Unknowable Room

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Name: Unknowable Room (UR.org)
Date(s): 31 October 2005 - 2018
Founder: Solarism
Type: fanfiction and fanart
Fandom: Harry Potter
URL: http://unknowableroom.org/; archive link

The Unknowable Room collection at AO3

Unknowable Room homepage (2017)
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

The Unknowable Room, or UR.org, was a Harry Potter archive that hosts both fanfiction and fanart. In addition to the archive, Unknowable Room had its own message boards and wiki, known as UnknowableWiki.

The archive accepted all ratings and most genres of fanfiction, but excludes songfics for copyright reasons. Fanart is only archived up to PG-13 rating, and photomanips are excluded, again with copyright reasons cited. As of November 2016, the archive had 2770 fics by 993 authors, and 380 artworks by 100 artists.

On July 3 2017, it was announced that Unknowable Room and all of its works would be imported to AO3 for preservation as part of the OTW's Open Doors project, after which the site would be closing down.[1] The imported works from UR.org are collected in the Unknowable Room collection on AO3. The import was completed in April 2018.


The Unknowable Room was founded in 2005 after FanFiction.net deleted the popular James/Lily story Lust or Love. The story was originally deleted for its sexually explicit nature, as FF.net did not accept stories above an R rating. The author, Sarinileni, removed the explicit sections and reposted the story to FF.net, though it was quickly deleted once more, angering many fans.

One such fan, Solarism, proposed the creation of a new archive, referencing the creation of Fiction Alley by fans who were likewise displeased by FF.net's policies.[2]

A LiveJournal community called The Great Break was set up to support writers who wanted to leave FF.net due to the site's restrictive policies. Over time, it grew into a large community for the Harry Potter fandom. Within this community, the central goals of the new archive were established: improving their writing and that of fellow members; in-depth discussions and closer looks at the fandom; and education. These ideas inspired the creation of later initiatives such as the mentoring program.

Upon the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the group decided to name their new archive after one of its chapter titles: 'The Unknowable Room'. The first administrators were Dede (Solarism), Jenna (Silverspinner), Holly (everblue3), Missy (Missers), Christy (Christy Corr), Lynn (Y. Kuang), Runi (First Light of Eos), Erin (erak) and Sarinileni.

Awards, Competitions and Exchanges

The Hourglass Awards

The Hourglass Awards were originally created externally to UR.org as an award dedicated to recognising outstanding works of Harry Potter fanfiction, at a time when there were very few exclusive Harry Potter fanfiction awards sites to be found online. The Hourglass Awards were originally restricted to Marauders era fanfiction, in order to keep the amount of nominations manageable, but after finding a permanent home on UR.org, they were opened up to all eras of HP fanfiction.[3]

Fanfics could be nominated under one of nine categories (users were not allowed to nominate works for more than one category, although if a work was nominated separately for multiple categories, the judges would review it to determine which category fitted best):

  • Best Het Romance Fic
  • Best Slash Romance Fic
  • Best Comedy or Parody Fic
  • Best Angst Fic
  • Best Drama Fic
  • Best Drabble or Drabble Collection
  • Best Gen Fic
  • Best NC-17 Fic
  • Best AU Fic

A first, second and third place winner was awarded for each category.

As with all contests and challenges on UR.org, users could volunteer to judge the competition by applying to join the judging pool, from which a panel of judges would be selected.

Hourglass Awards 2007 winners
Hourglass Awards 2008 winners
Hourglass Awards 2009 winners

The Scrivenshaft Challenge

The Scrivenshaft Challenge was a bimonthly prompt challenge run by Unknowable Room, named for the small shop in Hogsmeade where Hogwarts students would buy their quills, parchment and other stationery. It was originally created by Holly (everblue3) to tide members of The Great Break over until The Unknowable Room archive was opened, and was later taken over by Erin (twinsuns).[4]

The Scrivenshaft Challenge ran from May 2005 until December 2007. Each challenge period would last for one month, after which the submitted stories would be judged, and then a masterlist of submissions would be posted and a new prompt unveiled. Fanfiction authors and readers who had not entered a story in that cycle could apply to join the judging pool.

During the judging, winners would be selected for the following categories:

  • Raising the Bar: The award given to the most high-quality entry
  • Rising Star: The award given to a new or underappreciated author, or the best-quality entry from an up-and-comer
  • Food for Thought: The award given to an entry which provoked reflection, causing the reader to ponder the meaning hidden between the lines
  • Cheering Charm: The award given to the most uplifting entry
  • Eureka!: The award given to the most insightful entry, allowing for a new perspective on a character, plot or mystery
  • Outside the Box: The award given to the most imaginative, creative entry
  • Brilliance of Brevity: The award given to the best drabble entry; limited to entries of no more than 500 words.

