On Canon & Fanfiction: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Canon [noun]: the authentic works of a writer;  a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works

Miriam Webster Dictionary


Every reader knows the frustration that comes from being ready for the next book in a series NOW only to have to wait years for it to be published. I hit that point between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. The books had been coming out at a rate of one a year up until that point, so it was a massive shift. Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter movies only fueled my impatience, making me turn to the internet for my HP-fix.

I don’t remember how I found FanFiction.net. One of my friends might have turned me on to it, or I might have stumbled upon it while looking at anime-related websites. Either way, I began devouring the fan-written stories. And it became increasingly clear that fanfiction was a way for me to get more of my favorite characters. Was I disappointed that there wasn’t much Lupin outside Prisoner of Azkaban? Or did I want to see a human side of Snape? There’s a story for that.

My brain drew a line between the fanfiction and J.K. Rowling’s books. It was fun reading stories that explored what might happen next in the series, to see the relationships between the Marauders, and even the distinctly non-canon romances. However those stories were just that: fun stories. They were not a part of the official Harry Potter universe.

That brings me to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. As far as I’m concerned, the Harry Potter series ended with the epilogue in Deathly Hallows. It’s a clean ending, broadly addressing what happened to Harry, Ron, and Hermione after Hogwarts without getting too specific.

The HP-universe had already been set in my mind for the nine years between the last book and this new script, and it’s tough to change a belief that’s been held for so long. So even if Rowling wrote Cursed Child herself, I probably wouldn’t have thought of it as part of the canon.

What hit me as I zipped through Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was how much the story reminded me of the fanfiction that I read as a teenager. It was just another fun story with an off-the-wall plot that sometimes made sense and other times came out of left field.

I finished Cursed Child about a month ago, and the feeling that it’s just a professionally written fanfiction hasn’t left me. Though I’ve realized over the past weeks that Harry Potter is becoming like Sherlock Holmes.

Let me unpack that a bit. I first read the original Sherlock Holmes stories when I was ten years old, and I picked up any book that I found in the bookstore with Sherlock Holmes in the title. Sherlock Holmes and the Red DemonSherlock Holmes versus Dracula, and eventually the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. These books fit the most basic definition of fanfiction: work written by fans of the original series. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is long dead, so there aren’t going to be anymore Holmes stories sprouting from his pen. But the world’s most famous consulting detective continues to live on through the imaginations of other writers and new readers.

That’s what’s happening with Harry Potter. The explosion of fanfiction online during the early 2000’s allowed fans to keep the characters casting spells and battling with each other during the years between book releases. And now–nearly a decade after Rowling published her last Harry Potter book–writers and readers get to experience new adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more Potter books released in the next decade or two. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the movies are remade in my lifetime. To be honest, I’m actually looking forward to all of it. Because while these characters will live forever in my imagination, I love seeing the stories other fans write for them.

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