Harry in their own unique way. Rowling’s

Harry Potter was created
and written by J.K Rowling in 1997. Published over the course of ten years, the
Harry Potter series has been adapted into eight films, whilst also expanding
into a prequel series, with ‘Fantastic
Beasts and Where to Find Them’ released in 2016. It could be argued that
the success of the series can be attributed to the use of online platforms such
as social media; where fans have been able to explore the stories in their own
unique way. Rowling’s activity on Twitter (@jk_rowling) has also allowed the
audience to further expand upon their knowledge of the universe. For instance,
this was the way in which the author revealed Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster
of Hogwarts, was homosexual. This essay will explore how transmedia storytelling
has had a positive effect on the fandom culture of Harry Potter and how
convergent technologies have enabled the fictional world to be enjoyed on an
international scale. To do this, I will look into the work of Henry Jenkins
(2003) in his definition of convergence, transmedia and fandoms and whether
other theorists agree or disagree. In order to understand the extent to which
transmedia has created a fan base of Harry Potter, this essay will look at two
case studies; the film series and the interactive online program Pottermore.

Both cases are prime example of how new media technology have enabled the
development of transmedia storytelling using convergent technologies to develop
the book franchise into a lived experience for fans.

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Since the
Telecommunications Act of 1996, ‘technological development made the convergence
of media/telecommunication imperative’ and encouraged competition between
different media industries (Chon, 144: 1997). As the internet and technology
continues to develop, convergence plays a key role in understanding why
franchises, such as Harry Potter, have become not only more accessible online,
but used as a mode of continuing the story. Outlined by Henry Jenkins in his
book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and
New Media Collide (2008), convergence is the ‘flow of content across
multiple media platforms and the behavior of media audiences who will go almost
anywhere in search of entertainment’ (2:2008). Jenkins definition suggests that
content made by filmmakers can be found and accessed on a series of convergent
devices; such as laptops, smartphones and tablets. As a result of a development
in convergent devices and the merge of new and old media channels, audiences
are able to better access content, allowing for them to discover and enjoy new
content more easily. Jenkins believes that with the convergence of
technologies, comes new creativity in order to provide different ways in which
to communicate their narratives through various platforms (Jenkins:2001). This,
he states, gives the audience more control in what they consume and allows them
to experience television programs at any time of day, not just at the time of
broadcast, providing its availability on the required platform (Jenkins, 18:
2008). The idea and theory behind convergence stems from Thomas Baldwin (Cited
in Chon, 2003), who states that convergence is ‘the consolidation through
industry mergers with the combination of technology platforms and the integration
between services (Baldwin cited in Chon, 2003). Jenkins further discusses the
idea of integration by proposing that convergence is the merging of technology,
providing an ease of accessibility to users, thus allowing audiences having
more control over what they watch and how they consume content. This brings
Jenkins’ idea full circle with his initial theory suggesting that audiences
will go anywhere to find the entertainment experience they desire, and the
integration of platforms provides the means in doing so.

 

The convergence culture has
ultimately encouraged and developed the idea of transmedia storytelling, a
‘process where elements of fiction are dispersed across multiple channels in
order to create an entertainment experience, which each platform contributing
to the unfolding of a story in a different way’ (Jenkins:2010). Due to recent
technological advances in the 21st century, many companies have
taken advantage of using multiple platforms in order to promote their content
and allow an audience to experience a unique take on a particular story they
are interested in. Similarly, to the growth of convergence, transmedia has
become a catalyst in which filmmakers are able to appeal to the interested
audience and narrowcast in order to be successful. Elizabeth Evans agrees with
Jenkins, in the case of transmedia texts being about creating a coherent
cross-platform narrative experience, allowing said narrative to be accessed
across numerous channels (Evans, 20: 2011). Despite both theorists agreeing
upon a definition, Jenkins states that although there is better accessibility,
transmedia storytelling aids the narrative by providing back-stories or
insights into central characters (Jenkins: 2010). In the case of the Harry
Potter series, Pottermore has allowed Rowling and the audience to further develop
central characters by releasing an epilogue of ’19 years later’ at the end of
the series (Rowling, 755: 2007). However, Evans disagrees with this on the most
part, and believes that transmedia texts no longer promotes television programs
or films, but are more about creating an experience based loosely upon the original
content (Evans, 20: 2011). This idea stems from an argument made by Marsha
Kinder, who illustrates the idea that the use of multiple platforms teaches
children to become consumers in order to create commercial success of the
product (Kinder cited in Evans, 21: 2011). This therefore suggests that
companies do not want to rely on transmedia but instead focus on single media
content in order to generate profit. Much of Jenkins and Evans work has been
influenced by Kinder, in that her work was written in the 90s, alongside the
development of the internet, but with the rise of convergent technology and
transmedia storytelling her work is less applicable due to its time of
publication. This can be seen by Kinder stating that merchandise and sequels
are ‘discourse of commercialism’, with Jenkins developing this idea by
illustrating that merchandise and sequels created from content ‘represents
resources where users can expand their understanding of the fictional world
through their ‘play’ not just for profit purposes (Jenkins, 2010). This alludes
to the idea of multi-platform narratives enables fans and users to explore a
new understanding based upon the original story.

 

Ultimately the idea of
convergence culture and transmedia storytelling lead to the introduction of
participatory culture, where groups have ‘a personal and relatively deep
emotional connection with an element of popular culture’ (Duffet, 2: 2013). In
Mark Duffet’s research, he states that fandoms are a positive form of cultural
creativity and allows groups of people to integrate and join together over particular
forms of entertainment. Although Duffet views fandom culture as positive, Lisa
Lewis (1992) opposes the idea stating that fans are typically deranged or
portray psychological behaviors (Lewis, 11: 1992). She outlines that fans are a
result of the star system, rather than that as suggested by Duffet where fan
culture has derived from an interest in the entertainment. Considering there is
little research surrounding the subject of participatory culture, both views
are strongly opposed with clear evidence in support of both ideas. In support
of Duffet’s theory of positivity towards the fandoms, Jonathon Grey states that
‘representation of the fans in mainstream media have shifted away from the
pathologization to a positive embrace of fans (Grey, 2: 2017). This links to
Lewis’ theory of psychological disorders that accompany fandoms, but also builds
upon the idea that has recently been altered to the more positive view,
previously stated by Duffet. This is evident of the shift in technology as
Lewis’ text was written in 1992, before the introduction of convergence devices
and transmedia storytelling and therefore is not exemplary of technology and
the fans today. Duffet and Grey both develop the idea of fans and how they have
adapted with technology changes. Furthermore, Henry Jenkins discusses the
relationship between participatory culture and digital technology and how it
reflects the ‘youth culture and practices’ (Jenkins, 4: 2016). In his early
work, ‘Textual Poachers’ (1992) he described fans as a creative
community not just as consumers of content, thus supporting the statements made
by Duffet in that the communities derived from television shows or sports
positively produce creative works. During his work in 1992, much like Lewis,
technology was advancing and the fandom culture was beginning to materialize
with the early development of the internet and media-sharing abilities. Unlike
Lewis’ claims of negativity surrounding the subject of participatory culture,
Jenkins believes the creativity of such communities allow users to believe that
their contributions matter and feel to some extent and social connection with
one another in a group, thus creating a positive atmosphere (Jenkins, 9:2016). This
ties into Harry Potter, in that, much of the fan communities create fan art
which is shared amongst websites and on Rowling’s social media, thus
illustrating how fans believe that their creative contributions mean something
within a small group.  As a result, niche
products that previously would not have been considered for a second series or
album are able to gain the recognition they deserve due to a collective group
of people who enjoy it, no matter how small the community is.

 

All theories discussed link directly to the
ways in which the audience enjoys Harry Potter and how they are able to access
or be involved in the content and community. Not only have more films and books
been released, but also video games, board games and other merchandise has
followed, as well as an extensive fan community who refer to themselves
collectively as ‘Potterheads’. The books have been re-released into an adult
version along with a more child-friendly version with different art work on the
covers, as well as their inclusion online through e-books and online
distribution, distinguishing the idea of convergence allowing users to access
the content though different platforms. With the
release of the first film adaptation ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s
Stone’ (2001), additional content such as; a video game, available on Playstation,
action figures and wands were available. This begins to introduce the
concept of multiple platform narrative at the early stages of technological
development. As well as digital content, a Studio Tour has been created that
allows fans to walk through an interactive experience of the set and props from
the films. The success of this attraction has led to theme parks
in the United States of America, ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’, with
rides, restaurants and gifts available for fans to ‘live’ in the story. These
physical attractions are a unique storytelling method and work particularly
well in this case, as much of what has been created has stemmed from the books,
films and games.

 

Harry Potter is still
one of the biggest and highest-grossing film franchises today, making more than
$2 billion collectively at the box office and continue to profit. Similarly to
the release of the books, the films were released in a chronological order,
starting with ‘Harry Potter and The
Philosopher’s Stone’ (2001) and concluding with ‘Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2’ (2011). Over the
course of ten years, a small fan community turned into one of the largest to
date, consisting of millions of fans called ‘Potterheads’. The films represent
a strong transmedia narrative, as they present a new story adaptation based
upon original content. This allowed producers to focus on central characters,
in particular the main protagonists, Harry, Ron and Hermione as well as the
antagonist Voldemort. This illustrates the concept of transmedia, as Jenkins
states that each platform contributes to a story in a different way, therefore
instead of telling the same narrative through more films, a different twist on
the story allowed fans to enjoy a similar narrative. Resultantly leading to the
characters portrayed in the film being altered and modified in order to create
a new foundation for a new narrative.

