The Harry Potter community is one that has stuck together throughout thick and thin, enthusiastically supporting the actors, the directors, JK Rowling and even each other; learning from the morals of the novels, and reciprocating the loyalty that is so passionately advocated in them. It is certainly one of the bigger fandoms of our generation, and I wondered where this type of community came from. To have this huge amount of people with such a love of one specific thing; to feel that, wherever you are, there are people all around the world who have the same feelings, is an extraordinary thing. But after close research, I have found that this was not born recently.
The novels of Charles Dickens, although frowned upon at the time for their seemingly "low culture" status, were met by the majority of the public much as Harry Potter has been met by us. I have explored the surprising similarities between these two fandoms, and noted how the anticipations of each new literary release parallel each other.
Perhaps what most stimulated the Harry Potter fandom was the (fairly) regular release of novels and other literary miscellanea, over the course of ten years. It kept alive the suspense and intrigue far longer than a single novel would have done. This was also true for the Dickensian fandom. Each chapter of Dickens’s novels was released weekly or monthly in magazines or newspapers: creating a sustained hype around the story. The fact that most of his plots contain a large amount of mystery added to this excitement, provoking wild theories: much like those of Harry Potter fans directly before and after new releases.
Indeed, many Potter fans can still remember the anticipation preceding book releases, the question of Severus Snape’s seemingly unfathomable allegiance, the midnight releases, and the group readings. It is perhaps not surprising, then, to find that Dickens’s readers acted in much the same way. As well as the social reading groups that took place, which discussed the latest novels, Dickens often held readings himself: as Rowling held for some lucky Harry Potter fans. Large amounts of money were spent on publicising each new release from Dickens, and he was often swamped with piles of fan mail. What really proved the Dickensians to be the first true fandom, however, was when merchandise began to crop up on street corners; fans frequently exchanged memorable quotations, and knew so much about the books that “it was enough to stagger Dickens himself” (Dickens and His Readers: Aspects of Novel Criticism Since 1836).
The Harry Potter fandom is arguably one of the most passionate of our time. We, like the Dickensians, buy enough paraphernalia to fill the Room of Requirement, hold discussions (of course, in a more modern format: podcasts), and write our own fiction in an attempt to better explore those characters we love (or, indeed, despise). We have been inspired by the morals of the series to make a difference in the world by joining the Harry Potter Alliance, and taken part in the far more light-hearted sport of Quidditch. The world of Harry Potter and its fandom is so diverse that there is truly a place for everyone to feel welcomed. However, we must appreciate that we are not the only ones who feel so strongly about a cultural phenomenon. Similar collective loves have spanned centuries, and are something we must endeavour to continue to spread.
The essential question is this: why do we feel a need to lose ourselves in a fantasy world, and then come together to pretend as hard as we can that it’s real? After all, what else is the Wizarding World theme park for? I strongly believe that it is not only a form of escapism, but a case of moulding our identities. We have found these characters who we relate to, who we feel we know, and it is hard accepting the fact that they came out of a person’s head. By finding others who feel the same, and talking about the world and the characters, we keep them alive in our minds. With so many people across the world with this single thing in common, it would be just as well to say that Harry, Ron and Hermione are alive: we have made it so.
Dumbledore once said that “I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, p.195, UK edition). So, too, will Harry Potter only leave this world when none here are willing to read it, and that may be a very long time indeed.