How a 557,000-word, ‘woke’ Harry Potter fanfic took on JK Rowling

The magical world of Harry Potter extends far beyond the original books written by JK Rowling. With films, plays, spoofs, theme parks and more than a million pieces of fanfiction, the HP universe could one day come to rival Marvel, or even Star Wars. But as the cultural gap widens between the source material, a modern audience and a very controversial creator, so does the world of Harry Potter change with the times. And as we approach the 20th anniversary of the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, one piece of fan fiction in particular has taken on a life of its own, and reignited discussions of art, ownership, canon and fandom.

It is an enigma worthy of the Department of Mysteries. One of the biggest, most popular works of Harry Potter fan fiction (and in such a crowded field, that is no small feat of magic) is a 557k-word epic named All the Young Dudes. It was first published on the nonprofit fan-fiction site ‘Archive of Our Own’ in 2017, and unusually for a work of literature almost as long as War and Peace, it’s trending all over Twitter, TikTok and Tumblr. It was written by a user named MsKingBean89 – rumoured to be none other than Taylor Swift.

The 188 chapters take place in what is known as ‘the Marauders era’ – as in the Marauder’s map, and one of the HP fandom’s most popular genre – when Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, James and Lily Potter and Peter Pettigrew study at Hogwarts before becoming engulfed by the first wizarding war, and ending with the events of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The story takes place against a backdrop of Seventies cultural references – hence the title, named for a David Bowie song from 1972 – and it is told from the POV of Remus Lupin. We see the young Remus grow up in a boys’ home, join Hogwarts, become friends with the other Marauders, finds himself attracted to both men and women, comes out to his friends and eventually take on the dark magic that threatens his world.

The fanfiction concluded in 2018, but from the end of 2020 onwards it began to blow up on TikTok. The social media platform had grown exponentially during the pandemic, and people had far more time to read a 500k-word piece of fan fiction. The conditions were right to introduce a whole new generation to the Harry Potter world, and to the possibilities of fanfiction in general. In the emergent space, Fanfiction TikTok, the #aytd hashtag has been viewed more than 700 million times, and YouTube is full of videos of people reading the text as an audiobook, or binding their own version as a hard copy. On GoodReads it is rated 4.82, with more than 10,000 ratings and nearly 2,000 reviews. As of April this year, it’s the first piece of work on Archive of Our Own (AO3) to reach two million hits.

On AO3, created by the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), the vast majority of content is fanfiction. Of that, the majority takes place in the Harry Potter universe. Although rivals and Wattpad are bigger in terms of overall content, AO3 is certainly one of the largest open-source multifandom archives online. Claudia Rebaza, of OTW, estimates that there are well over a million works of HP fanfiction available online, and many more have since been deleted. So what is it about this particular work that has fans so charmed?

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