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Harry Potter, Still RecruitingAn Inner Look at Harry Potter Fandom
By Valerie Estelle Frankel
Zossima PressCopyright © 2012 Valerie Estelle Frankel
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSECTION I: A DEEPER LOOK AT FANDOM
HARRY POTTER AND A WORLD OF WORDS: BACK TO BASICS IN A TIME OF ADVANCE
It is inspiring, to say the least, to see the world caught up in the hysteria of a book. Sure, movie ticket sales are rising with each film release, but I remember the mass frenzy of a potential unreleased J.K. Rowling book, chapter, or extra sentence. Fans drooled and were willing to pay big bucks for, not the images, but the words themselves. In a world of such rampant technological use, adaptation, and change–we, Harry Potter fans, wanted more print material. Worldwide, individuals of all demographics have bought into the Harry Potter franchise beginning with the texts themselves. The movies became a way to visualize the story, to put a face (Daniel Radcliffe's) to a name (Harry Potter). The successes of the story, though, were far before the movies, theme park, action figures, and Quidditch matches. The success, the emotion, the draw, the mystery, and of course, the magic, were on the written page. The various manifestations of the written text (including, but not limited to the ones listed above) serve merely as extensions of the text and are therefore subject to the inscrutable taste, tolerance, and memory of Potter's fierce fans. One thing noticeably absent from the series is the role of technology in the Wizarding and Muggle worlds alike. We use technology to aid us in our everyday lives, to replace certain steps or duties (vacuums that roam freely on a timer so that we do not have to vacuum, cellphones that connect to the Internet so that we do not have to have phone and computer time separate). Although American society is so heavily drawn to buying, upgrading, and developing newer and better technologies to assist our everyday living, the immensely popular Harry Potter series depicts youth of today sans cellphones and iPods, and relying on books, instead.
As an English Instructor at a community college, I spend part of my day working to disconnect students from their technological world, even if only for the fifty-minute duration of my course. Even my ten-year-old stepdaughter owns a cellphone, iPod, and digital camera (not by my doing), which can rarely be pried from her tiny hands. On the occasion that she sets down the gadgets, she replaces them with a Potter text. She remembers minor characters, fleeting details, and all of the dialogue from the books. When she has the opportunity to watch the movies, she ponders aloud the major and minor discrepancies between the books and films. My husband, who shares her photographic memory of the text, concurs, "Why, yes, Neville was wearing a blue shirt in this scene."
In America today, children ages eleven (Harry's age in book one) and younger have immediate access to their own or family technology. Our children's role models on the Disney Channel and pop radio emulate these tech-savvy teens with their iCarly, messages on cyber-bulling, and "omg" text message conversations. So how is it that we are drawn to the magical world that represents the past while simultaneously clicking ourselves into the future?
De-Popularization of Technology
Although certain technologies (such as text messaging or Facebook) have a reputation of being "for kids," these technologies are widely used by adults of all ages. The Internet no longer serves an emergency governmental communication system; home phones are rapidly fading from use; Facebook is no longer limited to college students–the technological world continues to grow and we are along for the ride. Even in my very small town, businesses are starting to footnote their advertisements with "Follow us on Twitter" or "Like our Facebook page" and are inevitably gathering a following. American society has upgraded technology to cut out as many steps as possible that are considered inconvenient in everyday life and operations and to increase constant communication opportunities.
The Harry Potter series, books and movies, give popular culture a change of pace and a break from the technological advance of present day. It partially takes us back in time with ceremonial robes, candlelit rooms, writing on parchment, and a devout recognition of history of the magical demographic. However, it is also quite modern: there is electricity, there is an attention to modern fashion, and there is a sense of dramatic popular culture as demonstrated by the excited fandom surrounding both Viktor Krum and Harry Potter. Technology does certainly play a role in the portrayal of the Harry Potter world, but it is quite limited in comparison to the technological advances of "real life."
