Exclusive Interview: Fandom Veteran Hillnerd Discusses How the Fandom Has Changed
Fan artist Hillnerd (@hillnerd on Tumblr) has begun to step into a new role. She’s an artist, to be sure, with her “giant binder of all the different characters [from] Harry Potter, [including] the animals from it,” but lately, she’s taken the mantle of “fandom veteran” in stride to give us all a dose of fandom history. When her page-long meta-analyses of various fandom ships came across my Tumblr dash, I knew I had to know more. I sat down for a chat with Hillnerd, and she took me on a journey through fandom, ships, and controversial characters that younger fans might be unfamiliar with.
On the First Fan Theories
Hillnerd explained what it was like to be in the fandom when there were so many mysteries to explore. As the books were published, fan theories abounded, particularly about Harry’s eyes. The prevailing theory that has largely been forgotten in contemporary fandom spaces was that Harry’s green eyes would reveal a power that would allow him to defeat Voldemort. “This is before we knew about Horcruxes,” Hillnerd said.
There was a lot of speculation that somehow Harry had some sort of superpower that was going to [defeat Voldemort], that it would be his green eyes [and] that somehow his green eyes are special.
On Female Characters
According to Hillnerd, characters like Hermione, Lavender, and Ginny, used to be treated very differently than they are today. Though Hermione is now often criticized for her treatment of Umbdrige and her attack on Ron in the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, according to Hillnerd:
But back in the day, Hermione was the one everyone wanted to ship with everybody. She was a self-insert character for a lot of people because so many of us who are invested in Harry Potter are nerdy girls who love to read and have strong opinions.
With Hermione being held in such high regard, it came as no surprise when Hillnerd recounted the controversy that arose when Lavender Brown became Ron’s girlfriend. “Man,” she said, “there was a huge meltdown [about] that. It was intense.” Ginny Weasley also faced backlash when she was introduced as a love interest for Harry:
Ginny was a nonentity for most people until the fifth book […] Then, [after] the sixth book [came] the meltdown. Poor Ginny has been drug through the mud.
Another notable evolution in fandom has been the view on Snape: “Alan Rickman made more and more people think Snape was hot,” she said. She later explained: “But back in the day, his bullying wasn’t as much of an issue.” This hasn’t changed, but Hillnerd believes that nowadays:
We are a little bit more nuanced, sometimes, with our analysis of his childhood. But he’s always been one that people never seem to be neutral about. When it comes to Snape, people have strong emotions.
According to Hillnerd, back in the day, Dumbledore was most associated with the fan theory that he and Ron were the same person. But now, “there’s more vitriol towards Dumbledore as an authority figure and as a teacher than there ever was back in the day.” As Hillnerd explained:
It wasn’t until after the seventh book had come out and people had marinated on it for a long time that we started seeing more of that interpretation of Dumbledore as a shady guy in some ways.
On Queer Characters
Though the Harry Potter fandom is now marked by queer ships like Wolfstar and Drarry, expressing queerness in fandom faced many obstacles in early internet spaces. According to Hillnerd:
In general, queer ships weren’t as popular then as they are now. ‘Slash fiction’ is what it used to be called. It did not have as many safe places, just because different places would associate anything queer with being more mature. Over time, as more queer spaces were more open to [fan fiction], you’d see a little bit more of it as well. So over time, we see Harry and Draco become a more popular thing with LiveJournal. That’s when it really took off. And then Sirius and Remus became really popular. That was a popular one. But over time, it became very popular. Then LiveJournal went and cut away a lot of queer content. Did you see how on Tumblr they did that for a little bit, where they banned a lot of different tags? It was very similar to that with LiveJournal, only it was much more extreme. That’s when you saw the founding of AO3. AO3, at first, when it was founded, was almost entirely queer content because [it was] all the content that hadn’t been able to safely stay on LiveJournal. Some journals were just literally deleted off the Internet without any warning whatsoever, just because they had queer content. And people were like, ‘This is really good content,’ and they would ship it more and more. Now it’s hugely popular.