On July 31st, 1980, Harry James Potter was born in the village of Godric’s Hollow in the West Country of England. By the age of 11, he was whisked away to Hogwarts on a seven-year adventure to fulfill his destiny and defeat the Dark Lord Voldemort once and for all. We all know the story too well. Even those who have never experienced the magic of Harry Potter know his name. The boy wizard cast a spell like we have never seen on the hearts of millions around the world. After the end of the novels written by J.K. Rowling and published from 1997 to 2007, Harry’s world lives on with movie adaptations, spin-offs about a young magizoologist, a stage play performed in multiple cities across the globe, and even a theme park. But beyond all of this official material to consume and enjoy, fans of Harry and his friends took the characters and central themes to heart and created a community all their own to celebrate and honor what the beloved wizard means to them. Fansites, conventions, Wizard Rock music, and fanfiction began popping up almost overnight and paved the way for a new generation of kids to discover what fandom is all about. Harry is important to people my age because, for most of us, that was our introduction to the concept of fandom. That is why today, July 31st, 2020, we celebrate Harry Potter’s 40th birthday!
My first experience with Harry Potter began in November 2001. A brand-new movie was coming to theaters, and my mother thought it would be fun to take 9-year-old me and my little brother to go see it. Little did she know that this movie, this moment in time, would kick off a series of events pivotal in forming who I would become as an adult. At school the following Monday, I rushed to the library as soon as I could to check out the first of the four books that were published so far. Being in fourth grade, it took quite a while to finish the series, especially that massive tome called Goblet of Fire. But I refused to put them down. I could not get enough of Hogwarts Castle, creatures I had never heard of, or the Golden Trio and their struggle to defeat the Dark Lord Voldemort. I had to have more. But what does one do when they have turned every page and read every line? In the age of computers, one turns to the Internet.
I began by simply searching facts on the characters or news for when the next book would be released. These searches eventually lead to the wonderful fansite that is MuggleNet, the first website dedicated entirely to Harry Potter news, discussions, and fanfiction. I had never even heard about fanfiction before! I probably spent far too much time on that website after school each day reading whatever I could get my hands on. The chat rooms were filled with people discussing possible twists and turns in future books, and I gladly joined in on every exciting conversation. These discussions were quite possibly my introduction to literary analysis skills that I would rely on in English courses from junior high school onward.
Through this website, I also discovered the joys of Wizard Rock. Musicians across the country were writing and recording music centered entirely on characters and themes presented in the Harry Potter books. My mind was blown. The first wizard rock band (and the first to be downloaded onto a blank cd for my discman) were Harry and the Potters established in 2002 by the DeGeorge brothers in Massachusetts. Their music, while not necessarily of the best quality, opened more doors on my journey to fandom. The two brothers dressed up as time traveling Harry Potters at every concert they played. Wait, hang on. You could dress up on days other than Halloween? In addition to discovering a whole new genre and many new musical artists, Harry and the Potters inadvertently introduced me to the world of cosplay and costuming. My cosplay hobby grew into an interest in costuming as I got older and many, many years later, costuming became my career.
As years passed, more novels came. Midnight release parties became a hot phenomenon for fans who were so taken by the series that they could not wait until the next morning to pick up the latest book and read about what happens next. I have fond memories of staying up all night devouring the text and foraging for clues to how Harry’s years at Hogwarts would end. It was exhilarating. These midnight releases showed me for the first time that I was not alone. An entire bookstore was filled with kids and adults alike wearing costumes and casting imaginary spells. I had never met other people in real life who were just as obsessed with a fictional world as I was. Friendships began to form with Harry at their center.
My closest Potter friendships came from a community dedicated to the work of StarKid Productions, a group of college students in Michigan who wrote and performed a musical parody about The Boy Who Lived called A Very Potter Musical. The videos were posted to YouTube, and immediately took off as a viral success. Their Harry, actor Darren Criss, went on to become a regular on the television program Glee and earn a Golden Globe for his work on the Assassination of Gianni Versace because of this. The community that formed around the Michigan theatre troupe was something new for me. A lot of those fans dedicated themselves to loving, supportive Facebook groups and engaging in charity work. Through these groups, I found locals in my state who wanted to do charity work together in the name of Harry Potter. And through them, I discovered a new level of fandom: the fan convention.
I had heard of conventions before. Comic-Con was no secret. But I never knew that there was a convention dedicated solely to the Wizarding World. My new friends told me about an event called LeakyCon, and they wanted me to go with them to the next one (the 2012 convention in Chicago). If I could have packed my bags then and there, I would have. Nothing was going to keep me from raising the funds and joining them on this trip. Little did I know that this trip, while being a new height of my fandom journey, would lead me to meet the best friends I have ever known or ever will. Eight individuals and I formed a bond stronger than friends. In that week we became a family. Even now, all nine of us check in on each other every day through virtual group meetings on Facebook or Skype. Though we have given the convention life up for now, we have attended weddings for members of the group and traveled long distances across two countries to see each other at least once a year. Harry Potter brought me my chosen family, and life would not be the same without them.
LeakyCon led me to try other conventions once I moved to Vegas. I had no friends in town, but a local comic convention was being held near the Strip. I went, and enjoyed a relatively good weekend, but something was missing. I missed that comradery of fandom. On the last day, a couple invited me to an after-party at a bar downtown called Millennium Fandom. To be honest, I wrote the idea off initially. What business did I have in a bar? I am a nerd. Nerds do not fit in at bars. But on my drive home, I asked myself “What do I have to lose?” I decided to show up for one drink. That one drink turned into a full night of laughs, stories, and cosplay. Such a place has never existed and hidden away in downtown Las Vegas was a community dedicated to all things cosplay and fandom 365 days a year. For the first time since coming to Vegas, I found a new home. I found my new friends, and at one of the annual Harry Potter parties, I met a Slytherin in Quidditch gear who caught my attention. Today, she sits across from me in our home, drinking her coffee, and reminiscing about how Harry brought us together. For those of you who know us, yes, she is crying right now as she reads these words.
Every major event in my life centers around Harry and his friends in some way, and I am not the only one. Older generations had Lord of the Rings or Star Trek to jumpstart their love of fandom and introduce them to life-long friends and hobbies. Millennials had Harry Potter. So before writing off the books as “children’s stories” or stating that the characters are “just fiction,” ask yourself: are they really? Because, as Wizard Rock artist Lauren Fairweather once said, “it doesn’t matter what the Muggles say, ‘cause it’s real for us.” So, let us celebrate Harry’s 40th birthday. Wish him well, bake a Hagrid cake, put on a movie marathon, and go all out. He deserves a great birthday because little does he know, this next month is going to jumpstart a new journey for the wizard. According to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Harry’s scar will burn for the first time in over 20 years, and he will set on an adventure across time to save the Wizarding World once again with the help of his son and a few unlikely friends along the way. Here’s to many more years of Harry Potter and the immersive fandom that kickstarted everything.
"Happy Birthday Harry Potter!"
Dylan J Bittner, guest blogger for the fandombar.com Community bLog
PS: Anyone is welcome to write and send his Captain’s bLog to: firstname.lastname@example.org in word & doc format (500 or so words, no .pdf) along with photos if any (his/hers to be posted and/or illustration ones). We will publish them regularly with sometimes priority to blogs related to the “fandom of the moment (FTM).”