By Ashly Moore Sheldon • July 25, 2019
If our monthlong celebration hasn't made it abundantly clear, we are huge fans of J.K. Rowling's wildly popular series featuring young witches and wizards mastering their formidable magical skills, all while grappling with both puberty and powerful forces of evil. And we're not alone! The legions of Potterheads could probably fill the halls of Hogwarts 100 times over. More than ever, fandoms are becoming a way that people identify themselves, as important as religious affiliations or professional associations. This week, we've broken down some of the common features of stories that inspire this sort of dedication. What are the qualities behind a winning fandom?
Like You-Know-Who, many of these stories present an antagonist so omnipotent, that you dare not even utter its name or look it in the eye. The odds are stacked firmly against the protagonist, chances of victory, slim to none. In the George R.R. Martin series A Song of Fire and Ice (a.k.a. Game of Thrones), the icy Night King's army of the dead grows exponentially larger with every battle. The eye of Sauron, the enemy in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, injures and paralyzes opponents even from great distances, as he builds a force of tens of thousands of brutal Orcs. Sometimes the antagonist in these stories is more of an institution represented by changing individuals, like the Empire in Star Wars or the Capitol in The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. These entities pose an indomitable force, an unrelenting evil.
Everybody loves an upset, right? There's nothing like the triumph of an unlikely hero. That's why so many of these stories feature a seeming underdog like Harry fighting against an all-powerful force like Voldemort. Readers feel a sense of near-hopelessness at the prospect of their hero's success. Other examples of this dynamic include blind lawyer Matthew Murdock as the Stan Lee-created Marvel superhero Daredevil. No matter how many times he gets knocked down, he always gets back up, just like his boxer dad. Gentle Frodo, the mild-mannered hobbit hero from Lord of the Rings is another perfect example of the underdog hero. His plodding journey toward victory is fraught with sinister threats. And of course, scrappy Katniss Everdeen's tenuous bid for survival in The Hunger Games positions her as the classic dark horse.
A wise elder such as Albus Dumbledore is a critical part of many an epic tale. Serving as a critical ally and a sage teacher, this person offers strength and assurance to our vulnerable hero. In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf bears this mantle, helping Frodo to understand the journey he must take and doing what he can to guide him along the way, whether by his side or from afar. In the Elfquest graphic novel series by Richard and Wendy Pini, Savah, Mother of Memory, provides the perspective and wisdom of her long life to help the Sun Folk, her agrarian desert tribe, learn how to blend with the boisterous Wolfriders. The elder provides unconditional love and nonjudgmental guidance—a kind of perfect parent figure.
Like the magical muggle-free world of Hogwarts, a fandom needs an otherworldly setting to inhabit. Similar to Hogwarts is C.S. Lewis's Narnia, an alternate enchanted realm just on the other side of reality. All you need is the perfect conditions and a bit of alchemy to travel through the thin veneer separating the two. But in other examples the landscape created is vast and varied. And it's not an alternate reality. It's simply the world these characters inhabit. For example, the setting in the Game of Thrones series consists of many disparate lands, distinct cities, and contrasting landscapes. In these stories, a character's journey is informed by the place he or she inhabits. The rugged austerity of Winterfell forms the stalwart, steady nature of the Starks, while Daenerys Targaryen finds her fire in the unrelenting heat of the Dothraki plains.
A palatable story can't always be focused on epic battles and sinister threats. Our heroes have to maintain a pretty serious attitude, but there's got to be some comedy to lighten the mood. This is where the quirky sidekick comes in. Harry has many of these to rely on, Hagrid most notably. Inigo Montoya is one of several characters to make you laugh in the modern fantasy classic and cult favorite, The Princess Bride by William Goldman. In Lord of the Rings, you get the trouble-loving hobbit duo, Merry and Pip. And Marvel's Deadpool relies heavily on his best friend, information broker, and arms dealer, Weasel, though their relationship often suffers because Deadpool is such a piece of work.
Harry's trusty owl, Hedwig, is one of many animals populating the fandom universe. Animal familiars like this, often with magical powers, are another satisfying staple of the fantasy genre. Game of Throne's Daenerys becomes the Mother of Dragons when walks into a fiery inferno with her fossilized dragon eggs and emerges with her newly hatched "children." In Elfquest, the wolves serve as sentient companions, faithful protectors, and fleet-footed transportation to the tribal Wolfriders. We all love our pets, but the bewitching spirit animals of these stories kick it up a notch.
Thinking about all these great stories has us wanting to reread a few of our favorites! Are you part of a Fandom? Tell us what makes it special for you! And be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get daily book recommendations and more.