“IT ALL ENDS”
Or so the giant billboards, bus shelter advertisements and movie posters told us. According to them, Harry Potter has been all over since this July.
Harry Potter fans are used to “the end”. They’ve been commemorating “the end” for four years. They had their first in July 2007, when the final book in the seven-part series was released. Then, last November was the “beginning of the end”, when the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One came out. And, as the giant posters screamed at us, it all ended a few months ago.
So why, then, are the Harry Potter fan groups in Melbourne and Sydney more popular than they have ever been before, proving that the community of Harry Potter is anything but ended?
To many people, the typical Harry Potter fan is a child in a wizard robe, a lightning scar painted on their forehead. But there is an entire world-wide community of people who love The Boy Who Lived, too.
Once, they were the excited children, with their scars drawn on in texta, waiting in line to get their copy of Order of the Phoenix or to see the films. Or searching the internet for any bits of information about the developing story.
One of those children was the now 20 year old, Erica Crombie. “It all began for me, as I’m sure it did for everyone else as well, the day I Googled ‘Harry Potter’.”
Erica said her interest in Harry was still quite casual then, “At first I only ever used to print out stuff from Leaky [The Leaky Cauldron, a Harry Potter news site], and put it in my diary. For years I didn’t do much besides look up stuff of Leaky and Mugglenet [another news site].
“And then one day MuggleCast and PotterCast [Mugglenet and the Leaky Cauldron’s respective podcast discussions] started out and I began listening to them, and I heard about a conference called Lumos2006 which was going to happen in Las Vegas.
“So I went mental and decided there was no way in the world I was going to miss out, because for me, it sounded like the greatest event in the world.” At the time, Erica was only fifteen.
“Then while waiting and saving for that, I really wanted to meet more fans, so I went back to Google and typed in “Harry Potter Melbourne” and joined a meet up group here. So it all went ballistic from there.”
The current meet up group has evolved from that one Erica joined in 2006, after a hiatus between 2008 and the end of last year.
“It had made me sad that it’d died,” said Erica. While online discussion had continued, and some of the members still met up casually, the monthly meet ups and occasional larger events had stopped. So at the end of last year, Erica decided to bring it back, as the Melbourne Muggles.
“I was sitting there thinking about all the awesome times I used to have with everyone, and how much I loved all my Potter friends and how sad it was that I never got to see them anymore.
“Harry Potter had been such a big part of my life, and it was a part I was neglecting. So I thought if no one else was going to get it back up there, then I had better do it.”
One of the biggest aspects of the Harry Potter fandom in Australia is its do it yourself attitude. Unlike the American counterpart, where Wizard Rock shows are common, and large scale conferences are organised by groups like the Leaky Cauldron, and all the fan has to do is dress up and attend, here if you don’t organise something for yourself, it isn’t going to happen.
Bianca Smith discovered this in 2006, when she began HP Events Australia. “During one of the first big conferences in the States, we were chatting online about how sad it as that we were missing out, and I thought why not make it happen?”
“It took a lot of research,” said Bianca. “A group of like-minded friends joined in and we ran a survey asking what types of events people wanted at what price points… There wasn’t much happening in Australia, so the excitement really snowballed quickly.
“Later, getting the events happening was the same work as a professional events company. We had to pick and choose which events we could run in our free time and make it achievable and affordable. That was the challenge. We discovered from the survey that everyone wanted a full conference, but no one was willing to pay the registration fees needed to put it on.”
Despite this, HP Events Australia continued to host smaller events until 2008; like trivia nights, as well as larger events, such as a live recording of MuggleCast in Sydney and Melbourne, and had a Relay for Life team, under the banner “A Cure Would Be Magical”.
Harry Potter Fans Making a Difference
Much of the greater Harry Potter fandom has a keen interest in helping others where they can, having been inspired by the author of the series, J K Rowling, when she said “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”
Many Potter fan groups try to involve themselves with charity work, and are inspired by Andrew Slack and the HP Alliance.
“The HP Alliance was started about six years ago,” said the HP Alliance Assistant Director, Eileen Smith. “Andrew Slack [the Executive Director] decided that he wanted to take the message and stories from the books and use them to inspire young people everywhere to get more involved in activism.”
The HP Alliance supports human rights awareness, LGBT rights and literacy.
“The themes of Harry Potter deal with many of the issues we face today – bullying, prejudice against certain members of society, and the forces of the world that act like Voldemort,” said Eileen.
