At my day job (sadly I don’t get to review books all day, but there’s booze on the last Friday of the month so it’s still pretty decent) I sit next to a fabulous colleague who is obsessed with superhero movies. As a result, her desk is literally covered in Funko Pop vinyl figures, pictures and a range of other memorabilia.
One day, I decided to hit back, and went out to get myself a Funko Pop figurine. I’d literally never heard of them before the day my colleague decamped from her previous desk and moved her menagerie next to me. I’m not a big one on superheroes, so I decided that, since I’d recently been re-watching the Harry Potter films and was about to re-read the books, of which I had been a super fan as a kid, and remain in love with, that I’d get myself a Ginny Weasley one. She’s my favourite character in the books- my other colleague says she’s not cute but I don’t listen to her. I was utterly astonished, on entering the shop, by how many figurines there were, and also how many Lego sets, toys and posters there were for various book series as well as TV shows, films and even singers.
Despite this, I don’t personally believe that the merchandise is making people want to read. I’ve already written about why I think we should ignore the hype and marketing and focus on the Harry Potter books in a previous post, and I stand by that sentiment, as in my opinion the merchandise does nothing to encourage reading, and simply lines the pockets for whoever has the trademarks for the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Hunger Games characters, or the symbols and ideas from any number of books or series that people get obsessed with today.
My housemate, for example, is a big fan of the Harry Potter films, and enjoys playing the games on consoles and even has a house mug, but when I offered to lend him a copy of the first book after he confessed to never having read them, his reply was that he “doesn’t read books”. The same goes for another friend, who adores the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films but wouldn’t ever even think about reading them.
Fandoms, often online spaces where fans get together, can be great, as they encourage the reading of fan fiction and related articles, which drive fans of movies, TV shows and book series alike to read more. Reading more, of any form of literature, is vital for improving literacy and helping empower people to make informed decisions.
However, the merchandising that often comes about as a result of such fandoms just acts a marketing tool for firms to sell kids endless stuff. I understand that this is the marketing firm’s jobs, and that without the selling of this merchandise many films and books would be impossible to fund, but for the most part it does little or no good, in my opinion, to create obsession in books and films.
Instead, I think that writers should strive towards a greater focus on fan fiction, supporting readers to use their characters to craft their own stories. I myself got into writing initially by writing Henning Mankell fan fiction when I was younger, and it’s a great gateway into further reading and writing. It’s also not a field of endeavour that pays well, if at all, and as such it’s not often taken up by or encouraged by writers, but it should be, less as a means of making an actual living, and more as a way of honing the craft.
After all, bits of plastic, toys and posters aren’t going to stimulate fans intellectually, but writing and using an author’s creations to their own ends will. It also might just get them into reading more books by the same author, or by their contemporaries, which is never a bad thing.