The Early Years, 1999–2004
MuggleNet was founded on October 1, 1999, by Emerson Spartz, a 12-year-old homeschooled student from La Porte, Indiana. Spartz’s studious nature and his passion for Harry Potter would pay off, for within a year of its founding, MuggleNet became very popular. The site, even in its early years, boasted over 100 contributors, reaching an audience of hundreds of thousands of fans.
MuggleNet distinguished itself early on by its unique and extensive content. The early site introduced discussion forums, editorials, and reference sections such as “Name Origins.” It even launched an interactive flash site called MuggleNet Interactive, which immersed fans into Harry’s world further by incorporating role-playing games. Along with the standard reporting of the latest news regarding both the books and upcoming films, MuggleNet also created a fan fiction website and a weekly caption contest.
With the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in June 2003, MuggleNet appeared at two midnight book release parties. One party MuggleNet attended was at the Waterstones Piccadilly in London, England, and another party was in a “Diagon Alley” celebration at Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Both events were highly attended and were fitting ways to usher in the new text.
In 2004, MuggleNet attended the first annual HPFanTrips celebration, a six-day tour of England that culminated in the release of the third Harry Potter movie. That same year, the Potter author J.K. Rowling herself bestowed upon the website her highest honor, the Fan Site Award. J.K. Rowling wrote about MuggleNet’s look and content when she presented the award:
It’s high time I paid homage to the mighty MuggleNet… Where to start? I love the design, …the polls, …the pretty-much exhaustive information… the wonderful editorials…. 101 Ways to Annoy Voldemort, (made me laugh out loud),…pretty much everything… I salute you.
The Hottest Years, 2005–2010
In anticipation of the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, MuggleNet experienced an even greater increase in visitors in 2005. For the book release, MuggleNet teamed up with fellow website HPANA and Potter companion book authors Wizarding World Press (of The Ultimate Unofficial Guides…) to produce Spellbound, an evening of magic at Randhurst Mall in Mt. Prospect, IL. Over 10,000 fans attended the event on July 16. Earlier that month, J.K. Rowling personally invited Emerson Spartz and the Leaky Cauldron’s Melissa Anelli to interview her at her home in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In August 2005, shortly after the sixth book was released, MuggleNet launched the world’s first Harry Potter podcast, titled MuggleCast. Within months, the unique chemistry between MuggleCast‘s panel of hosts and their audience proved to be something special. With the film release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on November 12, the site teamed up with fellow Potter site the Leaky Cauldron (and its podcast, PotterCast) to hold the first live Harry Potter podcast, dubbed “LeakyMug.” The event was held at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, New York City, USA and was a huge success.
Following the casting announcement of actress Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood, Evanna credited MuggleNet in an interview as being the source of how she discovered the casting call in February 2006. On May 10, J.K. Rowling thanked the website’s staff member Andy via her website, after some controversy erupted claiming that overweight Harry Potter characters were all depicted as evil. Andy had compiled a list of characters who were not so, and Rowling said that his doing so saved her time that she then spent on writing half a chapter of the final Harry Potter book.
MuggleNet attended Lumos 2006, hosted by Harry Potter Education Fanon, or HPEF, which was the first convention of its kind. During the weekend-long Harry Potter convention, MuggleNet played its first-ever “Water Quidditch” match and won the finals, as well as hosted another live “LeakyMug” podcast. Later that year in November, founder Emerson Spartz, along with four staff members, co-authored and published a theory book, titled What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Falls in Love, and How Will the Adventure Finally End. The book sold over 335,000 copies prior to the release of the seventh Harry Potter book and spent six months on the New York Times Children’s Bestseller list.
2007 saw the release of the seventh book, along with the release of the fifth movie of the Harry Potter series. In what fans dubbed “The Summer of Potter,” MuggleNet celebrated with events in Oak Park, Illinois, and London’s Waterstones Piccadilly Circus. The future of Harry was uncertain to all, but staffers vowed to persevere.
