Every year at San Diego Comic-Con, notable figures from the Harry Potter fandom gather to discuss their experiences within the wizarding world. A sort of State of the Union, the panel reflects on the drama, frustration, angst, and transformation within the fandom. This year, the panel unintentionally focused on the fracturing of the already divided Harry Potter fandom.
Moderated by Heidi Tandy (FictionAlley), the panel included Adrienne Alwag (Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army), Alison Siggard (MuggleNet), Alison Wilgus (Chronin), Brian Biggs (Potterhead Running Club/Random Tuesday), Catherine Elhoffer (Elhoffer Design), Eliyannah Amirah Yisrael (Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis), Elizabeth Minkel (Fansplaining), Jamie Luby (US Quidditch), Justin Zagri (Severus Snape and the Marauders), and Matt Cox (Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic).
Tandy used tabletop conversation cards to get the panel going, a novel approach. Though, with ten panelists, discussion didn’t need much help getting started. The first question asked the panelists how they take inspiration from and engaged in fandom. Interestingly, only one of the panelists said that they draw their inspiration from the texts of the Harry Potter novels themselves. Most, if not all, of the speakers drew their inspiration from the fandom itself, not the canon.
Fanfiction was a common source of joy and inspiration for almost all of the panelists. Yisrael, Cox, and Zagri have all produced popular fan properties that now have their own fandoms. Elhoffer actually designs clothes based off of fanfiction that she loves. Luby, Biggs, and Alwag discussed how their fandom was now dominated by their participation in fan groups, not by engaging in the original texts.
The fandom question led to a larger, and more important, conversation about the canon itself. Several of the speakers, with Elhoffer the most vocal, stated that they refuse to accept at least some part of the new canon. Elhoffer stated that she focuses only on the seven original books and movies, with fanfiction acting as the only extension of canon she will accept. Other agreed, at least in part. Multiple panelists admitted to limiting the new canon they chose to consume.
The panel unanimously agreed that it is perfectly acceptable to only engage with the canon you like. Furthermore, they thought the fandom overall had divided based on what sliver of canon fans find most interesting. The book purists have their own groups, where they don’t engage with other material. Juby stated that many of the quidditch players she knows play for love of the sport, not love of the source material. Siggard had interesting insight, positing that fans disengaging from the new canon is related author J.K. Rowling‘s loss of complete creative control of the franchise.
Overall, the panel painted a picture of a fandom that has outgrown and subsumed its canon. Fans who disagree with the new canon can, instead, choose to engage only in fan properties they like. As a result, the Harry Potter fandom, has become increasingly segregated. Rather than the infighting you see in Star Wars, Harry Potter fans have just chosen to ignore that which they don’t like. In future years, will they need to hold separate fandom panels for the diverse fan interests? Or will this year’s low panel attendance be the death knell for the Harry Potter Fandom Panel?