Transfiguration and Fandom: Shifting Symbolism of Harry Potter Merchandise

Curator's Note

The purchase and exhibition of fandom-affiliated merchandise are one of the primary avenues through which one can perform appreciation for or identification with a fandom.  However, this dynamic is complicated when one begins to question their affiliation with the fandom, original text(s), or their author.  One notable example is the recent backlash against the Harry Potter (HP) brand, which emerged in the wake of J.K. Rowling’s public statements negating trans women’s identities as ‘real’ women, which has forced fans to re-evaluate the value and meaning of their HP-themed merchandise.

While buying official merchandise “demonstrates devotion” to the subject of the fandom (Ay & Kaygan, 2022), the purchase of fan-made merchandise provides an opportunity to acquire fandom-related items without contributing financially to an offending brand.  Numerous recent conversations have explored how to ethically navigate the consumption of art whose creators are deemed problematic or criminal.  Many people have settled on the idea that so long as one is not financially supporting the original creator, the continued enjoyment of their art is permissible.  However, this guideline is not universal. Therefore, who is to say whether one’s public shows of fandom are to be interpreted as supporting the creator or not?

Liminal merchandise – that which is integrated into one’s day-to-day life, such as mugs, décor, and non-cosplay clothing – acts to signal individuals’ connection to various aspects of a fictional world and can create “a sense of comradery or antagonism” depending on how these signals are interpreted (Godwin, 2018, para. 10).  With many fans’ previous assumptions about the values and themes of the HP books now called into question, the signals sent by their liminal merchandise are less clear. Yet fans asserting “emotional, aesthetic, and moral superiority” are loath to defer to the interpretations prescribed by authors they feel have let the material down (Goodman, 2015, p.669).

Jennifer Duggan (2021) describes Rowling as an example of the undead author, “regularly providing increasingly unwelcome extratextual commentary on her own texts” (p.159).  And while many in the HP fandom refuse to cede their fan experience, rejecting her authority over the work and taking it upon themselves to (re)claim the world of HP as their own, others express apprehension about whether they can or should continue to enjoy anything HP-related.  This tension is seen across the fandom as individuals navigate not only how Rowling’s statements alter their view of the texts, but also how this impacts their practices of production and consumption.



Ay, U., & Kaygan, H. (2022). Autonomy or loyalty? Community-within-community interactions of a local football fandom group. Journal of Consumer Culture, 22(2), 437-455.

Duggan, J. (2022). Transformative Readings: Harry Potter Fan Fiction, Trans/Queer Reader Response, and JK Rowling. Children's Literature in Education, 53(2), 147-168. 

Godwin, V. L. (2018). Hogwarts house merchandise, liminal play, and fan identities. Film Criticism, 42(2).

Goodman, L. (2015). Disappointing fans: Fandom, fictional theory, and the death of the author. The Journal of Popular Culture, 48(4), 662-676.

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