In 2008, passion for Harry proved not to dwindle. Due to the announcements of Harry Potter: The Exhibition, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade at Universal Orlando Resort’s Islands of Adventure, and the surprise release of J.K. Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard, MuggleNet launched MuggleSpace in December. MuggleSpace, a social network designed to bring fans closer together, featured blogs, comments, groups, and the ability to private or group message fellow participants.
When 2009 came around, MuggleNet released two more books. In March, MuggleNet Fan Fiction released a guide to creative writing titled Sharpen Your Quill. Then in June, MuggleNet.com’s Harry Potter Should Have Died: Controversial Views from the #1 Fan Site was published. Written by Emerson Spartz and Ben Schoen, the authors embarked on a book tour that summer. MuggleNet AudioFictions podcast also began in 2009; it delivered readings of fan fiction in audio format to listeners worldwide.
The Expansion Years, 2011–2014
While the fandom was pushed to the back burner by the media, MuggleNet quadrupled its staff size starting in 2012 due to copious internships. Because of the changing times, the site adapted to reporting and looking back at the series from a different angle, a more introspective and nostalgic nature. MuggleNet’s next podcast, Alohomora!, was launched in April 2012 with a focus of rereading the Harry Potter books with an eagle eye and making new discoveries. That same month, MuggleNet Academia was launched, a podcast wherein Potter was approached from an academic standpoint. Each episode, or “lesson,” covered a different aspect of literature found in Harry Potter.
MuggleNet started many special projects during the period of time that the fandom coined “Post-Potter Depression.” First came the annual Advent Calendar, started in 2011, that gave away prizes every day in December. Second, the website’s own OWL examinations were held in the summers of 2012 to 2015. And finally, every year since 2013, MuggleNet has sold a physical or digital fandom calendar that includes every Harry Potter date a fan could possibly wish to know. MuggleNet has also benefited from a friendly relationship with Warner Bros. and has been invited to every Wizarding World of Harry Potter themed area and Harry Potter: The Exhibition openings.
For the 85th annual Academy Awards, MuggleNet hosted its own Oscars live stream ceremony event, in which fans could vote in 30 traditional and Potter-related categories. Later in 2013, J.K. Rowling reflected positively on her 2005 meeting with Emerson Spartz in an article on Pottermore. In the start of 2014, MuggleNet attended Universal Orlando Resort’s first-ever A Celebration of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida. For the annual April Fools’ joke, MuggleNet had announced that it would “shut down the website.” In actuality, it shut down the old website and launched MuggleNet 3.0, a comprehensive redesign that streamlined the site’s complexity.
The Fantastic Beasts Era, 2015–present
The year 2015 saw the birth of MuggleNet Live! 2015: Expo Patronum. Held on one day, April 18, at London’s Excel Center, a group of fans shared intimate meet-and-greets with more than a dozen cast and crew members of the Harry Potter films. The event was a rousing success. Another immediate success that MuggleNet experienced in September 2015 was #PotterItForward. By tucking a note into the pages of a Harry Potter bookstore or library copy, fans could share personal messages of love, friendship, or bravery with the next generation of Potter readers. J.K. Rowling acknowledged the viral campaign on September 3 by liking a staff member’s #PotterItForward tweet.
On December 20, 2015, the debut episode of MuggleNet’s fifth podcast, SpeakBeasty, aired. SpeakBeasty is devoted entirely to the film series Fantastic Beasts; the podcast has segments that cover movie news, Muggle history, and fictional beasts. Throughout November 2016, SpeakBeasty and MuggleNet staff members attended the movie’s world premiere in New York City, the London premiere, and an early screening held by Warner Bros. to benefit J.K. Rowling’s charity, Lumos.
In the middle of October 2016, two articles by MuggleNet staff members were published within a special Harry Potter edition of Newsweek. The magazine also featured MuggleNet’s announcement for its next big event: MuggleNet Live! 2017: Nineteen Years Later. The event took place on September 1, 2017, the very date on which the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows epilogue took place, and was held within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.
Katy McDaniel (a history professor at Marietta College) and John Granger (the “Dean of Harry Potter Scholars”) began MuggleNet’s sixth podcast, Reading, Writing, Rowling, on August 14, 2017. Katy, John, and guests take on a scholarly, analytical look at the Harry Potter series.