‘I’m an adult Harry Potter fan. People stare at my robes but I don’t care’

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What springs to mind when you hear the words “Harry Potter adult”? Perhaps a person with a Deathly Hallows tattoo, their own set of Hogwarts robes, and a cat named Albus; the sort of person to describe themselves as a “Slytherin” on their Hinge profile and inanely compare right-wing politicians to Voldemort.

Much like “Disney adults”, grown-up Potterheads have become increasingly stereotyped as cringeworthy Millennials with zero sense of taste and a cloying insistence on viewing the world through Potter-tinted lenses. Even Miriam Margolyes, who played Professor Sprout in the films, said in a recent interview that the series is “for children” and that adult fans need to “grow up”.

On the one hand, Margolyes has a point. There does seem to be a slightly bewildering number of Harry Potter adults: a recent survey estimated that 52 per cent of all Potter fans are Millennials. But it’s not strictly true that the entire Potter empire is “for children”. It’s hard to understate the emotional resonance the series continues to have; even outside of the diehard fan community, many of us still harbour a passing, nostalgic affection for the story.

In any case, the franchise that has sprung up around the original seven books has been carefully designed to keep ageing fans hooked: over the past decade Warner Bros have pumped out a steady stream of films, spin-offs, merchandise, and theme parks to keep the most devoted fans under the Potter spell. With all this in mind, it makes perfect sense that Potterheads have been rushing to defend their fan community from the naysayers who believe it’s time for them to accept their Hogwarts letter is never coming.

Harry Potter fan and content creator Jennifer Peiro at the Glenfinnan Viaduct, where scenes from the films were shot

Thirty-three-year-old Jennifer Peiro is from Sweden. She’s so obsessed with Harry Potter that she has made a transatlantic trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Orlando; visited the Warner Bros Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden several times; and last year spent three months travelling around the UK visiting locations where the films were shot, from the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct in the Scottish Highlands to Christ Church College, Oxford. She made sure to be in London on 1 September, when she joined hundreds of Potterheads who descend annually on King’s Cross Station to mark “Back to Hogwarts Day”. She also helms a popular Harry Potter fan account on Instagram called @adventuresofwander where she posts Potter-related content to an audience of more than 122,000.

Like many of us, Peiro became an ardent Potterhead after reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone at the age of nine. “At the time, I didn’t understand what a massive phenomenon it was,” she recalls. “But it started my love for reading. I couldn’t put the books down. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being [a fan],” she says. “Harry Potter has become such a huge part of my life and such a comfort to return ‘home’ to. The story just brings me so much joy and nostalgia.”

It is, she insists, “a good story for all ages. Not only because it’s ultimately about love and friendship and finding the place where you belong, but also because we all want to believe in magic”.

Peiro has experienced people trying to “bring me down” because of her love of Harry Potter. “I do quite often get Muggles in my comments thinking they’re being funny by saying ‘Harry Potter is for kids – grow up’,” she says. “Muggles”, in case you’re unaware, is a term used in the books to refer to a non-magical person, and by real-life fans to refer to their haters. She’s received more comments like this since Margolyes’s interview. But she tries not to take too much notice of criticism. “Other people’s opinions aren’t any of my business,” she says. “It’s no different to enjoying Star Wars, collecting stamps or knitting. It’s just a hobby.”

Jennifer Peiro says the books are about love, friendship and belonging
Jennifer Peiro says the books are about love, friendship and belonging

Ronja, who’s 31 and asks to be identified solely by her first name, is another adult Harry Potter fan. Like Peiro, she tries not to let strangers’ opinions bother her. “I used to be very private about my Instagram fan account in the beginning,” she admits.

But now she has few qualms about sharing her love of Harry Potter. “If people think I’m weird, I just let them think I’m weird,” she says. “I go out in public in my robes, brandishing my wand, and don’t care at all if people are staring at me. I’ve had people make comments, like, ‘How’s it going, Hermione?’ or stuff like that, but nothing too bad. Some take out their phones and take pictures of me, which is not my favourite, but I guess it’s to be expected.”

To Michael Bond, author of Fans: A Journey into the Psychology of Belonging, adult Harry Potter fans aren’t strange at all. “If you’re fully invested in something as a child or teenager, that’s always going to stay with you,” he explains. “You never forget how it helped you.” He stresses that it seems “entirely reasonable” that Harry Potter adults have continued to be devoted to the franchise, more than 15 years since the final book was published. “Fictional characters can feel like friends or even members of your family,” he says. “We don’t reject our childhood friends when we grow up, so why would we abandon our heroes?”

Plus, as mentioned, the story had a profound impact. “The Harry Potter series has meant so much to so many readers over the years, especially those who identified with the central theme of finding belonging, purpose and power in a world that misunderstands you,” explains Anthony Patterson, a professor of marketing at Lancaster University, who has previously researched the Harry Potter brand.

