Dark Mark Tattoos and Other Lessons the Harry Potter Fandom Missed

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

I’m a big Harry Potter fan, and one of my favourite things is meeting other fans. There are so many interesting conversations to be had around the series, from the minutia of house sorting to speculation about the incorporation of muggle technology into the wizarding world. But there is one thing that will turn me off from any Harry Potter fan, and that’s a dark mark tattoo.

I get that they’re the only tattoos mentioned in the series, and I understand the inclination to get a tattoo about Harry Potter, but permanently marking yourself with the symbol of a genocidal group, fictional or not, is horrifying. I often wonder how someone could love the story while so completely missing the point. Once I started going down that train of thought, however, I realized that dark mark tattoos are hardly the only example of the fandom at large ignoring the central messages of the series.

Take another incredibly popular Harry Potter tattoo: the deathly hallows symbol. Coincidentally, this was also a symbol of a dark wizard, but even setting that aside, I’ve always found the fandom’s obsession with the symbol puzzling. The deathly hallows, of course, are a large part of the last book, but ultimately we are supposed to find Harry’s obsession with them troubling. They have a brutal history, and Harry realizes that his pursuit of being the “master of death” is distracting at best. There are many fandom items you can buy that state “hallows not horcruxes”, but in the context of the book, neither are suitable goals and very nearly lead Dumbledore and Harry into ruin. Even when Harry manages to gather the hallows together, he voluntarily gives them up. So there’s a bit of irony to the fandom picking up Harry’s obsession and keeping it alive.

On the whole, Harry Potter presents a magical world that’s just as misguided and cruel as the muggle world is. Though Harry and his friends battle against this, it’s amazing how many of these prejudicial attitudes some of the fandom happily parrots. Often people in the fandom will call non-fans “muggles” with the implication that this is an insult. HP fans don’t usually consider themselves muggles. There are many house sorting tests that will sort you as a “squib” if you answer unsatisfactorily. This disdain for nonmagical people is exactly what the death eaters’ philosophy is based in, and yet the fandom seems to have no problem reinforcing this hierarchy. Although in theory the series is supposed to critique the whole idea of these hierarchies, as long as the fandom seems to have missed the metaphor, is the bigger picture really being seen?

The lesson from Harry Potter I’m most guilty of ignoring is the critique of Hogwarts houses. This mechanism of house sorting is probably the fandom’s favourite topic of discussion, and I participate in this more than most. The first question I ask other Harry Potter fans is “What house are you in?” There are countless sorting quizzes and never-ending essays about every possible trait of each house. Most likely at this point, every character that’s ever appeared on a TV screen has been sorted into a Hogwarts house at least once. It creates a sense of community within these houses, and it has all the fun of reading about your zodiac sign. The problem with this is that the sorting hat itself disagreed with the process. By the fifth book, the sorting song warns that Though condemned I am to split you / Still I worry that it’s wrong … / And we must unite inside [Hogwarts] / Or we’ll crumble from within”. By the final battle, all of Hogwarts fights together, and when they sit down at the house tables after the battle, all the houses are mixed together. Though, we do find out in the epilogue that the sorting continues. And besides, we nonmagic folk are loathe to leave Hogwarts, so we stay in our houses long after our magical selves would have graduated.

It’s funny how fandoms–especially a fandom as big and long-running as Harry Potter–begin to change from their canon roots. They become their own kingdoms with their own rules, taking and leaving things from the original text. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though I do sometimes worry that the Harry Potter fandom has forgotten some of the most important lessons that Harry himself would champion: justice, equality, and compassion for those different from yourself.

Have you ever noticed this in your own fandoms? Are there other messages that you think some of the fans have forgotten?