The Power of Fanon
First, you may be wondering, what is fanon? The word itself comes from a combination of “fan” and “canon.” Canon means the content of the actual work the fandom is based on. For example, anything that shows up in the actual Harry Potter books is canon. The theory that Mrs. Norris is actually Filch’s Animagus wife would be a headcanon. It’s not present in the actual text and is only believed in the heads and minds of fans. Fanon is what happens when a headcanon becomes so popular and widespread within a fandom that it is often upheld as canon despite not actually being confirmed in the books.
For example, Remus Lupin loves chocolate. I see this fanon all the time. The vast majority of Maurader fan fictions have some joke or throwaway comment about it. But fun fact, Remus is never seen eating chocolate in the books. Yes, he does have it on hand a lot, but it’s given to someone else. And while normally you could assume someone who always has chocolate likes to eat it, it’s not a normal situation. Remus is a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor going to a school that he knows will have Dementors. Keeping that in mind, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to learn that he picked some chocolate up as a precaution. Also, ironically, there’s a possibility that he can’t even eat chocolate given his werewolf status. After all, we all know that chocolate is bad for dogs.
And yet, despite all of this, the fanon perception persists. In this case, it’s mostly harmless. Whether or not Remus Lupin loves chocolate doesn’t actually alter his character in any significant way. However, sometimes fanon can cause major perception changes, forever altering the relationship between a character and the fandom.
A classic example of this is Dumbledore. If you go back to the early fandom, Dumbledore was very much the wise, beloved mentor figure. However, as time moved on, a theory rose up in the fandom. What if Dumbledore was secretly manipulative and had engineered Harry’s adventures to create the perfect tool for defeating Voldemort? This theory really picked up steam after the seventh book came out, and it was revealed that he knew Harry was a Horcrux all along. Then came speculation that he deliberately placed Harry with the Dursleys – an abusive family – so that Harry would be more grateful for the wizarding world and thus more willing to die for it.
It’s not that there’s no textual support for any of this. But none of this was ever confirmed in any Harry Potter canon. This theory is and only ever will be fanon. That hasn’t stopped its spread though. And while not every fan agrees with it, Dumbledore has still fallen far in the fans’ regard. It’s rare nowadays to find someone who’s not at least somewhat critical of Dumbledore.
Another example is Snape. Snape loved Lily. This is confirmed in canon. What’s not confirmed is that this love was romantic. Yes, it can absolutely be read that way, but it can just as easily be read as platonic. And yet, the fanon regarding this relationship is so strong that when someone pointed this out to me, I literally had to go back and reread the books to see if it were true. There’s never any romantic confessions. Snape never even says “I love you.” He calls Lily his best friend, and there is the famous “always” line, but that just shows he still cares for her, not that he was in love with her. Harry’s Patronus is born out of love and grief as well, but no one’s going to argue that his love is romantic.
Think about how this piece of fanon changes our perception of Snape. The entire fandom image of him as a bitter, friend-zoned, self-proclaimed nice guy is based on this. His relationship with James changes. Most of the fandom interpret Snape as being jealous that James got the girl, but honestly, most of Snape’s bitterness seems to be towards their bullying, antagonistic relationship and the fact that James once saved his life. Even the line about James fancying Lily only seems to come up because Snape is trying to distract Lily from what he’s said and done and focus on James and his actions. Of course, this all begs the question of whether or not Snape not being in love with Lily makes his actions worse, better, or the same. Does romantic love excuse some of his choices where platonic love wouldn’t? Or does the fact that he’s not bitter about being friend-zoned make him more likable? That’s up to you.
Sometimes, fanon can be a good thing, offering greater insight and analysis of a character. It can be used to flesh out minor characters who don’t get much screen time. Sometimes, it’s just funny. However, we have to be careful not to let fanon lead us into the trap of thinking that only one interpretation is correct, causing us to disregard all others. The best part of fandom is our freedom to explore. So don’t let fanon limit you.