Thursday, June 20, 2024

Canon Compliance and why I’m Happy about the Cursed Child Trainwreck

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If you’ve been on the internet at all in the past two months, you are likely aware of the recently released sequel play to the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” Or rather, likely aware of what a hot mess it is. A time-traveling, Mary Sue-filled, subtly sexist, queerbaiting, OOC mess. That’s not exactly a new experience for a lot of us; after all, the Harry Potter franchise is one of the most heavily ficced there is, and as a result, the parent of works like, well… “My Immortal.” And frankly, no matter how objectively “bad” fanworks might seem, we here at Fandom Following are 100% in favor of people engaging with narratives in ways that are pleasing to them (so long as Implications™ or anything problematic can be openly discussed).

So like, whatever. Write about Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way. Write a piece about Draco Malfoy not being able to escape the rumors that his son is secretly Voldemort’s because of bureaucratic red tape surrounding an official statement on the destruction of Time-Turners.

There’s just one little problem with Cursed Child: JK Rowling (JKR) is listed as an author. Yes, Jack Thorne seems to be the dude who wrote most of the play itself, but this is an original story JKR willingly attached her name to — a story she created, along with Thorne and John Tiffany. So as much as we might like to disown it, just like the cringe-worthy write-up of “Ilvermorny” on Pottermore, this too is indisputably canon.

I mean, okay, there’s shades of grey, and please feel free to take a spirited discussion of “what is canon” to the comment section. If JKR tweets a factoid about Neville Longbottom, is that canon, or only if she throws it up onto Pottermore? I’m certainly the kind of person who likes to take anything the author says into account, but the more JRK talks and writes… Well, it’s very tempting to ignore some if it, isn’t it?

But there’s no ignoring Cursed Child. It is being referred to as the “8th installment of the Harry Potter franchise,” and apparently the close of Harry’s story in particular.

“He goes on a very big journey during these two plays and then, yeah, I think we’re done. This is the next generation, you know, So, I’m thrilled to see it realized so beautifully but, no, Harry is done now.” –JK Rowling

Last year, I talked about how I was new to the fanfic swimming pool and actually had to get over the stigmatization of it, which boy am I glad I did. But the thing is, I didn’t exactly jump into the deep-end; I stuck my toe into the safe, shallow waters of canon-compliant fanfic. It’s not that I don’t respect canon-divergent “what-if” scenarios, or the inordinate amount of work AUs require to transplant characters into another setting and keep a commitment to their personality and voice — I certainly do. It’s just that for me, even with disappointing turns, or series I stopped liking, I’ve never been able to take myself down the path of “well let’s just ignore that.”

I mean, to be fair, it’s not as if Harry Potter is without flaws (as anyone following along in our reread project knows). Why didn’t they give Sirius veritasium instead of chucking him immediately into Azkaban when the only witnesses were muggles? What the hot hell does “binding magical contract” actually mean and why is the solution to have Harry compete in a tournament he didn’t want to when there was no legal way he could have submitted his own name so there’s obviously something shady going on? And I’m pretty sure we’re all realizing that the “romantic” Snape narrative is *really* not aging well. This is just scraping the surface.

But these nitpicks (actually somewhat major plot-holes, in some places) were not enough for me to lose faith in the author, or to even consider bringing certain “what-ifs” I might have enjoyed the idea of into fruition. I guess we could call this “suspended disbelief,” right? The story JKR told in the original series was good enough where I just didn’t care about these things.

With Cursed Child however, I simply don’t feel it’s worth the effort to put in to honeypot away the flaws, or willfully ignore them because things like characterizations and themes are that darn compelling. Truth be told, I want nothing to do with it at all. If you had told me that’s how I’d feel about an 8th Harry Potter 9 years ago, when I avoided parties with high school friends I was about to never see again (we were starting college) just so I could finish reading Deathly Hallows, I would not have believed it. And yet the complete horror I had when the Daily Beast posted a spoilery summary of the play finally got me to a point where not only could my brain not care about it, but it could not accept this as a story that “really happened” in the Harry Potter universe. “Canon” lost meaning to me.

This should be really disillusioning; I should be Holden Caulfielding my way around town, grumbling about the breakdown of childhood innocence. And yet there’s something I’m finding oddly exhilarating. My complete loss of faith in JKR has allowed me to finally admit something to myself that I’ve been keeping at bay all these years: there’s things about the Harry Potter franchise I wish were different! And not only that, but things I think are worth exploring, because why the hell do we have any reason to believe these characters are better off in the hands of the author right now?

In other words, I’ve come around on canon-divergency.

And wow is it great, you guys! I can finally grab random people on the street and tell them that I actually ship Ginny and Luna, because seriously think about it they complement each other so well, and Ginny’s trauma is never addressed and it’s clear that she hides behind this gregarious, sarcastic front to avoid feeling vulnerable, and her obsession with mastering hexes is all about reclaiming her agency and feeling in control, and within one school year she and Luna grow close because Luna’s the only person who would not put any sort of social expectations on her (or anyone), and they’re both guided by this utter moral goodness, and then Luna goes through hell and back too so they’d be able to form a bond in a unique way, and what even was her relationship with Harry…

Oh boy, this is a slippery slope, isn’t it? I mean I’m already applying this mindset to franchises that I think are pretty much perfect because for the love of god, would it have killed Bryke to have Asami and Pema talk about anything other than baby cramps?

I guess part of me always felt that it would be hubristic to really entertain anything that wasn’t completely canon-compliant. That somehow it was me saying I knew better than the author, or that the story I wanted to tell was more important. Though if nothing else, Cursed Child has taught me that authors are kind of…people too. Fallible, fallible people. Plus, it’s not as if engaging with their worlds in a way that is divergent from their vision cheapens what they wrote (or affects it at all). If it can bring forth a newer, enjoyable experience for the fan, then why would that ever be unworthy in any way?

jkr cursed child

I don’t know what’s going to push me into the AU waters, and I’m almost scared to find out. But for now, all I can say is that I’m feeling freshly excited about the Harry Potter franchise, almost like nine years ago. And as I reread it to make notes for The Ginny Chronicles, I realize that I owe it all to J.K. Rowling and her time-traveling sequel.


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