Amanda's View: Fandom and fan fiction

By Amanda Knox

We did it! This week, Chris and I finally finished all seven books of the Harry Potter series. For the last six months or so we’ve been immersed, listening to the audiobooks during car rides and at the breakfast table, and watching the films. Now that it’s over, I feel the same confluence of emotions that I felt after closing the cover of last book for the first time. On the one hand, deflation. What in the world do I read after Harry Potter? On the other hand, reverberation. A good story sticks with you, but a great story is a world you want to continue exploring—in all directions, at all depths—long after the last word was read. In other words, a great story inspires fandom, and in that regard, Harry Potter is one of the greatest.

There’s been some wonder about what it is that makes Harry Potter so popular. What’s not up for debate is that the Harry Potter franchise is worth at least $25 billion. While this doesn’t touch the $41 billion of Star Wars, the popular consumption of both series are remarkable similar. Each are embodied in books, films, toys, theme parks, fan clubs and fan fiction. Each are conduits for a great expanse of emotional resonance—love, joy, fear, hope, hurt, compassion, grief, thrill.

As Chris and I excitedly make plans to visit Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter the next time we’re in L.A., I’m reminded of the days (during high school) when my Harry Potter fandom found satisfaction through much more unofficial means: fan fiction.

I didn’t know it back in high school, but recently I was intrigued to discover that the production and consumption of fan fiction has always been dominated by women. It turns out, back in the late 60s and early 70s, when fan fiction was first widely popularized surrounding the Star Trek series, women represented as many as 90% of fan fiction authors. Today, FanFiction.net estimates that 78% of its users are female. Pamela Kalinowski examines why this is true in her article, The Fairest of Them All: The Creative Interests of Female Fan Fiction Writers and the Fair Use Doctrine. She posits that women in particular are motivated to broaden the scope of the original material we admire with examinations of more closely personal issues, all the while maintaining the framework that gives us a sense of belonging to a community. In other words, when a great story comes our way, a story that we relate to, that moves us, and for which our enthusiasm finds solidarity in others, we want to keep using the original source material to practice the kind of empathy it originally inspired in us, and we want to share that empathic and imaginative exercise with others.

What are other motivations? One, I think, is a combination of curiosity and nostalgia. Fan fiction, like spin-offs, explore histories, subplots, and tangents—just last year the play The Cursed Child and the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them were added to the Harry Potter saga. Another motivation is to take advantage of an established framework within which to explore new ideas—my personal favorite of this kind of fan fiction is by far Elizer Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

And finally, sex. There’s little research quantifying the kinds of fan fiction that are out there, but a simple Google search will reveal a culture and quantity of erotic fan fiction that is well-established and not hard to find. (Intrigued? Check out: adult-fanfiction.net.) E.L. James’ erotic fan fiction of the Twilight series was so popular that it was sold to a major publisher (characters’ names were changed) and published as its own series: Fifty Shades of Grey, which carried its weight as a franchise—movies, merchandise, and all.

I’m just as entrenched as anyone, unwilling to let go of stories and worlds that have helped me discover who I am. I realize that I’m lucky to have had to opportunity to relive Harry Potter over again as an adult, and though I’m sad this second time around is over, I feel closer to Chris because of it, and I’m already thinking about how excited I am to share it with my children. All I can think to say are the words of a fan: thank you, J.K.R., for your mentorship and imagination.

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