When beginning my search for Harry Potter, I did a quick Google search for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (since I figured to start with the text on which we are focusing) and noticed right away that the first result links to the IMDB (Internet Movie Database) listing for the film. Although I am not surprised, it seems to imply that the movie has overtaken the book in terms of popularity. I was not blown away by the movie, so to me, the movie seems to be just another bit of merchandising, but apparently I am in the minority in that respect.
I continued by broadening my search to include everything Harry Potter. One of the first items was a news article about the opening of Diagon Alley at Universal Studios in Orlando. This stuck out to me because I just saw a segment yesterday on the Today show that featured the Daigon Alley attraction, an attraction meant to complement the popular “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” attraction. Initially, I was surprised to see something like this being built since the books and films are all done, but I suppose this is another way to earn revenue and build the franchise, especially with the success of the other attraction.
Along the same lines, there is another real-world attraction that I found online that seems to be immensely popular. The Warner Brother’s studio in London offers studio tours of the Harry Potter set, special screenings, and Potter related events. I found this intriguing because most film sets are dismantled after filming, but this was obviously not the case for Harry Potter. Based on the website, it looks like it was carefully preserved and includes artifacts such as the Hogwarts castle model, a key piece in all of the films.
One fun thing I found was the Pottermore website. I downloaded the ebook from Pottermore (you cannot purchase it direct from the Nook store – unlike any other book I have purchased), but had not explored it until after I finished reading the book. This is one of the many interactive sites that gives fans the chance to put themselves in the story. I ended up signing up, and WOW! Is there a lot to do! I played around for a few minutes and was taken to Gringott’s and Daigon Alley to shop for supplies, and then answered some questions to be “sorted” into my house. I am not a big Potter fan, but I was drawn in, making it easy to see how a real fan could go crazy about something like this and be made to feel part of Harry Potter’s world.
Next, I shifted gears to look at merchandise produced for the franchise, and was not surprised to find a plethora of memorabilia. In addition to all of the mass produced, branded materials, I also found a vast amount of goods on Etsy.com. Etsy is one of my favorite online retailers and is popular with the geek community. The passion for the franchise comes through in all of the handmade goods, including jewelry, clothing, decals, home accessories, and more.
In perusing the sites, one thing that I noticed is the effort to get fans really involved in the world of Harry Potter, more than just reading or looking at pictures or videos. One way that I noticed over and over was the way that everything was branded not only by the Hogwarts insignia, but also by house, leading fans to choose a house, or have one chosen for them if they visited the Pottermore website. Most of the retail websites that I visited obviously included a large number of general Harry Potter merchandise, but most of the websites also had house specific goods as well.,
Another aspect that shows the devotion of fans is the number of fan sites! In the age of technology, it is easy for fans to share their interests online and many have done so. Many of the sites posted spoilers, trailers, and news about the franchise. I also found that quite a few also follow news stories about JK Rowling and the actors, including new projects that they are working on as well as any accolades that have been awarded. This really shows the staying power that this series has; the books and films are done and people are still maintaining interest in not only the books and their author, but also in the actors that portrayed the characters they loved for so many years.
In addition to looking at the merchandising and online fan-dom, I also thought I should look into the opposing viewpoint, one that I was made aware of long ago as a middle school reader. I expected to find at least a few people denouncing the books and films based on merits, but to my surprise almost ALL of the criticism was religiously based. I expected the religious argument of course, but did not expect the near nonexistence of criticism for any other reasons.
Overall, it appears that Harry Potter can be linked to almost any cultural aspect. To test this, I searched for a variety of random topics and attached “Harry Potter”. I started with some rather general searches including food, automobiles, and sports. Those were easy, so I tried to think of anything that would be impossible to connect to Harry Potter, but I was unable to stunt Google with surgery, asparagus, STDs, Phantom of the Opera, pandas, or even mitochondria. It appears that there is no escaping Pottermania. JK Rowling’s stories were a good start, but the franchising, movies, and merchandising efforts were successful in not only creating revenue, but also in inspiring fans to be a part of Harry’s world and also to help to grow this world into something I am sure Rowling could have never imagined.