Transmedia storytelling is a fairly new concept made possible by every single technological advancement that has promoted the dissipation of information. It is because of these advancements that a story can be told through different media platforms, and thus forming a transmedia work. (Jenkins 2003) This is the reason why the Harry Potter series is the transmedia juggernaut that it is. Like magic, his story, has become accessible on more than just the thin sheets of paper that J.K Rowling wrote in for the first time years ago. J.K Rowling, first had the idea traveling on a delayed train in 1990. Most publishers had denied Rowling’s writings, until she was accepted by Bloomsbury, who saw the potential of her work and ended up making an incredible decision. Over the course of the next five years, she began to plan out the seven books of the series. As the first book became a bestseller in 1997, J.K. Rowling was soon receiving thousands of letters from her fans. This year, 2017, marks 20 years. This paper will explain why Harry Potter is the perfect example of a successful transmedia work, and in doing so transmedia theory will be brought to light.
As for the story, Harry, brought up by his unkind muggle aunt and uncle, was sent to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on his eleventh birthday, where he will learn the art of magic. During the year, Harry befriends Ron and Hermione and begin their entanglement in mysteries of Hogwarts. Harry struggles with problems and dealing with them often involves the need to violate school rules, confronting everything from evil Voldemort to huge spiders. Every passing year at Hogwarts, Harry uncovers a darker truth about his past and by the last film/book, he learns everything from why he has the scar on his forehead to all that has lead him up fighting the dark lord. Daniel Radcliffe stars as the main character, Harry Potter. Rupert Grint plays the red-head bestfriend and Emma Watson plays the nerdy, bookworm role of Hermione Granger, another one of Harry’s best friends. Other main characters who are important to mention are Draco Malfoy – Harry’s bully, Rubeus Hagrid – the friendly giant and keeper of Hogwarts’ creatures, Severus Snape – Harry’s strict professor who ends up having a deeper connection to Harrys past, Albus Dumbledore – the headmaster of Hogwarts, and Voldemort – the evil Dark Lord who killed his parents and left him with the scar on his forehead.
For a successful transmedia work like Harry Potter to take the spotlight, It can not adhere to the typical transmedia definition of telling a story through different media platforms. One more detail must be added to that definition. Every display must help add to the story or to the feelings that one has to that particular work, otherwise, every addition is a stand alone piece. Storytellers need to take this into account and not let the scent of money inspired by quick spreadability taint a story. When it comes to transmedia theory, there are six main concepts that must be kept in mind. The first two are spreadability and immersion. A good story spreads with the help of a powerful audience and a story that is immersive and relatable to draw people in. Tied to spreadability is drillability, the idea of how deep one can dive into the series. Tied to immersion is extraction, meaning how much can you take back with you from that world. Concepts three and four focus on world building and seriality. Enough pieces of the world must be built for effective immersion and there must be a welt built bridge that connects each work so that audiences can easily hop around. The final two concepts are subjectivity and performance (Jenkins 2016). There must be sides and different perspectives to the story and a participating fan base as well. As the many themes of the Wizarding World are revealed, it will become relevant how Harry Potter satisfies these concepts.
The Harry Potter stories are truly about more than what meets the eye, it is more than just a blockbuster hit or a preposterous fantasy world of wizards. It falls within the genre of fantasy literature, incorporating elements such as mystery, adventure, comedy, horror, thriller, and even romance. Nevertheless, behind all of the bravado, there are thoughtful and more insightful meanings. Of much importance, the themes portrayed in this magical Wizarding World reassure its reason for its transmedia success, in that the aforementioned concepts defining the basis of transmedia storytelling are exemplified. For instance, the Harry Potter series was mainly directed at a young adult audience, although the actual audience ended up being nearly everyone who knew how to read or see. Observably, since more people than the target audience enjoyed the story, it is therefore easily spreadable and drillable, in accordance to the concepts. Closely related concepts like immersion and extraction are further demonstrated in the Harry Potter series thanks to the stories examining many social issues. To name a few, power/abuse of power, violence and hatred, love and loss, prejudice, normality, oppression, survival, overcoming imposing odds and death (one of the most dominant themes, opening with the death of Harry’s parents and the main goal being about conquering/overcoming it) are all present. The world of Harry Potter has very transparent parallels to our society, showing social hierarchies and the resulting prejudices that come from that. A clear example is when “muggles”, “half-bloods”, and “mud-bloods” – those in the Harry Potter world who don’t have magical powers or who have both a muggle and wizard parent – are differentiated and discriminated against, drawing the line towards racism in our own society. Usually, Harry and his friends, who love and support each other, fight against this, as they are always trying to meaningfully contact with the characters belonging to characterized groups, as he tries to appreciate and understand them, comparatively fighting for a world free of social inequalities. In retrospect, the underlying message and the true reason for the Wizarding World’s success is underneath the robes, the wands and underneath the magic. In the end, they are just normal teens, metaphorically facing obstacles just as all teens do. The audience can still relate with the characters, even though we are all “muggles”. Most of all and what truly speaks to the young adults, is the road shown through adolescent years, going over one’s most traumatic ordeals, and coming to terms with them. Even though, Harry and his crew have magic on their side, they are still teens going through tough times, just as a normal teen would. Even more so, Rowling has said that the stories contain “a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry … to question authority and not assume that the establishment or the press tells you all of the truth.” (Rowling 2009) As for the final two concepts of subjectivity and performance, it is clear that the Harry Potter story is intricately subjective and allows for a very participating and motivated fan base.
As quoted by character and headmaster Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” (Rowling 2007). The Harry Potter books, the medium that started it all, have collectively sold more than 500 million copies, now published in over 78 languages, making them the best-selling series of all time — with the final four novels consecutively setting records for the fastest selling book in history. Despite having no particular age group in mind when beginning to write, the publishers initially targeted children aged nine to eleven. Thanks to this, it is obvious why their colorfully drawn book covers were created to appeal to younger audiences and contribute to the fact that it was so popular among young readers at the time. (IMAGE 1) The book series is directly correlated, then, to the rise and popularity of young adult fiction and has inspired some of the current generation’s fascination with this genre.
J.K. Rowling sold the film rights to Warner Brothers Studio in 1998 making it an order that the cast be kept strictly British, with just a few exceptional cast members from different places in Europe. The Harry Potter films have been top-rank box office hits, with all eight releases on the list of highest-grossing films worldwide. The highest grossing film of the series was the eighth film, the lowest being the 3rd. As well as being a financially successful, the film series has also been a success among film critics, surpassing their budget cost and drawing in massive amounts of profits. Apart from this, it is second on the box offices “most successful movie franchises in all of history” list, led only by Marvel Cinematic Universe. One of the interesting things about the films, and probably one of the main critiques, is that many different directors worked on the films – 4 to be exact – in an over 10 year span of time of production. Some viewers feel that the films are disordered due to the constant changes in direction. Chris Columbus, who directed the first two films in 2001 and 2002, declined when asked to direct the 3rd movie in 2004, leaving the job to Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón. Since the 4th movie began productions before the 3rd movies’ release, there was yet another change in direction, this time lead by Mike Newall in 2005, the first British director of the series. This was followed by David Yates who directed the last 4 films in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Nevertheless, all of the films have been a success financially, critically, and cinematographically, making the series one of the major hollywood tent-poles, which are films given huge production budgets in the hope of making large profits (Lundegaard 2011) . Six of the eight films were nominated for a total of 12 Academy Awards but never won the Oscar. Although not successful here, the series has gained success in many other award ceremonies, the Saturn Awards, the Art Directors Guild Awards, the Grammys, and many, many others. In total, they have won/been nominated over 70 times in almost 40 different award ceremonies.