Christmas Fic Exchange

From 2006 to 2009, UR.org hosted an annual Christmas Fic Exchange in which participants would sign up to write and receive prompt-based fanfic, similar to a fanfic version of Secret Santa. The description of the challenge on the UR.org site reads as follows:

A couple of weeks before Christmas, participants have to fill out a questionnaire detailing what they are willing to write and the prompt they would like a fellow participant to receive in the weeks before Christmas. You will be matched with someone according to your preferences.

Around Christmas, exchange fics are posted daily, without revealing the author. Authors are only revealed when all fics are posted.[5]

The announcement about each year's challenge sign-ups would typically coincide with a post celebrating UR.org's anniversary on October 31st.

If an Exchange entrant failed to submit a fanfic for their assigned prompt by the deadline, the challenge mods would typically assign a pinch-hitter to their prompt so that the prompter would still receive a fic. However, during the 2009 Fic Exchange, a number of entrants failed to submit fics for their prompts, and no pinch-hitters were assigned, resulting in only "a handful" of fics being posted when the time came. The UR.org admins apologised for the lack of organisation which resulted in a number of entrants not receiving their fics.[6]

The Owl Post

The Owl Post, or TOP, was The Unknowable Room's official newsletter. It ran to only two issues, the first published on April 27, 2007 and the second on November 3, 2007. It had a number of regular sections and columns, including UR News; 'Dear Voldie/Snivellus', a humorous advice column; Quick Quills, a gossip column; The Scarlet Quill, a writing advice section; meta essays and editorial.

Issue One

Issue One of The Owl Post was published in April 2007, the result of "three months of planning, writing, editing and publishing" according to its editor, Bee (Beedaily).[7] It launched with twelve sections:

Issue Two

Issue Two of The Owl Post was published in November 2007. In the Letter from the Editor, Lauren (rose_pagionas) apologised for the delay between issues, citing "six months of postponing, computers going wonky, vacations and school getting in the way".[8] It published with nine sections:

Issue Three

The third issue of The Owl Post was put on hold indefinitely and was never published. A note was added to The Owl Post's main page on UR.org to explain the hiatus, reading,

"Unfortunately, The Owl Post is undergoing some much-needed revamping and will remain under-construction for several weeks. Our third (3) issue has been put on hold until we sort through everything. We're incredibly sorry for the inconvenience, and hope that you'll stay tuned to the news posts to find out any more information!" [9]

Mentoring Program

One of the core goals of the UnknowableRoom community upon its foundation was education, and specifically, giving fanfic writers who aspired to improve their writing the support to help them do so. The Mentoring Program was thus launched on UR.org in October 2005 as a way of pairing up more experienced writers with "apprentices" who wanted to improve their craft.

All admins of UnknowableRoom were automatically mentors, and UR.org opened up the programme to applications from other "experienced, thoughtful authors" who were willing to dedicate their time to mentoring a less experienced writer. The perk for signing up as a mentor was a one-year paid account on UR.org, which included benefits such as a site email address, expanded favourites lists and the ability to upload more usericons.

According to UnknowableWiki, mentors were required to be:

experienced and mature authors, each with their own creative writing style and ideas. [...] Mentors are asked to be good writers, with a firm grasp the key elements of writing.

  • A strong sense of plot development, characterization, organization, etcetera;
  • A firm understanding of how the details of a story are integrated into the big picture;
  • The ability to clearly convey your literary sensibilities to a less experienced writer;
  • The ability to improvise and adjust to your apprentice's individual needs;
  • Understanding, patience, and an ability to teach.[10]

Apprentice writers who signed up to the Mentoring Program were guaranteed three months of contact with their mentor, consisting of regular discussions about their work, receiving detailed feedback on their stories, help with revising their older work and possibly even regular creative writing exercises. After this, they could request an additional twenty-four months of mentoring.[10]

Aside from applying to join the program as a mentor or an apprentice, users could also nominate a writer they thought would be particularly suited to becoming a mentor.

The site page for the mentoring program lists twelve writers who were active mentors, and three who were inactive, at last update.[11] The Mentoring Programme also had its own news outlet, the Mentoring Herald.


  1. ^ Unknowable Room is Moving to the AO3, Archive Of Our Own. (Posted July 3, 2017, Accessed July 3, 2017).
  2. ^ RANT by Solarism on LiveJournal.com
  3. ^ Hourglass Awards on UnknowableWiki
  4. ^ Scrivenshaft Challenge on UnknowableWiki
  5. ^ UR.org Christmas Fic Exchange on UnknowableRoom.org (Accessed December 3, 2016)
  6. ^ News Post: April 16, 2010 on UnknowableRoom.org (Accessed December 3, 2016).
  7. ^ The Owl Post Issue One: Letter From the Editor
  8. ^ The Owl Post Issue Two: Letter From the Editor
  9. ^ The Owl Post on UR.org
  10. ^ a b Mentoring Program on UnknowableWiki (Accessed December 3, 2016)
  11. ^ Old_Mentoring on UnknowableRoom.org (Accessed December 3, 2016).

See Also