My first experience with Harry Potter came in the form of a book received as a gift when I was just a small human creature of 8 or so. That book was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (translated because we Americans are slow). I promptly got bored around chapter 3 or 4 because despite being an advanced reader I was weary of sorting out the somewhat dense but fanciful world that J.K. Rowling wove. If I had known then that I would have drank the Kool-Aid firmly on Hogwarts a mere decade later, I would have forced myself to pick up the book again as a youth. I, like far too many Muggles, had to be captured by the movies before I was enchanted by the books.
So in honor of the 20th Anniversary of the books’ publication, I want to discuss Harry Potter, fandom and using fanfiction as vengeance.
Harry Potter is a neat little series. It’s pretty basic storytelling with some fantastical elements to help explain the more difficult and irksome parts of growing up and dealing with people. There are allegories to racism, sexism, homophobia and what to do when your family is a hot garbage fire.
But in those workings of a somewhat simple narrative structure, there was the roots of something that pop culture wasn’t ready for: modern fan culture. So much of modern fanfiction culture, shipping culture, OC culture and tribes in fandom is all rooted in the magical world created by Jo Rowling. Harry Potter gave us a foundation to define ourselves based on four very simple words: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. Never shall the houses mix and knowing which House you are sorted into is a matter of life or death for old fans like me. I’m a proud Slytherin and that means that either you are in the same House as me or I assume I am better than you (I am partially kidding).
House Pride is a wonderful aspect of fan culture that comes with some baggage to it. Because we built tribes within the the confines of Hogwarts, it also ended up walling some out (mostly Hufflepuffs). It also created a rich and fertile ground for fanfiction to grow. If you are like me and feel like the true ship of the series was Harry and Hermione, there’s a fanfic for that. Are you a Ravenclaw who felt that you were not well represented in the main canon of the series, there’s a fanfic for that. If you are a Slytherin like me who does not feel that Draco Malfoy is an adequate representation of your House’s proud legacy, there’s literally a very popular webcomic series about that and more. We Hogwarts alum use fanfic like spells: we craft our wills and desires and breathe life into them despite the howlings of the creator. Harry Potter may be the first social fandom that was willing to lovingly ignore canon for the sake of fun and thus entire communities have been built around actual people playing actual Quidditch and real life bars and clubs hosting House Pride-themed nights. And I got to go to one of these theme nights, with a wand I made myself and got to rep my House proudly and got to enjoy delicious libations.
Our fandom discusses O.W.L. scores and Herbology and whether Snape was terrible or not. We changed canon, we molded the world as we wished. We bonded over similar struggles, found family in our housemates because sometimes the family you are born into is a blazing dumpster fire. We found solace in Harry’s maturity and comfort in Dumbledore’s sage wisdom. We learned from our professors and grew with our classmates. Hogwarts was our school and still is.
So 20 years on, I’m still a proud Slytherin. I still love the work so lovingly penned to paper. I am amazed by the fact that a little series that first bored me to tears became an international phenomena and I’m happy to be part of this family.