 

Four years after the
completion of the film adaptations of the original books, a prequel ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ (2016)
was released, based on an encyclopedia written by fictional character Newt
Scamander (J.K Rowling). From the success of this, a second installment ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald’ (2019) is to be
released, following the story of a character barely mentioned in the original
series. This once again represents the ideas of transmedia storytelling as it
presents a narrative based upon a factual book of creatures within a world,
therefore provides the audience with extra content, that enables them to
experience a new concept providing a back-story to an already strong narrative.

It also presents the positivity of the fandom, in that fans created artwork and
stories relating to the creatures found within the book which has ultimately
led to the production of films. Again, this depicts the theory that Jenkins
illustrates, whereby fans believe that their contributions matter and in this case,
they aided in the creation of a film.

 

 

Pottermore was created and released
in 2011 by J.K Rowling, a website that has since accumulated millions of
visitors and users and defines itself as ‘digital publishing, entertainment and
news company from J.K Rowling’ (Pottermore, 2011). A couple of months prior to
its release, an interactive advertisement as a form of promotion, as
coordinates were distributed across Harry Potter fan sites that led to places
on ‘Secretstreetview.com’ which
revealed hidden letters, spelling out Rowling’s announcement of the site. Following
this, she created a countdown on Youtube with
many of the Harry Potter fan sites linking to this using pixelated owls, thus further
enforcing the Harry Potter brand. This, like many other popular franchises, was
heavily reliant on an extensive fan base which
allowed the audience to interact within the world they already participated in.

This links back to Jenkins idea of those within fan communities believing that
their contributions matter and is particularly evident in this case as fans
joined together in order to discover what was to be announced. Originally, once
users were assigned a profile, they were quizzed and sorted into a Hogwarts
House, as if they were a student, and then work their way through the stories
earning points for their designated house. Not only did this site accommodate
fans, but also allowed for those only slightly interested or unaware of the
narrative to join, as it was a different way to tell the stories from the books
and the films and therefore created an interactive experience for an audience.

Thus, exhibiting the use of transmedia storytelling in order to build upon an
already comprehensive fan community and created an interactive unique
experience for users based off a popular narrative.

 

Recently Pottermore was
re-released in the style of a blog; allowing unreleased articles and content by
J.K Rowling to feature on the main site. Articles like origin stories and
prequel stories are now available, expanding the knowledge of fans and allowing
for even more content to be created. Although some of the interactive abilities
have been removed, there is regular updates of new content that are introduced
to the webpage, including: new quizzes to determine a person’s patronus. The
content and information found on Pottermore is the most accurate and fitting to
the story about the world, as it was created in the author’s vision. The
website reflects the initial concepts and ideas created by Rowling and
therefore allows users to physically experience first-hand a portrayal of the
world. This further demonstrates the theory of transmedia storytelling, as this
is a different platform and interpretation on a narrative and depicts the idea
of narrowcasting through adapting content to be enjoyed by the audience and
fans no matter how involved they are.

 

Initially Pottermore was
only accessible on a laptop or desktop, however with the growth in technical
developments Pottermore can be accessed through any platform, further
demonstrating the idea of convergent devices and how over the course of a few
years a desktop compatible website, has become a multi-platform site. This
depicts Jenkins’ theory that an audience will go anywhere in search of the
entertainment they desire and therefore technology has adapted to this request
in order to suit the needs of the audience and consumers.  The success of such an interactive media
source, has led to further game developments available of smartphones, ‘Wizard’s Unite’ (2018), based on the
popular format of ‘Pokemon GO’ (2016).

This game will allow users to catch creatures and cast spells from Harry
Potter, expanding the universe even further allowing fans to immerse themselves
into the fictional world from their own phone in a virtual reality space.

 

The Harry Potter franchise has
positively created a fan community and products alongside it, following
technological advancements. Jenkins’ has positively communicated the fan
community and the idea that convergence and transmedia have allowed companies
and authors to promote their brand and content. This is demonstrated by
communities creating content that is meaningful towards the brand and that
their contributions are meaningful, allowing for even more content to be
produced and enjoyed. Furthermore, this allows the audience and consumers to
experience and immerse themselves into a narrative with their own ideas and to
meet new people, creating more groups and generating even more content. Additionally,
all Harry Potter narratives are available on multiple platforms therefore
allows access to all content through any device and above all does not limit
its audience to a single channel, leading to on-the go accessibility. Some of
the theories have outlined the negative effects of fandoms and psychological
disorders attached to these communities, however these ideas originated before
the development of the internet and multi-media platforming in the 90s. With a
development in technology and new media advancing on a daily basis, one must
conduct and collect relatively up-to-date research that will explain and depict
contemporary technology and how they relate to the release of films and
franchises. Therefore, in order to complete a full investigation into the
positive effects of the transmedia storytelling of Harry Potter, more concise
data needs to be collected in order to definitively conclude. However, with the
research and theories already available it is clear to see that adopting
multi-media narratives for stories, like Harry Potter, achieves a positive
effect for its fans and the content alike.