Professor Anthony Patterson Professor of Marketing at Lancaster University Provided by a.patterson2@lancaster.ac.uk
Marketing expert Anthony Patterson says the Harry Potter brand seems attuned to its ageing fan base

That brand was a marketing masterstroke. The series was carefully crafted to keep fans engaged as they aged; an 11-year-old who picked up The Philosopher’s Stone in 1997 would have been 21 by the time the Deathly Hallows came out in 2007, after all. The story became progressively darker and more “mature” as readers grew up with Harry, with all the whimsy of floating candles, snowy owls, and talking portraits gradually supplanted by complex themes of morality and death. Ahead of the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in 2005, The Guardian noted that sales of the series’ “adult editions” (the publisher Bloomsbury has been offering versions with more grown-up covers since 1998) were booming and described Harry Potter as “the most dramatic example yet” of “crossover fiction”, a publishing term used to describe novels that appeal to both adults and children alike.

Following the release of the final Deathly Hallows film, the franchise continued expanding and began courting its newly adult fanbase in earnest. “The Harry Potter brand team does seem attuned to the fact that their original fans are growing up,” Patterson says. “The Fantastic Beasts prequel films allow the Wizarding World to expand in new, more mature directions.”

If you’re unfamiliar, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was originally a tiny Harry Potter tie-in book released in 2001 to raise money for Comic Relief – a magical creatures “textbook” that’s mentioned in the novels. In 2013, Warner Bros and JK Rowling announced they would be producing a new Harry Potter film series inspired by the Fantastic Beasts book – 128 pages turned into five feature-length films.

While a far cry from the original book’s philanthropic roots, it was a lucrative business decision that capitalised on the fanbase’s fervent brand loyalty: the three films released so far have collectively grossed $1.8bn. Notably, the new Fantastic Beasts films were mainly watched by adult audiences – according to Variety, 82 per cent of the opening weekend crowd were aged over 18. “The story itself skews a little older,” Jeff Goldstein from Warner Bros said in 2016, acknowledging their ageing target audience. “From the first Potter film to the last, we’ve seen our audience age up.”

This much is plain: for starters, the central characters in Fantastic Beasts are adults, not children, and more broadly the series is grittier and more overtly political in comparison to the childlike charm of earlier films such as The Philosopher’s Stone. Relatedly, 65 per cent of Hogwarts Legacy video game players are over 18.

JK Rowling’s increasingly strident anti-trans rhetoric has alienated some Harry Potter fans (Photo: Ian West/PA)
JK Rowling’s increasingly strident anti-trans rhetoric has alienated some Harry Potter fans (Photo: Ian West/PA)

Much of the merchandise Warner Bros has conjured up is also geared towards adult consumers: today, not only can you buy adult-sized Hogwarts robes, but also Ravenclaw luggage tags, makeup brushes designed to look like wands, Hogwarts Express oven gloves, rolling pins decorated with owls and lightning bolts, Dolores Umbridge-style cake stands, and even “deluxe” advent calendars priced at £60 a pop. Given that there has been a concerted effort to convert adolescent Harry Potter fans into loyal, returning adult customers, it’s hardly surprising that at this point Potterheads are actually more likely to be adults than not.

But the Potter community is now reckoning with an uncomfortable fact – the woman who sits atop the empire is a vocal proponent of the anti-trans “gender critical” movement, which prioritises sex-based rights over gender identity – something many feel is at odds with the Potter story’s celebration of overcoming being treated like an outsider that made them feel so understood in the first place.

“Passionate Harry Potter fans have always been instrumental in driving the brand’s success through their enthusiasm, advocacy and creative participation,” Patterson says. “However, JK Rowling’s increasingly strident anti-trans rhetoric in recent years has alienated a significant portion of the fan community.” Ronja says she now feels her love for the series is “tainted”.

Others have abandoned the series entirely. Twenty-one-year-old Charlie* first read the Harry Potter books while in secondary school. “I liked the ‘home’ the books offered; it just felt like a place I could go to escape reality.” But today, Charlie, a trans man, no longer counts himself a fan. “It’s important for me to recognise not just the art but the artist. Supporting them by continuing to keep their work alive and engaging with their art feels wrong on a personal level.”

Peiro feels differently. “As for me, and a lot of fellow Harry Potter creators, we separate the author from the work,” she explains. It was disappointing to hear Rowling say “such horrible things”, but she believes it’s still possible to enjoy Harry Potter while refuting Rowling’s stance on trans rights. She feels as though the Potter story has ultimately taken on a life of its own in the years since the final film was released. “It lives on through us. We don’t need her any more.” 

This chimes with Bond’s view: “Once those characters were released into the world, Rowling no longer really owned them or controlled them. Those birds have flown.”

After all, for many Potter fans like Ronja and Peiro, the best aspect of the fandom isn’t really snapping up the merchandise or going to see the Fantastic Beast films. It’s the sense of community they have found through their shared love of “the boy who lived”. “I have met several friends through the Harry Potter community, some of whom I talk to on an almost daily basis,” Ronja says. “My Instagram has been a place for me to connect with likeminded people,” Peiro agrees. “I’ve had some of my best experiences thanks to Harry Potter and met some of my best friends through this fandom.”

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