Three Sets of Canon – Part 3: Theater Canon

This is the third part in my series about why the Harry Potter universe has three set realities of canon. There is strict book canon, movie canon, and most recently, theater canon. This is, of course, my personal opinion on how I believe canon works. What I am trying to explain is how all the new Harry Potter content fits into existing canon and how each medium has its own brand of canon.

 

Part 3: Theater Canon

 

cursed child

 

Now, whether you loved the script with all your heart, hated it with every fiber of your being, or fell somewhere in between, J.K. Rowling has said this play is, in fact, canon.

 

CursedChild1

 

Like other people, I had some problems with accepting this statement after I finished reading the script. First of all, J.K. Rowling didn’t write it herself, and it has some continuity errors with the books. Cursed Child wasn’t even a book itself, so how could it possibly be book canon? Then I realized, this was meant as a play, not a script. It was published because every fan of Harry Potter couldn’t possibly travel to London; the creators wanted everyone to have access to the new story. The play itself is a whole new medium for Harry Potter, just like the movies were, and should be treated as such. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is definitely canon, but it is its own reality of canon, theater canon. The play has its own rules, tropes, and guidelines, which is just like the other two sets of canon. J.K. Rowling did collaborate with the creators of this play, as well as give her blessing to it, and therefore, it has its own niche in the Harry Potter universe. Would anything else be considered part of this theater canon? No other stage productions would currently be classified as such. Starkid’s A Very Potter musicals are not theater canon, just brilliant parody. But if for some reason in the future, however unlikely, J.K. Rowling approved or even wrote another play in the Harry Potter universe, perhaps about the rest of Albus and Scorpius’s years of Hogwarts, that would be canon. I would also expect it to follow the existing Cursed Child canon established by the play. Some examples of strictly theater canon include:

CURSED CHILD SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

  • The Time-Turner that goes back years in time but only lasts five minutes
  • Lucius Malfoy’s Time-Turner that can go back to anytime for however long the user pleases
  • Albus Severus Potter being in Slytherin
  • The rumor that Scorpius Malfoy is Voldemort’s child
  • Swear words like “Oh, Dumbledore!” or “Potter!”
  • Petunia Dursley being dead
  • Delphi being Voldemort and Bellatrix’s child
  • Delphi existing at all
  • McGonagall still being the Headmistress in 2017
  • Minister of Magic, Hermione Granger
  • Rose’s last name being Granger-Weasley
  • The “Snape Hermione” reality and everything that reality encompassed
  • The “Voldemort and Valor” reality and everything that reality encompassed
  • The Trolley Witch’s backstory
  • Any new bit of information not previously mentioned in book canon, movie canon, and most notably, the epilogue of Deathly Hallows

These things are all canon, but only theater canon. This is how I personally choose to view the canon of the Harry Potter universe, separated by their art mediums. Others may disagree with me, and that’s okay! One of the best parts of any fandom is getting so many different opinions on things, such as canon! In fact, here are two additional articles explaining two more views on how Harry Potter canon works:

“What Is Canon?” It’s All in J.K. Rowling’s Head

“What Is Canon?” The Books or Not the Books? That Is the Question

Also, be sure to check out Parts 1 and 2 where I discuss book and movie canon.

  • Ken

    I really liked all three of these discussions. They definitely taught me a lot. I’ll have to go back and read more about the the way that canon is discussed from J.K. Rowling’s perspective.

    • Haley Lewis

      I’m glad you liked them!

  • ILoveLunaLoveGood

    The theatre canon is important. I am curious how canon usually works in Theatre. Are there specific things that must remain constant in every retelling of Shakespierre’s Hamlet?

    Personally my head canon is that the play itself is a play within the Harry Potter world. ie Albus Potter wrote the play after he finished school to express/describe his childhood as the Son of Potter (with the names of 2 more heroes). While I doubt there were actual rumours about Malfoy’s child being Voldemorts, and while we as readers had a particular insight into Voldemort’s character and history (and therefore find it hard to imagine him fathering a child, or wanting a child etc), wizards in the WW probably did gossip about him and Bellatrix after the war ended etc. Albus just connected it to Scorpius to add drama :p
    Delphi herself represents a recent heartbreak in his life and he was so scorned by her that he turned her into the child of Voldy.