“I hope that we can continue to grow and gain support,” Eileen said, “as well as inspire the next generation of young people to become activists and to stand up for what is right in the world. I think that we need this now more than ever, and the Harry Potter books are the perfect way to teach young people about a lot of problems that are facing the world today.”
“Harry Potter has changed the way we see things,” said Eric Scull, who works for Mugglenet, and is one of the hosts of MuggleCast. He said he was sceptical about the books before he read them, but has since witnessed the way they influence the readers as they have grown up with the series.
“The characters in the books are written well enough and the books inspire us to do things, like take morals from them, or act them out, or discuss them.”
Eric said he is glad for the “crazy great” opportunities and memories that being part of the the Harry Potter fandom has produced, and the way these things have shaped who each Harry Potter fan is today. “We have grown up with Potter… It’s so weird seeing the same people who I read the book with now have jobs and live in the “real” world. How we have achieved that is very different, separate, individual, unique, but we’ve all done it. And we’ve all got Harry in common still.”
“People are asking ‘What’s the next Harry Potter going to be?’, but like Woodstock, I feel like Potter defines a generation,” said Eric. “And so we’ll be about to take it with us for quite some time, and our kids will probably tire of hearing about it – until they read it themselves.”
In 2007, Eric recorded two episodes of MuggleCast in front of live audiences in Sydney and Melbourne, in conjunction with HP Events Australia. It was this event that produced Sydney Muggles United, when friends Cassie Watson and Stacey Richmond realised there were people in Sydney just as mad about Harry as they were.
With the same do it yourself attitude that is strong within the Melbourne fandom, Cassie and Stacey began their own meet up group. Stacey was 14, Cassie was 13.
“I think it’s up to us to really make the Australian fandom amazing,” said Cassie. “While there’s no denying that Australia’s Harry Potter fandom is considerably smaller than that of the UK and the US, I don’t believe that we’re any less powerful. The true heart of the fandom is its ability to unify people – which can happen in our country as easily as anywhere else. ”
“Both Sydney Muggles United and the Harry Potter fandom in general have changed my life in so many ways. I’ve met so many incredible people and made close friends through the fandom. My experiences of running SMU have also helped to enhance skills like leadership, organisation and event planning.
“I’ll never forget how stressful – yet rewarding – it was to plan the release event we ran with IMAX for the final movie. I find it so fulfilling to plan an event that people really enjoy, no matter how frustrating it can be at times. I would never have gained these experiences if it weren’t for SMU, and I’m really grateful for that.”
Cassie, too, is inspired by Harry Potter to make a difference, saying that the charm of the series is much more than the unforgettable and addictive story. “Throughout the series we are continually encouraged to change the way we think about the world. We are confronted with crucial life lessons which challenge us to be better people.
“The struggles that our beloved characters face teach us about the importance of love, loyalty, bravery and friendship. We realise how powerful these forces are, and I think that’s part of the reason why the Harry Potter fandom is so concerned with making the world a better place.
“One of my favourite quotes comes from Albus Dumbledore, when he refers to the significance of having to “make a choice between what is right and what is easy”… The fandom has really taken this idea on board, particularly through the activities of organisations like the HP Alliance.
“We are truly empowered by the messages and morals explored in the Harry Potter series, as they make us realise that even those who seem weak can make an impact on the world.”
Despite “the end” of Harry Potter, both the Sydney Muggles United and the Melbourne Muggles have experienced their biggest growth this year. The Sydney group has grown from less than ten members in their beginnings to over two hundred members in their Facebook group this year. Likewise, the Melbourne Muggles, who had around thirty members at the beginning of the year, has recently reached the 400 member milestone.
Both groups, acting on the theme of friendship, joined earlier this year to be known as the Australian Muggles Alliance, and hope to throw a nation-wide event sometime in the future.
“Harry Potter won’t ever completely go away,” said Erica. “I think we’ve had the biggest growth in the past year because everyone’s so desperate to hang on to it. I think that shows it won’t ever really completely die out. People will love Potter forever.”
“I definitely don’t think that the fandom is dying now that all the books and films have been released!” said Cassie. “The spirit of Harry Potter will always be alive in those truly obsessed fans. Although we will no longer be debating theories about the upcoming books, we can still immerse ourselves in the stories we love.
“This phenomenon, and more importantly, the friendships we’ve made because of it, will endure through the generations. I think it’s a sign of a truly incredible series that its impact endure well beyond the time that many perceive it to be ‘over’.”
And, as J K Rowling assured thousands of fans at the premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two in London earlier this year: “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”