Technology of Harry Potter
Although the use of magic is arguably a technology in and of itself, I feel it important to note that not even the Muggles in Harry Potter use technology in such a rampant manner as in present society. We were introduced to Dudley's character immediately in the first book as a greedy boy always demanding more of his parents and the world around him. For his birthday, Dudley saw his presents and exclaimed, "Thirty-six ... That's two less than last year" (SS 21). Although we get this general example of Dudley's materialism, we never actually see the types of presents that he receives, only to know that they take up the room of Dudley's second bedroom. Though the series doesn't condone this type of relationship, Harry and Dudley are constantly battling physically and verbally. Perhaps better suited to the technological advances of that time period would be an ongoing text-message war between the two. Now imagine the first chapter of Deathly Hallows, the meeting of Voldemort with the Death Eaters; imagine the emotion, the anger, the terror of all present at that meeting. What would have been lost if Voldemort were only available on Skype? What if the meeting were held via conference call?
In the Harry Potter series, all of the students, especially Hermione, spend a considerable amount of time in the library–an increasingly difficult feat to arrange in my internet-obsessed composition classes. Are we losing touch with text? Would the advent of furry, toothy, monster books chasing us around the room help draw us back? As J.K. Rowling has so simply done, all it takes is a hero-quest journey with an unlikely, awkward hero with good moral judgment, decision-making abilities, and friends.
Perhaps one way of discussing technology in the Harry Potter series is not to study the technologies that are excluded (cellphones, computers, digital cameras, and more), but rather, to focus on the technologies that are available. In terms of communication, the characters of Harry Potter may not need text messaging or a postal service, but they have owls to transport messages back and forth in a seemingly timely manner to any destination. There remains a reliance on the traditional with the owl-delivered parchment letters inviting students to Hogwarts each school year. Some correspondences even come as somewhat of a recordable message, like Ron's "howler" regarding the family's stolen car. There are communicative methods in Harry Potter including radios and newspapers (which feature lifelike, moving images of individuals and occurrences). These communications are subject to the enhancement of the magical world, but are based in the reality of the magical world. Specifically, magical newspapers are "enhanced" from Muggle newspapers because they have the ability to display motion (ex: an angry face of Sirius Black screaming on the front page), but this enhancement is not a technology because it does not do anything to ease or aid the lives of the magical community. Although the communication demonstrated in Harry Potter may not be realistic representations of contact, it aligns more with the traditional than with the fantastic.
The characters more than make do with the lack of internet connection at Hogwarts; they demonstrate outstanding deductive reasoning skills combined with a bit of magic. First, the characters (like many Harry Potter fans themselves) are continuously returning to text for answers. They share books, spend time in the library, and strive to use their intellect. Unlike many students today, they sneak in to the restricted section of the library to look for books to help them make polyjuice potion, figure out how to breathe underwater, and aid their independent research. Although they are breaking the rules to do this, they're determined to save the world through independent study. Text plays an important role in finding the horcruxes; one book serves as a horcrux, and they learn about other items (such as the Elder Wand and Resurrection Stone) from an ancient book of fairy tales known to the magical community.
Methods besides reading likewise help the characters gain knowledge throughout the series. The youth of Harry Potter spend a significant amount of time talking to their elders, authority figures on topics, or just those that have been around long enough to see or experience history. Harry spends a great deal of time not just talking to Dumbledore, but also tracing his memories in the pensieve. Unlike the technological capability to create search terms and click through websites until one finds the information necessary, Harry and his friends sort through an almost endless amount of information through these personal encounters with characters like Bathilda Bagshot and Aberforth. Unlike today's youth with their tendencies to use technology to replace lengthy processes, the characters of Harry Potter are consistently and intently focused on their missions at hand, no matter how long they take.
There are smaller instances of technology that play a role in the series, such as the many magical facets of Hogwarts. The first book demonstrates "The Fat Lady" as the gatekeeper to the Gryffindor common room, requiring a pre-selected password and enforcing curfews. There individuals act as gatekeepers and security measures for the castle in general and the specific houses. Another security measure used several times in the series is the Marauder's Map, which Harry uses as not only a magical GPS system for himself, but also essentially as a GPS tracking device for everyone else. With the map, Harry is given access to each individual's daily schedule and routines, such as watching Dumbledore pace in his office. Although distinct from modern advancements outside the world of magic, these artifacts still serve as a type of magical enhancement resembling technology available only within the walls of Hogwarts.
