The Three Broomsticks Centenary: The Community
Thousands of people engaging with a fictional world together does not happen in a vacuum – the community of people who love Harry Potter is every bit as interesting as the books themselves. It’s hard to believe, but it has now been 25 years of people bonding over a shared love for Harry, and so the fandom has a storied history all its own. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been there for all but the first few years of it, so over the years, I’ve frequently taken asides from discussing the books to write about the fandom itself.
If you’re a fan who has also been in the trenches for years, I hope this will be an entertaining look back at some historical snapshots of our community. If you’re new to the fandom, welcome, and I trust this will be useful in getting you all caught up.
The Question of Canon
2003 to 2005 had the Shipping Wars. 2005 to 2007 had the Great Snape Debate. Then the fandom debated whether the Epilogue was satisfying or not. Then we went back to whether Snape was redeemed or not. In “the Interregnum,” we debated what the “next Harry Potter” would be where we could all migrate if need be. But since 2016, we have locked onto a new debate that, frankly, seems more exhausting than all the others combined: What is canon?
It used to be that we could all agree on what was canon and what wasn’t: the seven books, the companion novels, whatever appeared on Jo’s website or in interviews (assuming it didn’t conflict with the books), and a few odds and ends here and there. With the Harry Potter Lexicon as the almighty arbiter of the topic, there was consensus, and we took the canon and ran with it in forming our theories.
Of course, cracks began to show. The apocryphal revelation that Dumbledore was gay wasn’t accepted in some corners (and you can probably guess which corners). The errors riddled throughout Pottermore raised eyebrows. There began to be a spectrum of canon maximalists (accept all the apocrypha) and minimalists (seven books and that’s it), but at least we all agreed on what the spectrum was and could discuss where we fell upon it.
I first took a stab at the topic in 2013, in Three Broomsticks (henceforth written as “TB”) #29: “Headmasters in Canon” (the fact that the subject flared up as soon as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was announced was a portent of things to come). The term “apocrypha” should be substituted for the clunky “dubious canon” in the essay, but by and large, the essay holds up as a canon maximalist’s perspective.
That handy spectrum of maximalist to minimalist flew out the window in 2016 with the one-two punch of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts. Those properties provided two wholly new axes on which fans could sort themselves with regard to what was “canon,” and it left fans too dispersed in their understanding. In between the two additions, when we only had Cursed Child to angst over, I wrote TB #42: “The Cursed Canon Conundrum.” If this column were a course, that would be the Week 1 reading assignment in the syllabus.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this debate is that no one can agree it’s even a debate. Perhaps it’s my rose-colored glasses, but this seems different from before. Whether it was Ron/Hermione or Harry/Hermione, whether Snape was good or evil, at least everyone could agree that both sides were valid theories to hold (however wrong you may consider one of them to be).
Now, one just has to delve into comments on the subject, and it’s not long before one sees “Jo said it was canon, so it’s canon. There is no debate.” “It contradicts books, so it’s not canon. There is no debate.” “Canon,” at its most basic definition, is whatever people collectively agree is canon. If we cannot agree on what is canon, then there is no canon, and this concept really seems to elude people. And cue the comments saying I’m wrong and hateful for even saying there’s a debate in 3…2…1…
I have had the enormous privilege of participating in many corners of the Harry Potter fandom for a very long time, and I find it helpful to check in and take a bird’s-eye view of our community.
This began back in 2012, with TB #17: “Fandom Five Years Later.” Five years after the last book was published seemed an occasion ripe for taking stock. And although the prediction that The Casual Vacancy would reinvigorate the fandom seems hilarious in retrospect, many of the other trends I noted did come to pass. Indeed, the fandom became more focused on fan-created works in lieu of disappointing official products. And the fandom also became exponentially more siloed as fans zeroed in on their interests without the promise of new books and movies to focus on.
I checked in again five years later in TB #53: “State of the Fandom: MISTI-Con 2017,” using the microcosm of a fan convention to look at where the fandom found itself at that moment in time. (I just realized this time line means I should probably revisit the topic this year. Hmmm…) And talk of conventions, I wrote up a helpful guide for newbies in TB #15: “Guide to HP Conventions” – cons are my absolute favorite experiences within the Potter fandom, and I cannot wait to get back to them post-pandemic, though it’ll have been so long, I’ll need that guide myself as a refresher.
I have also tried to offer a measured perspective in moments of controversy throughout the years. Here is an adorable bit of nostalgia from 2012: TB #16: “Are We Victims?” The brouhaha of the day, which seems positively quaint by today’s standards, was anger at the cash grabs of Wonderbook: Book of Spells and Warner Bros.’ DVD box sets. How dare corporations try to exploit fans to turn a profit?! Though, to be honest, some of what I wrote back then seems like sound advice in 2022: Take deep breaths and don’t buy the things if you don’t want to.
The topic of cash grabs reared again in 2016, first with the inaccessibility of Cursed Child being a play, then when Pottermore announced it was putting some of its content into e-books that fans would shell out $9 for. It was actually the latter that really got my goat, and in opposition to “Are We Victims?,” I wrote a piece on how I considered that an affront and would not be supporting it in TB #44: “The Final Straw.”
A lot of issues in the fandom boiled over in 2018 with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – the production was plagued by controversies, from Dumbledore not being “explicitly gay” to the casting of Johnny Depp. In my opinion, the most interesting thing here was the fandom’s evolving relationship with Jo because she was not given the benefit of the doubt on these topics. I dove into that in TB #60: “In Jo We Trust… Or Not.”
I invoked that essay’s title at the end of 2018, having been brutally disappointed in Crimes of Grindelwald and in Jo for its creation, in TB #68: “In Jo We Do Not Trust.” I made the argument that Jo has disengaged from the Wizarding World franchise, and we need to be cognizant of that in how we choose to engage with it further. After the last three years, I stand by that assessment – fans who want to experience stories that Jo is invested in telling should pick up her non-Potter books and approach the Fantastic Beasts films rather as one would the roller coasters in the theme parks.
Having revisited them for this retrospective, I am doubly glad I published all of these articles – both for the discussion and enjoyment I got out of them back then and for how they serve as a time capsule. 2012, 2016, and 2018 were such distinct moments where the Potter fandom is concerned – it’s interesting to look back on the essays, especially the comments, to see fans’ mindsets. A lot of fandom history is chronicled after the fact, with the benefit and the drawbacks of hindsight, so cheers to primary sources on the subject.