    This allows me to pick and choose elements which the play adds to the WW (Albus being a slytherin, his friendship with Scorpius, Scorpius’ crush on Rose, the escape from the Hogwarts express) but ignore the more outlandish plots that dont fit into the World we know (the time turner, Amos Diggory, Delphi etc)

    • Iain Walker

      “I am curious how canon usually works in Theatre. Are there specific things that must remain constant in every retelling of Shakespierre’s Hamlet?”

      The concept of “canon” is always a little slippery, and especially so in theatre. Part of the problem is that theatre is a two-part medium – a “play” is simultaneously two different things. The “play” is the script, which is the source material and the common element to the various productions. But the “play” is also the production, the thing you go and see, which takes the script as its jumping off point. Now, if the “canon” of a play resides anywhere, it probably resides in the script, as the original version of the story and as the direct product of the creator. Yet the script is not the finished product – it is written to be performed, and it’s the production or performance that is the intended medium of consumption by the audience. In other words, unlike the novel, theatre is a medium in which the audience does not engage with the canonical material directly, but with an adaptation or interpetation of it.

      In the light of that, to try and answer your question: There is probably very little that needs to remain constant in every single production of Hamlet in order for it still to count as a production of Shakespeare’s play, as long as enough of the other elements are present. But this isn’t really an issue of how “canonical” a production is, because “canon” is a concept more applicable to the script than to the production. A production can be “true” to the script in many different ways, while at the same time playing fast and loose with many of the details.

      And that – as I understand it – is probably the least worst way of thinking about “canon” in a theatrical context.

      (PS – I really like the idea of Cursed Child as Albus’s attempt to work out his childhood issues.)

      • ILoveLunaLoveGood

        well exactly. I was excited for Cursed Child because it brings alot of people to this very different/distinct art form/form of expression. When it was originally billed as the prequel, that made sense to me… it could explore much more character stuff rather than magic and explosions… Then it was changed into a sequel but i was still excited for this exploration of Harry-Albus’ relationship etc. but sadly i think they veered way off and came up with the worst plot imaginable, as regards where it can fit in our understanding of the Wizarding World, (basically if it we consider the story “canon” when we reread Goblet of Fire we either have to accept that Albus/Scorpius are hiding there or that that timeline no longer exists…). Thats why I prefer to read the CC without the story itself being canon but an interpretation/exageration/adaption of a story through which some elements of emotion is being expressed. Like Albus must have had some adventures, he might even have run away etc. Bits of the story do fit, but others just clearly dont… :s

  • Anon

    JKR said the STORY of the Cursed Child is canon, so all those examples listed can’t be considered only theatre canon. Albus will be sorted into Slytherin because JKR hinted at it in DH and Daily Prophet QWC final report. Hermione will be Minister of Magic because it was hinted at in the DP Gossip Column on Pottermore. General information about the characters futures probably is book canon and will likely have come from JKR. The parts that aren’t will be the dialogue and the precise details of how the stories events happen.There’s things there that contradict established info.

    The 8 HP films have nothing to do with the books or play. There’s actually numerous other official Potter canons with the various versions of the video games, theme park footage, DVD extras footage, and footage like the trio celebrating the Queen’s 80th birthday.

  • Iain Walker

    I do understand the impetus behind these articles, but I’m still a little unconvinced. The books, film adaptations and the play can certainly be said to have different continuities, in that although they overlap in most respects, there are differences in characterisation, the events depicted etc. But I’m not sure that “canon” is quite the right term to distinguish these differences, since there is more to canonicity than mere continuity. The term “canon” has connotations of a benchmark or standard for comparison, especially comparison in terms of definitiveness or authenticity. But if every different version of the Potterverse constitutes its own “canon”, then you’re abandoning the idea of there being any definitive version at all.

    Now, if you’re saying exactly that, and that it is no longer appropriate to compare the books, films and play in these terms, and that they should simply be accepted as different, rather than one being more definitive than the others, then fair enough. I don’t particularly agree, but I think it’s a potentially defensible position. But to me, this is the same as saying that there is no longer a canon at all. Otherwise, labelling them all as separate “canons” is a bit like saying that every participant in a 100m sprint wins, on the grounds that each of them has been running their own separate, individual race. In that context, “Everybody wins” is no different from saying “Nobody wins” – not because anybody actually loses, but because the normal concept of “winning” no longer applies.