The Ship Wars: How the popularity of pairings in Harry Potter Fanfiction changed over time

In a previous post, I looked at character choices in Harry Potter fanfiction. One thing I focused on were the popularity of various pairing, e.g. I noticed that non-canon pairings like Draco/Harry tended to be more popular than canon pairings like Harry/Ginny. I think this is typical for fanfiction, which loves to explore “what-if” scenarios. I decided to take another look, this time asking the specific question of whether the popularity of the various pairings seemed to change over time.

The data

In my previous post, I looked at a random sample of ~200k fics from the total of ~700k. In order to avoid the sampling issue, I decided to bite the bullet and scrape all the fic info from Fanfiction.net. So the figures below are based on analyzing a total of 724,315 Harry Potter fics.

To make the figures below I looked at all the fics which listed two characters. This doesn’t necessarily mean a romantic pairing, so keep that in mind. If more than two characters were listed, I included pairings that were specifically mentioned with brackets, a feature which was added in 2013. This isn’t used all that often, so the figures below mostly reflect the relative popularity of two-character fics.

Overall popularity

Below are the number of fics for the eight most popular pairings over time. There is one data point for each year, e.g. the 2001 dot represents the number of fics that were submitted between January 1, 2001 and December 31, 2001.

There are a few obvious things to point out, like the extremely high popularity of fics with Draco, or how only three of these eights pairings are canon (James/Lily, Hermione/Ron, and Ginny/Harry). But it’s also interesting to notice that many of the curves have a similar shape, which reflects the overall popularity of Harry Potter fanfiction on Fanfiction.net.

I think this time period can be separated (more or less) into the five following stages:

  1. Initial growth: From 2001-2004, all the pairings increased in popularity as the Harry Potter community on Fanfiction.net grew in size.
  2. “Golden age”: From 2004-2007, the overall rates were pretty high. J.K. Rowling was still writing the books, so fanfiction authors got to explore all the wonderful “what-if” scenarios as each book revealed more and more of the story.
  3. Post-book lull:  From 2007-2010, most pairings dipped as fewer people submitted fics. My guess is overall interest in Harry Potter dropped as no new books were released.
  4. Movie spike: There was a big spike in submissions to Fanfiction.net in 2010 and 2011, which I suspect is a result of increased interest as the two Deathly Hallows movies came out.
  5. Post-movie lull: From 2011 to the present, overall popularity has waned but could be stabilizing. It will be interesting to see if the Fantastic Beasts movies get made and whether these will cause a resurgence in popularity.

Popularity rankings

While the overall numbers are neat to look at, I think it’s also interesting to see how the relative rankings of pairings has fluctuated over time. So below you can see how the pairings shifted in popularity. If a particularly pairing has a dot at, say, rank 4 in 2008, then that pairing was the 4th most popular for that year. Note that some pairings that aren’t shown here (e.g. Draco/Ginny) occasionally broke into the top 8 rankings, but I’m just showing how the most popular overall pairings changed relative to each other.

This doesn’t reveal much new information for the top three pairings, which have had relatively stable rankings. But I think there are some interesting things to see in the less popular pairings.

For example, the Harry/Hermione pairing had a very high ranking in the early 2000s, but dropped to rank 6 by 2007. I think this was caused by the release of Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows books, which cemented the canon pairings of Hermione/Ron and Ginny/Harry. You can see these canon pairings were rank 4 or 5 from 2007 to 2010, but both have dropped in ranking from 2011 to 2016. Conversely, the non-canon pairings of Harry/Hermione and Hermione/Severus seemed to increase in rank.

It’s important to note from the raw data above that all of these pairings dropped in overall popularity from 2011 to 2016, just that the non-canon pairings like Harry/Hermione and Hermione/Severus dropped less compared to the canon pairings. Part of this might be the effect of the movies. I know Harry/Hermione fans like use the movies to support their choice (e.g. that dance scene in the tent). But it might be that these non-canon pairings are more popular over time simply because they’re not canon. Fanfiction allows authors and readers to explore the unknown with their favorite characters, so it’s only natural that non-canon pairings are very popular.

Final Thoughts

I think it’s interesting to see that these pairings do shift in popularity over time, presumably as the different books and movies were released. Fans can be very vocal about their favorite pairing, so I think this is a good way to look at the fandom as a whole.

There are other interesting trends I didn’t explore, so hopefully I’ll get to revisit this data set in the future. Draco/Ginny, for example, was actually very popular in the early 2000s (#4 in 2003), but has since dropped out of the top 10 (#16 in 2015). Or there’s Rose/Scorpius, which obviously didn’t exist until 2007 when the characters were introduced, but has stayed firmly in the top 10 since 2010. Stay tuned.

One thought on “The Ship Wars: How the popularity of pairings in Harry Potter Fanfiction changed over time

  1. The Ship Wars Part II: Another look at the most popular pairings – Uncertain Decisions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *