A Reckoning at the Three Broomsticks
SPOILERS AHEAD: PROCEED WITH CAUTION
I’ve spent almost a week since seeing Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald raging against the movie, and that anger has not abated. It’s literally all anyone could talk about – how on earth did this disaster come to pass? I was fielding texts from friends across the country, usually to the effect of, “Just saw Crimes of Grindelwald. What the actual f…”
I’ve written so much about it that I may accidentally win NaNoWriMo, but I’m ready to wrap up this series of articles with this essay. I’ve said my piece, have enraged the “Loyalists” and provided catharsis for like-minded fans, and engaged in some excellent discussion in the comments. How each of us feels about the movie is now well established (and probably immovable). Now the question remaining: How do we move forward?
In the New York City-based Harry Potter Meetup group, the Group That Shall Not Be Named, we’re beginning to have serious conversations about whether we’ll bother seeing the rest of the films. I’m reminded of lyrics from one of my favorite Lauren Fairweather songs, “Howler,” written in a happier time when we all just raged at Warner Bros. and thought Jo was above reproach:
And now I wish I had the strength
To boycott the new movie.
What if we all just stayed home?
Then I bet you’d be sorry.
But you’re taking advantage,
You know Harry is our weakness.
We’ll see you in 2009
Expect us to be pissed.
For the films going forward, I have no interest in seeing them. What I do have an interest in is an excuse to get together with dozens of fellow Potter fans, dress up in costume, and fill up a movie theater where we can all rage together. So yeah, I’ll go see the rest of the movies.
But I have an additional consideration: What will happen to the Three Broomsticks? This column has been my pride and joy since 2011, a place where like-minded fans can get together to discuss the story we all love. I picked the name of the column very deliberately: I wanted it to be a friendly, cozy place, where fans could grab a butterbeer and discuss things with fellow Potter fans, the way they would at an actual pub.
Sometimes the discussions were serious, sometimes they were silly, and very often they were heated as both I and my readers got passionate about Potter. During the “Interregnum,” most of the articles were about things still worth exploring in the books. Now, in the “Revival Era,” it’s been a healthy mix of speculation about Fantastic Beasts and analysis of the fandom itself, interspersed with more book analysis. But for me, Crimes of Grindelwald was an inflection point: My feelings about Rowling and the wizarding world have changed.
Melodramatic? Perhaps a little. I know it’s fiction. I know that the Earth will keep spinning regardless of what happens in the wizarding world. But I invest a lot into this fictional world and know that plenty of my readers do as well. So it bears reflecting upon.
However, I’d like to preface this discussion with three things.
First, if you liked Crimes of Grindelwald, good for you. Go forth and enjoy it. I assure you that you won’t manage to convince me that it had any redeemable aspects, and I trust that my disdain for it won’t ruin your life either. I know it’s not in vogue these days when we spend all our time believing that anyone who disagrees with us is the Antichrist, but we’ll just have to agree to disagree.
Second, I do not speak for all of MuggleNet. Perhaps a little louder for the folks in the back? I DO NOT speak for MuggleNet! Frankly, I never have, and both I and the beleaguered MuggleNet staff have devoted a lot of time over the last seven years to reiterating that. MuggleNet is not a monolithic entity with me as its mouthpiece. MuggleNet will continue engaging with Fantastic Beasts as they see fit, completely independent of what I write here.
Third, I am a Harry Potter fan. That statement has been attacked ever since I first began writing at MuggleNet: There’s a school of thought that says, “Obviously, anyone who has a critical word to say about anything to do with Harry Potter or Rowling isn’t a real fan.” And the “Loyalists” are impossible to argue with. But for the more nuanced readers, please believe that I’m a Harry Potter fan. I have a Harry Potter tattoo. I have written over 70 essays for MuggleNet about Harry Potter. I have published a book about Harry Potter. I have traveled to different continents purely for Harry Potter. I have lost internships to go to the Quidditch World Cup. I have cosplayed over 60 different Harry Potter characters. I camped out on the streets for a weekend to meet Jo Rowling. So really, I am a Harry Potter fan.
Okay, if we can accept all that going forward, that’d be great.
In the days since Crimes of Grindelwald, there has been no shortage of fans offering theories and speculating on the rest of the franchise. Given that Crimes of Grindelwald didn’t conclusively answer a single question we had, there is plenty to speculate about. All the fansites are getting into it, this being their time to shine. Who is Credence Corvus Aurelius Lestrange Barebone Dumbledore really? I’ve heard some incredibly intriguing theories, about everything from Percival Dumbledore magically freezing his sperm to him actually being Percival Graves, about Credence being the child of Kendra or Ariana or Grindelwald, about Credence secretly being a Potter or Prince or Black or Gaunt.
Normally, I’d be in the thick of it, trying to come up with theories and contribute to the conversation. Certainly, I wasted no time after the first movie. This time, I just can’t muster the energy to care who Credence really is.
I don’t like playing a game where I don’t know the rules. When I play board games, I’m never a “let’s just start playing and figure it out” guy; I’m going to interrogate the rules until I have a firm grasp on them. It’s my Ravenclaw side.
All of the theorizing being done by these intrepid fans is coming with too many grains of salt. There’s always a disclaimer: “IF the dates are right…” “IF it agrees to the books…” “IF we assume X, Y, and Z are actually correct…” That may be good enough for many fans; it’ll be good enough to keep Harry Potter fansites busy for the next six years. But I can’t work like this.
All of the fandom’s theorizing, up until recently, has been done with the assumption of certain incontrovertible facts. What was in the Harry Potter books was considered an incontrovertible fact – you argued for or against a theory based on evidence in the text. The assorted apocrypha – interviews, Pottermore, and so on – was not quite so sacrosanct, but by and large, was considered admissible evidence. This was how debates were framed: It was not enough to suggest a theory; you were supposed to prove it.
Now, there is literally no way to prove anything. Every time I hear a theory, no matter how far-fetched, I can’t say, “I disagree because on page 394, it says…” Instead, I nod and smile and say, “Yeah, sure, why not?” That’s not a level of discourse that is worthy of the rigor we’re used to applying. Coming up with ever-more-outlandish theories and throwing them at the wall to see what sticks may be entertaining, but I don’t consider it a worthwhile use of my time. Especially because I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re far more devoted to figuring out Fantastic Beasts than Jo herself is.
I’ve had this happen before with other fandoms. The two that immediately come to my mind are Pretty Little Liars and Once Upon a Time, both compelling and complex TV shows that overstayed their welcome by a few years. Midway through the run of each, I accepted the fact that there was no method to the madness. So bring on more dark curses and secret half siblings, more characters, and more evil twins and more vanished babies! (Sound familiar?)
Most fans seemed to take on similar approaches, but there were still sizable contingents convinced that they could puzzle out what was going on through carefully laid clues. Power to them! They certainly seemed entertained by the process, and I left them to it. That will be my attitude in the wizarding world fandom going forward. I have no urge to pop into the comments thread of every article theorizing about Fantastic Beasts, only to remind everyone that we know nothing and theorizing is futile. I’d encourage similarly disenchanted fans to avoid that as well – let people have their fun.
So yes, I see nothing wrong with your theory that Credence is related to literally everyone in the wizarding world, that all the characters have Time-Turners, and that any characters we think are dead are actually both dead and alive (like Schrödinger’s cat) until we know otherwise. This will be my refrain for the next six years: Sure, why not?
Beyond the quidditch and the Dancing Death Eaters and the cosplay and the cons, for me the fandom has always been about engaging with the text: analyzing, predicting, and finding further meaning in it. I can no longer do that with Fantastic Beasts, so I’m exiting the Fantastic Beasts fandom. I’m pulling a Weasley and speeding out the open front door into the glorious sunset.
‘We won’t be seeing you,’ Fred told Professor Umbridge, swinging his leg over his broomstick.
‘Yeah, don’t bother to keep in touch,’ said George, mounting his own. (OotP, ch. 29)
Which brings us back to the Three Broomsticks. This pub is instituting a strict “No Pets” policy: This column will no longer engage with the Fantastic Beasts franchise. I’ll probably do a response piece to each of the coming films, particularly if the quality drastically improves, but that’ll be it. Just as I’ve happily ignored Harry Potter and the Cursed Child since reading it, there will be an identical approach to Fantastic Beasts.
Since I’ve been alluding to this in my articles this week, several readers have expressed hope that I will continue writing for MuggleNet. This has touched me deeply, and I’m immensely grateful to the folks who bothered to say so. Let me reiterate: I love writing for MuggleNet, I love this community, and I’m not leaving. This website was built on a shared love of Harry Potter, and I believe that’s still the foundation of all we do. Those seven books were enough to keep us busy from 1999 to 2016, and we are nowhere near done with them.
If anyone is skeptical, they need only go through the comments on some of my 2017 editorials. On “The Yew Wand,” we’re still discussing the intricacies of wand allegiance, where an eagle-eyed commenter set me straight after I missed a contradiction to my theory. “Redrawing the Map of Wizarding Europe” has become a forum about geopolitics that would attract the envy of any social studies teacher. This is the kind of stuff that will keep me here, and hopefully, you as well.
So let’s conclude our ranting about Crimes of Grindelwald soon. (And here, I want to express my thanks to the amazing MuggleNet team, who has been speedily publishing this flood of essays as I worked through all my feelings in writing. They’ve been fantastic, and they are beasts at this!) Then, let’s blow the dust off our trusty Potter paperbacks and see what more we can glean from them. The pace of new essays will slow down since I’m no longer beholden to when Warner Bros. releases dollops of information. But I will look forward to seeing you at the Three Broomsticks – grab a butterbeer, pull up a chair, and let’s talk Potter!