When I sat down and read the entirety of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the day it was released back in 2007, I thought I couldn’t love the series more.
I was wrong.
Since then, once a year I’ve revisited all of the books, finding new things to enjoy each time. Harry Potter made me want to be a writer. Looking at this wonderful series, so dearly loved by millions, all I wanted in the world was to be able to write a story that might be beloved in the same way.
Two years ago during my annual reread, I found myself wishing for a course I could take in which I could study the text a bit further, discuss and analyse it in a classroom. I couldn’t find any—at least in my country—but then I decided that if it didn’t exist, I would make it happen myself.
I cajoled, researched and conceptualised along with my partner Sharan, and two months later we were ready to welcome the first batch of participants in a sold out workshop called “The Magic of Harry Potter.” The workshops attracted people just like me, who had read Harry Potter all their lives but could still not get enough of it.
Coming Together as Fans
The series of workshops was spread over a month, with two each week. Each had a specific theme—the appeal of the series, love, mentor figures, death. The aim of these workshops was to produce literary analysis and discussion of the books facilitated by structured activities. We also invited guest speakers—several of them accomplished authors like Gurcharan Das and Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan—who generously lended their perspectives and expertise.
It all began with the sorting of the participants into the four houses of Hogwarts, a tradition that all new students at the fictional school go through one their first day. We had a mid course quiz, spurring intense but fun competition between the houses. And the end of the course, we threw a a Yule Ball, straight out of the books. Participants engaged with all of this simply out of love for the Harry Potter series and provided a place for them to discuss it with other fans of the series. It wasn’t a professional conference about networking or landing a book deal—it was all about passionate fandom.
The participants who came hailed from all walks of life—consultants, students, accountants, engineers, all brought together by a common love for Harry Potter.
One of the most popular of these workshops was the one titled “Fanfiction, Pottermore, and Do We Want an Eighth Harry Potter?” The workshop began with the concept of fanfiction and the different stances authors have taken on it. George R.R. Martin, for example, is highly against fanfiction, whereas Rowling is supportive of it. The discussion led us very deep into whether authors “own” the characters they create, whether they should have control over any future renderings of the world they have created, what lies in the realm of “fair use,” and one of my favorite phrases in literary criticism: the death of the author, a concept advanced in a essay of the same title essay by Roland Barthes which argues for a move away from the focus on authorial intention towards an understanding that “a text’s unity lies in its destination, its audience.”
I remember the time gap between the sixth and the seventh Harry Potter books. After reading about Dumbledore’s death, I sat down to pen my own final instalment, curious to see if it would match Rowling’s when it was finally published. The workshops brought out many such stories, and I met people who were just as in love with the books as I was. Everyone had their own experiences to share of experiences of growing up with the boy wizard.
Here lies the power of fandom—how it can create unifying, supportive spaces that cut across boundaries and differences of sex, age, class, geography and even time.
These bonds can be immensely powerful. For example, two people met at our Yule Ball in December 2016. When the girl was leaving, the guy ran after her and got her phone number. They’re going to be married before the end of the year. How did things move so fast? It was at least partly the fandoms they shared, one of which had brought both of them to our event.
When we talk about sharing fandoms, it’s not just about being equally fascinated by a shared world, but agreeing with the values on the basis of which the world is built. If studies suggest that people who grow up reading Harry Potter become more tolerant people with less prejudice, then it must also be true that people who appreciate the series will believe in its basic value that love and goodness will triumph over any force that seeks to undermine them. It is these shared beliefs that fandoms are based on, producing solidarity, friendship and love. That’s how this couple moved forward so quickly that they knew within a few months of meeting each other that this was it.
The question that remains, then is how long does the magic last? They say that the truly great stories pass the test of time, and that they continue to remain relevant despite the age, as they embody within themselves answers to questions that are ageless. But more importantly, I think Harry Potter will last through the ages because it has impacted how people live their lives, so that the story hasn’t just remained a story but become a part of the collective psyche of a generation. If a story plays a role in how you approach the many facets of life, whether they be relationships, aging, or death, then you can be sure that the magic will last, for it is something we already had—we just didn’t know how to see it.
All images by Frozen Pixel Studios