Entertainment plays an interesting role, considering technology, in the Harry Potter series. In particular, the third movie shows Harry, Ron, and other boys in their Gryffindor sleeping quarters, passing around magical candies: Ron roars like a lion, and Harry blows steam out of his ears after eating a train candy. Quidditch also plays an important role in the entertainment and social perspectives of students at Hogwarts and gives the students an opportunity to demonstrate athletic ability, sportsmanship, and a blend of their magical and personal capabilities. By having these magically enhanced opportunities available to them, the characters of Harry Potter do not need television or movies as traditional entertainment. The characters' modes of entertainment are much more old-fashioned than even television: spending time together as a small group of friends talking, or attending events as a school or representative house.
Magic, in general, plays its own role as a technological advancement available to the characters of Harry Potter. However invested they are in their magical world, though, they are asked to not use magic excessively or to let it do all of their work for them. For instance, Mrs. Weasley bellows to Fred and George: "Just because you're allowed to use magic now does not mean that you have to whip your wand out for everything!" This reliance on the self and one's individual ability to work through problems without the use of technology is a skill that American society is rapidly losing as technology becomes more commonplace. Unlike Hogwarts, which seems to be combating a sense of student entitlement of using magic excessively, American schools are integrating technology as much as possible into all grade levels to prepare students for the technological literacy (including, but not limited to, the ability to multitask and quickly conduct digital research) they will need throughout their lives. Students, even very young students in American classrooms, are being asked to spend more time on computers or are taking advanced "Computer" classes with keyboarding taking the time slot that handwriting used to occupy. Perhaps one of the reasons that individuals of all ages relate to well to this series is its blatant escapism from not only reality, but technology as well.
Various Pew research data demonstrates that the American public have a general distrust of technology, linked to several other facets such as government and politics. Fans of the Harry Potter book and film series, however, rely heavily on the better-regarded written word for guidance over all aspects of the magical world. Just as other worlds have been created by authors (Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, James Camerons' Avatar) as holistic views of a world, species, government, politics, relationships, so has the magical London of Harry Potter. As discussed earlier in this chapter, dedicated Potter fans have pieced together the writings and descriptions of all of the texts to formulate their mind's-eye idea of what landscapes, individuals, buildings, and scenes will look like. For the most part, the movies have complimented the texts, although many fans cringe at the discrepancies in film from print. But has the three-dimensional world of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade done justice to fans' now three-fold (their mind's-eye, the text, and the movies) idea of what these places should look like?
Many self-appointed "Potterheads" compare the physical buildings and stores of the theme park to the visions they had from the book itself, not from the movies. Fan websites regaling tales of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida seem to come to a consensus: amazing. There are also a lot of positive reviews of the way in which "the wand choosing the wizard" is demonstrated at Ollivander's. Fans also raved over the taste and quality of Rowling's key snacks and drinks: butterbeer, pumpkin juice, and Cornish pasties. The few reviews that did not receive five stars cite the same reason: the park section was too small. Shivani S. of San Jose, CA tells of her minor disappointment: "Overall, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was exciting and interesting to see for the first time. However, i [sic] expected more than a few shops and rides, which is why I could not give it 5 stars. A true harry potter fan would love this place, but I think they expect want much more than this!" Although The Wizarding World of Harry Potter undoubtedly draws on both the description and visual effects of the books and the movies, fan reviews only compared the physical adventure to their textual imagining of the wizarding world. These hardcore Potterheads have certainly seen the series of movies, probably as those lined up at midnight in Slytherin or Gryffindor wizard robes, yet they rely on the text to provide accurate representations of the wizarding world and the lives of the characters they have grown to love.
Excerpted from Harry Potter, Still Recruiting by Valerie Estelle Frankel Copyright © 2012 by Valerie Estelle Frankel . Excerpted by permission of Zossima Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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