Words and Photos courtesy of Erin Wilhelm:
The annual Harry Potter Fandom panel at Comic-con was the last panel on Thursday night this year, but the late hour and different day (it is usually on Sunday) did nothing to discourage a full room of fans and a bushel of panelists.
Moderated by Heidi Tandy (FictionAlley, Organization for Transformative Works), the panel was made up of heavy hitters and newer arrivals to the Harry Potter Fandom scene. Numbering a stage sagging ten, panelists were journalists Elizabeth Minkel (Fansplaining) and Catherine Horvath (MuggleNet), event organizer Chandrika Moka (Wands Up San Diego), sportsters Dawn Biggs (Hogwarts Running Club) and Jessica Ward (US Quidditch), and creative fans like Eliyannah Amirah Yisrael (Hermione Granger & the Quarter Life Crisis), novelist Alexa Donne (Brightly Burning), actor/producer Mick Ignis (The Great Wizarding War podcast, Severus Snape & the Marauders), podcaster Gary Roby (Harry Potter Minute) and playwright Matt Cox (Puffs Or; Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic).
The topic of the night was canon: what is canon? what isn’t? how has the definition of canon changed? and how does fandom influence the definition of canon?
With the arrival of the stage version of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway and beyond in the United States, the play was a big topic of conversation, and disagreement, throughout the panel. The whole panel had read the published play, and they pretty universally hated it. But, among those who had seen The Cursed Child on stage (about ⅔ of the panel), opinions differed wildly. Some panelists felt that seeing the play made them approve of the text and the addition to the story, others disagreed, and Catherine Horvath from MuggleNet still had not made up her mind. Several panelists even expressed frustration and disappointment with J.K. Rowling for allowing The Cursed Child to be made, and to be considered part of the story.
This led to a pretty extensive discussion of what actually makes up Harry Potter canon. According to MuggleNet and Alexa Donne, only the original Harry Potter books count as canon, the movies, the play, the additional tweets and stories by Rowling herself are all excluded. Alexa Donne elaborated that once an author releases a work, it belongs to the fans, and the fans are welcome to interpret it however they see fit. Roby, whose podcast Harry Potter Minute studies the Harry Potter movies one minute at a time, was obviously on the side of the movies being included in canon, but pointed out that studying the movies in this way had made him see them completely differently and in some ways has changed his views of them.
Moka discussed how watching Severus Snape & The Marauders (a fan film) with her fandom group made her realize that James Potter wasn’t the hero she thought he was, at least not as a teenager, and that the realization actually sent her back to the text to find things she didn’t notice before. Mick Ignus, who is developing a dramatic podcast called the Great Wizarding War about the effect of the war on the characters that Harry Potter fans met as adults in the novels, discussed how his exploration of the effect the war must have had on these beloved characters really changed how he viewed them in the source material.
The panel, in the end, took on a strange sort of circular argument. Panelists wanted so much to preserve what they believe to be canon, but the very act of interacting with other fans has in fact changed how they view the fandom. To close, Minkel brought up the ongoing controversy of Johnny Depp’s continued involvement in the Fantastic Beasts movies and Yisrael committed herself to making the fandom black and colorful, bringing up two more sources of continued scrutiny within the fandom and the larger Harry Potter world. More to discuss at next year’s panel, it appears.