Harry Potter is trans-WHAT?

So one of the main reasons we are interested in Harry Potter (apart from the general awesomeness of the whole franchise) is its transmedia qualities. And as some of you may have noticed, our last two blog posts mentioned someone named Henry Jenkins. He is a scholar who, for some time, has worked on developing the concept of transmedia storytelling.


Transmedia storytelling is the art of telling a story using multiple media platforms to tell different (mostly) independent parts of the story. Transmedia storytelling is ideal for stories that require a high degree of world building. One of the most famous examples is Star Wars, which has two movie trilogies under its belt and a third on the way, a series of books and comic books expanding on what happened between and beyond the movies, computer games that let you play through a whole other part of the story, an animated TV-series depicting the clone wars.

Harry Potter is trans…porting himself and Ron to Hogwarts. Well… fallng out of the car, technically but still. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Warner Bros.
Transmedia storytelling is NOW

If you suspect that there is a lot of transmedia storytelling going on right now, you are completely right. A lot of the major franchises, and even TV shows, use transmedia storytelling to varying degrees (e.g. if you are a fan of Sherlock, the show makers actually made Watsons blog available online). As for Harry Potter there has been a journey towards transmedia. It all started with 7 books/eight movies. Those are different media, but the movies are just adaptations of the books so that does not really count. But if you add the Hogwarts Library box set, the forthcoming play, and, last but in no way least, Pottermore you’re getting there. Each of the platforms offer independent stories that all tie in to the original Harry Potter story.
There are probably several reasons why media producers are interested in transmedia storytelling – making the most $$ out of a franchise being one – and right now is the perfect time; one of the reasons is the way the market for media producers looks like right now.
Many of the film production companies, TV channels and even publishers are part of larger media conglomerates. This is perfect for transmedia storytelling, because the conglomerate makes it easier – and cheaper – to spread a story out across multiple platforms. It may come as no surprise to you, but Time Warner – who produced the Harry Potter films – own different media outlets (e.g. HBO in TV and ELLE magazine), theme parks, film studios etc. [1]

Principles of transmedia storytelling and the Harry Potter franchise

Here we finally are – the reason I wrote this blog post, my one and only love: Harry Potter (jk I also love cake). Getting back to Jenkins and his contribution to scholarship on transmedia storytelling: in 2009 Henry Jenkins proposed seven principles, seven things to think about when dealing with transmedia storytelling. Let’s go through them and see how the Harry Potter franchise fits in.

Dumbledore’s pensieve – the one medium we will probably never gain access to.

1. Spreadability vs. drillability
Having very ‘spreadable’ elements is pretty awesome if you want to maximize your profit while using less effort than it would take to get the same number of fans via traditional marketing.
With a web page, twitter accounts (both J.K. Rowling’s and the films’), and Pottermore, the HP franchise is full of possibilities for fans to take part in sharing and spreading the franchise to potential new fans.
But honestly, I’m not sure how much you can say that fans contribute to the economic value in this way. What I think that the franchise is especially suited for is drillability. You may remember the Ravenclaw mentioning it in an earlier blog post. It refers to the franchise’s ability to make fans so invested in the story world that they almost turn into detectives who gather clues and create a unified understanding of the story world for themselves. One fan even created a Harry Potter encyclopaedia that Rowling herself has admitted to using occasionally.

2. Continuity vs. multiplicity
Any franchise, transmedia or not, has to make decisions about what is canon and what is not, and whether the canon can support multiple timelines. The HP franchise leans completely to the side of continuity. All the stories in the franchise happen within the same universe and in the same timeline – unlike some superhero franchises (e.g. the different Spider Man storylines mentioned by Jenkins [2]). There are no alternate realities, and although JK Rowling accepts – encourages, even – fan fiction, it always stays in the realm of the hypothetical. But adult Hermione will be played by a black woman in the play, you may protest. I think – and I may very well be wrong – that is just a minor detail, and that the Hermione, Ron, and Harry we see in The Cursed Child are just adult versions of the ones we know from the books/movies rather than characters with their own backgrounds.

3. Immersion vs. extractability
When Jenkins talks about immersion, he is talking about the extent to which the franchise lets us fans become part of the story world, and the HP franchise has tried to make that happen. For example you can visit Hogwarts by going to Warner Bro.’s studio in London or Universal studio in Orlando. You can go to Pottermore and get assigned to a house. Earlier, you also got access to that houses common room where you could get in contact with e.g. Hufflepuffs from all over the world (‘puff pride, anyone?). Fans themselves can also create immersion opportunities whether the official producers approve or not. For instance you can visit this awesome school for witches and wizards in a real castle in Poland and be part of the magical world for a whole week this summer – they insist that it is NOT Hogwarts, probably for copyright reasons, but Time Warner/Rowling can’t stop us from dreaming!
As for extractability, I will just present this one great example: The Harry Potter Alliance. Jenkins writes that “in extractability, the fan takes aspects of the story away with them as resources they deploy in the spaces of their everyday life.” [3] And that is exactly what the Harry Potter Alliance does by using their shared passion for everything Harry Potter to try and change the world to the better. Their main causes are literacy and human rights, which they work for in different ways.

Activism inside the Harry Potter universe

As promised, there are seven principles we could talk about but I’ll end it here for now – you are probably sick of reading for now. The remaining four principles are 4. World building, 5. Seriality, 6. Subjectivity, and 7. Performance. I’ll get back to you with those in next week.

For now: Stay golden.


[1] Who Owns What? – Time Warner: http://www.cjr.org/resources/?c=timewarner


[3] http://henryjenkins.org/2009/12/revenge_of_the_origami_unicorn.html


3 thoughts on “Harry Potter is trans-WHAT?

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