"When you meet people who are fans of the same thing" said Badger, "you form a sort of instant bond because you've experienced the same feelings and 'magic.' There is a great sense of camaraderie that comes from loving the same things." Badger said she's "become friends with some people I never would have otherwise if it weren't for our mutual love for Harry Potter."
Other fans, like the Sherlock Holmes devotees of old, find communities through fan fiction. For Fougner, the fan fiction community is a group of "really smart, articulate and really accepting people," she said. "I've met so many really good friends through fandom." She's even spent time with some of them outside of the online writing community, she said. When she received a tour of Minneapolis from a fellow writer friend, "that was the moment where (my dad) said, 'Wow, you're really lucky because you have friends everywhere around the world,'" she recalled.
Filmmaker Hansi Oppenheimer is in the midst of making a documentary on this community, said "you kind of expect people to be kind of geeky and they're not, they have jobs and families." Oppenheimer is intrigued by how "passionate (fans fiction writers) are about the stories they're telling."
"They have found a community that supports and encourages them," she said. Gitlin, while not involved online, has seen similar benefits at her high school, which boasts an Order of the Phoenix club, a reference to a secret organization within the Harry Potter series. "It's a vast community of people that are connected," she said.
At the same time, being a fan can be as much about individuality as it is about community. "The stuff you're a fan of relates deeply to who you are," said Klink.
"Telling people that I'm a fan of Harry Potter speaks volumes about my personality," said Badger.
Fougner's writing "definitely has a lot more to do with expression," she said, than devotion to some particularly charismatic character. Fan fiction allows her and others to draw out characters they relate to most, a way to understand "who I might be if I were part of this world."
"Fans use stories to become part of their own identity and the express that back out to the world," said Klink.
And in the end, the search for a young fan's identity is reflected back at her through the stories of Harry, Katniss, and Bella, despite how distinct each world remains. All three, Fougner pointed out, start out both ordinary and lonely — a boy living with unkind relatives, a girl caring for her family in an impoverished region, a teenage girl in a new town. Each hero, through magic or fame or romance, becomes extraordinary.
"I think every child hopes for that sort of magic to come into their life, " said Badger, "to discover that they're somehow special."
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