Once the story is set and the book is out, what else happens? Given that imagination has been transformed into an industry, it is essential for more innovation to occur in order to squeeze the cash cow. This is no problem for fans because those who love Harry Potter can continue to immerse themselves in the world. It would be a problem however, if an added piece is not in canon with the story. What makes it a perfect example of transmedia storytelling success is the fact that the story has been spread out and expanded on multiple platforms for the fans to indulge in. How all these platforms relate and add to the original story is what makes Harry Potter relevant after 20 years of its release. In Harry Potter’s case, most of the transmedia storytelling is done under the British-American media franchise J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. It is a fictional universe created by J.K. Rowling which provides a more in depth look into the characters’ stories and allows the fans to engage with the whole Harry Potter experience in more ways than just reading the books or watching the movies. The franchise has not settled for “just marketing”, it has surpassed the term, and has even withstood the true test of a brand/transmedia storytelling success…achieving and provoking user generated content. The most important platforms include all of the nine movies and one that will be released in 2018 (eight original Harry Potter movies, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Yates 2016) and a sequel to that Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald (Yates 2018), the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the interactive digital platform Pottermore, Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter & Resorts theme parks in Japan, Orlando and Hollywood and finally all of the original soundtracks from the released movies. All of these mentioned platforms help to create a more tangible understanding of the whole setting the storyline takes place in and adds to the idea which every fantastic movie fan dreams of: the whole story being real and existing. Currently, wizards have taken over Orlando, Hollywood, Japan and Australia where you can buy butter beer, a staple drink in the harry potter series, and even interactive wands to interact with the park.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Yates 2016) began as a book that J.K Rowling wrote and adapted it into a film, just as the series started before. None of the main Harry Potter characters are in it, but the world within is just as magical. It is an expansion of the world, as well as the fandom, because now people can become fans of Fantastic Beasts and dive into the world of magic. The story of Harry Potter is linear, but a person does not have to chronologically start the series to be a fan.
Pottermore, the aforementioned interactive online platform, has allowed fans to be sorted into their corresponding house by the famous sorting hat (that apparently knows you better than you know yourself) from the film. Now, it has been transformed into a digital multiple choice mini game for a person to know if they are in the Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, or Slytherin house. These are the four houses of Hogwarts, the school of Harry Potter. You can also discover what wand has chosen you with another test, as well as your protective animal, which is called a patronus. This may seem meaningless to someone who cares not for Harry Potter, but for a fan, they can strip away their muggle (Wizard term for human) suits and be a wizard in their vivid imagination with tools like Pottermore.
Another way that fans get to be a more active participant of the story is by adapting a huge part of the movies in their lives… by playing Quidditch. Quidditch is a game that was first introduced by J.K. Rowling with the Harry Potter series. In the annotated first edition of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, there is a handwritten note on Quidditch that reveals how and why she came up with it. She wrote “Quidditch was invented in a small hotel in Manchester after a row with my then boyfriend. I had been pondering the things that hold a society together, cause it to congregate and signify its particular character and knew I needed a sport. It infuriates men (why is the Snitch so valuable etc.), which is quite satisfying given my state of mind when I invented it.” (Rowling 2011) In the movies it is played by two teams of seven players (three Chasers, two Beaters, one Keeper and one Seeker) riding flying broomsticks on a large oval field called a “Pitch” with three different height hoops on each side. The real life adapted version as known as “Muggle Quidditch” however involves less magic and more running. The same rules apply but instead of flying, players hold broomsticks between their legs while running and the Golden Snitch is a tennis ball in a sock instead of a ball with wings. However, these don’t change the fact that Quidditch is a big deal in the real world as much as it is in the movies. It is played by over five hundred teams in over twenty six countries around the world. (IMAGE 2) Fans gather their own teams and compete against each other whether it is a competition organized between two universities or the World Cup organized by the IQA. It can be said that J.K. Rowling achieved what she had in mind when she created Quidditch, as it really brings and holds the people together as they share the joy of being part of something they love. Another way fans get the chance to relate even more to the characters they love is by buying merchandise. Harry Potter merchandise includes the different type of wands the wizards use throughout the movies, some snacks that were in the scenes, character costumes, clothing items that have the symbols of the four houses, phone cases etc. (IMAGE 3) There are shops in the theme parks mentioned above where fans can go and buy the items they have seen in the movies or read about in the books which also helps them to expand the story by becoming a part of it as they collect those wands and cloaks. Fans also get to discover more of Hogwarts as they play the various games that were released from multiple companies for multiple platforms. In 2001, Electronic Arts began releasing eight games with adaptations of each Harry Potter movie with considerable respect to the original plot under the same titles as the movies for various platforms such as PC, Wii, Xbox and PS. Releasing it on different platforms allowed the fans that belong to different age groups to also engage by choosing what they are comfortable with as they began their journey in the Wizarding World. There were also four games released by Lego with toy versions of the characters, a cartoonish design and often comedic animations as most of the Lego games do. Of course the ones who were both a fan of Harry Potter and videogames were satisfied but for those fans who are more interested in engaging in activities outside of their screen there are also conventions which they can attend, LeakyCon being the most popular. LeakyCon is an annual convention that is organized by Mischief Management,LLC that lasts for a weekend where fans of all ages can enjoy panels, performances and “hear from stars and creators of the Harry Potter films about their experiences bringing the magic to life on-screen.” Whether it is by attending a convention or by wearing the scarf of the house they got into from the sorting hat in Pottermore fans get to experience the Harry Potter world all thanks to the platforms, allowing them to be a part of the ever growing story.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has grown to be worth over $25 billion dollars, since the first novel was published about 20 years ago. Something about an awkwardly lovable and down to earth boy with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead has captured the hearts and imaginations of so many fans around the world, impacting many aspects. Not only has the story impacted the film/literature industry, but, more importantly, it has positively impacted society. If you were born in the 90’s and early 00’s, then you’ve probably been impacted in some way by the Harry Potter phenomenon, that stirred a lasting interest in audiences. Above all things, this is thanks to its remarkable use of platforms to extend the story, its success as a transmedia work.
The impact on the industries of the magical Wizarding World of Harry Potter have been exactly that, utterly magical. Both the films and the books have impacted significantly their respective mediums. As for the books, they are a tremendous literary achievement/movement. Of the many different aspects, it made reading cool again. At a crucial period, when more and more of the population were turning to other forms of media that were newly emerging, this series got an entire generation of children – and young adults – reading again. It’s clear that the “Harry Potter effect” elicited excitement from children about reading in a way no other series had. In a similar way, the Harry Potter films have been rightfully considered to have had a significant impact on the film industry. They are cited as having helped redefine the Hollywood blockbuster, beginning an increasing trend towards the theory of transmedia franchise success. It can even be argued that without Harry Potter’s inspiration, book series such as the future dystopia of The Hunger Games (Collins 2008), or the sparkly vampires in Twilight (Meyer 2005) may never have existed, with fantasy becoming a dominant genre in children and young adult literature. Additionally, the franchise has also had other peculiar impacts on society. Everything from “Platform 9 and 3/4” being real in London’s King’s Cross station (IMAGE 4) to specific university courses on the story. For instance, it added the word “muggle” to our vocabulary – and in the Oxford English dictionary! In 2002, it listed this word as “a person who lacks a particular skill or skills”. Separately, the series became so popular that parents are increasingly naming their children peculiar names like Draco, Hermione, and Sirius, after the characters in the story.
Harry Potter, being different from the popular books and movies that came before it, was able to merge audiences across generations and create not only a name for itself, but a brand, further exemplifying its transmedia success. Fans who are now older and grew up with the stories have an immense sentimental attachment because every year of their childhood another book would come out or the next movie was about to be released, so it was something that they grew up with. It is important to point out that J.K. Rowling has revealed that the true inspiration for the books was her mother’s death, and that without this tragedy that happened in her life, Harry Potter may have never existed. Her mother’s sudden death at a young age of 45 forged both her psychological strengths and vulnerabilities and through her passion, dedication and writing, J.K. Rowling, created this transmedia storytelling phenomenon.