The full reach of a fantasy franchise isn't measured in DVDs sold or tie-in freebies distributed with fast-food meals. A series' success is a collaboration between the ingenuity of the creators and engagement of the fans. You can only begin to grok the impact of a pop culture property when you set out to map the web of fantasy across the Internet, including official pages and social-media sites, as well as the independent worlds created by geeks through fan sites and fan fiction and inspired hand-knitted goods.
As Comic-Con descends on the Gaslamp, let's assess three of the most prominent fantasy realms:
The Hobbit / The Lord of the Rings
By the numbers: 1.8 million Facebook likes, 4,687 Wikia pages, 43,893 stories at FanFiction.net.
TheHobbit.com, the official site of Peter Jackson's three-part epic, is nothing to scribe into your furry-footed memoirs. But if you were to write a "There and Back Again," it would read something like this: Loaded URL, automatic YouTube trailer played, watched it, shrugged, went to the rest of the site, got bored, moved on to Facebook.
The Hobbit's Facebook page, on the other hand, is a goblin's hoard of fan treasures, with regular photo leaks and behind-the-scenes video casts featuring Jackson himself.
In the latest video, however, Jackson apologizes to the fan base for balking at the opportunity to preview footage of Part 2 of the trilogy at Comic-Con, leaving it to the fans to entertain themselves. And the fans are taking up the call with "An Unofficial Sneak Peek of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug with TheOneRing.net," with writers from the site offering the latest "rumors, spy reports, conjecture, inside info, debunking, and lively debate," (5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 18, Room 6A). As of this writing, 912 conventioneers have RSVP'd to the panel on Comic-Con's website.
Bonus sites: TheOneRing.net is the fandom's primary hang out, but also check out Lordoftheringsswords.com (obviously, the place to buy film-inspired blades) and LibraryofMoria.com, the 11-year-old archive of LOTR slash fiction.
Although J.R.R. Tolkien had 60 years on J.K. Rowling, somehow the Harry Potter series has amassed a more colossal active fan base—in part because of the far more robust web presence. Although the film series finished in 2011 with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Part 2, the Harry Potter films' Facebook page remains extremely active. More impressively, the website for the full series, harrypotterwizardscollection.com, is controlled not by mouse click, but by wand-gesture that actually takes a bit of practice and skill to master.
Unlike most fandoms, the Potterheads are also socially conscious, with the HP Alliance raising money for Haiti relief, conducting book drives for impoverished areas in Mississippi and Rwanda and petitioning Warner Brothers to ethically source Harry Potter-themed chocolate.
At Comic-Con this year, the fans, including representatives from the HP Alliance and the International Quidditch Association, are running a panel called "Harry Potter: Still Magic!" (4:15 to 5 p.m. Sunday, July 21, Room 6DE). Almost 450 fans have RSVP'd.
Bonus sites: Alivans.com is a great site for picking up wands, Mugglenet.com is a great fan site and Google Maps just added a Street View for Diagon Alley, currently housed at Warner Bros. Studio in London.
Game of Thrones
By the numbers: 6.6 million Facebook likes, 1,812 Wikia pages, 818 stories at FanFiction.net.
HBO has a long way to go to promote its series, based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series, but it would be well worth its while, considering that it topped TorrentFreak's list of 10 most downloaded (read: pirated) TV shows. The official site is filled with quality video content, but it's more boilerplate than innovative. However, it works in the show's favor that it's consistently maintained a Comic-Con presence, with this year's "Game of Thrones Panel and Q&A Session" (2:50 to 3:45 p.m. Friday July 19, Hall H) featuring Peter Dinklage and a bunch of other cast members who aren't quite as cool as Peter Dinklage. A full 2,800 fans have RSVP'd.