J.K. Rowling uses Twitter and Pottermore to expand the Harry Potter universe. But for every new piece of canon, I feel the reality of the Wizarding World shattering.
First of all, let’s get this straight: J.K. Rowling made up Harry Potter and she can do whatever the hell she wants with it. If she decides to make Harry tragically fall off his Firebolt and die at age 40? Fine. If Ron one day leaves Hermione for Viktor Krum? Sure (and totally in character). It’s not my place to dictate what an author does with their own book series, and I would never assume I had that right.
But just as it’s J.K. Rowling’s choice to expand her universe, it’s my choice whether or not to accept the new content. And I’m opting out.
To tell you the truth, I stopped reading the Pottermore content a long time ago. All I know is what I’ve read on Hypable (heyooo) or seen people discuss on Twitter. And it’s not just that I forgot my Pottermore username; I genuinely began to feel my heart sink every time a new piece of canon was released.
For a long time, I didn’t understand why I wasn’t excited. I saw people lose their minds over Moaning Myrtle’s real name, or Teddy Lupin’s sorting, and I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm. The lengthy essay on Minerva McGonagall (one of my favorite characters) took me ages to get through, and once I had, I felt empty. I felt, inexplicably, like something had been taken from me.
I kept silent about it, because I felt like a fraud. I’ve loved these books since I was 12; before the release of Deathly Hallows I consumed every interview, every fan theory, every hint on JKR’s old website that might give me just a little bit more. And I wanted (still want) the encyclopedia so badly, so why would I relish in reading a chapter on McGonagall in a book, and yet despise her story just because it was released on Pottermore?
I finally figured it out. Actually, I had a very cathartic moment on this month’s episode of MuggleCast, which finally allowed me to express my frustration. I figured I’d write about it, in the hope that I’m expressing other fans’ frustration, too.
The books don’t make ‘Harry Potter’ real, your mind does
The Harry Potter series did something for me which few works of fiction have quite managed (at least not to this extent): It opened my imagination, and inside my head, the world became real. Every sentence I read opened up new possibilities, new backstories and locations, new character connections and motivations. The Wizarding World grew massive in my mind; I let myself wander off the pages and into new areas of Hogwarts, I followed Hermione when she left Harry behind, I brought the secondary characters to life and gave them independence and inner lives that the narrative simply did not accommodate for.
The Harry Potter book series served as a springboard for my imagination. The narrative was rich and engaging, but it did not make the story real — my mind did that. That’s how fiction works, when it works. Like a Peter Pan fairy, it doesn’t exist unless you believe it does, and the more people believe in it, the more powerful it becomes.
When you read a good book, you take the words off the page and weave a rich universe full of color and nuance around them. You only believe in the central story because it fits into a larger, imaginary universe the author has built for you to play in. And the story doesn’t end when the book does, because you still have access to the world and its characters in your mind (even if a wild epilogue appears and removes some of the ambiguity about what happened next).
I still remember getting to the final page of Deathly Hallows, overcome with emotion, crying like a baby, but ultimately relieved. Because all was truly well: We’d made it through, me and my favorite characters, and now I got to grow up and live the rest of my life knowing that Harry and his friends were out there doing the same.
Pottermore vs the encyclopedia
I’ve been trying to work out why, if I’m so opposed to random bits of new info, I wouldn’t mind having it all collected and released as a book. Surely the medium (book vs online) isn’t that important?
Turns out, it really is. An officially published encyclopedia would be an edited, indexed, bound, solid, unalterable reference guide to expand the Wizarding World, filling in backstories, adding dates and names to this universe and making it feel more real and tangible.
Pottermore and J.K. Rowling’s tweets, by contrast, don’t feel like expansions of the world, but rather like they’re limiting my own interpretations of it. Each bit of new information, released at any time and demanding my immediate attention, closes another door in my mind, eliminates more possibilities. It feels whimsical and arbitrary, paper-thin and precarious in a way an official companion simply wouldn’t.
But as I said before, how or when Jo chooses to release more details about her world is out of my control. I can live with the anxiety of waking up every morning and wondering if this is the day Jo will kill off Ginny Weasley, because it’s not like I have a choice.
What bothers me is the sporadic, shaky medium through which this new “canon” is released. An encyclopedia, bound and printed and existing as a physical thing, would feel real. But random facts, scattered between political debates and rugby fangirling (as glorious as that is) just remind me that it’s all made-up, and so obviously subject to the author’s whims and moods, in a way we never want be reminded that all fiction actually is.
By skimming over Rowling’s timeline and seeing her cheer on Serena Williams in one tweet, and send James Sirius Potter off to Hogwarts in the next, I feel the reality of the Wizarding World becoming less stable. Seeing blocks of canon on Pottermore interspersed with Fantastic Beasts movie news and weird listicles further destroys the illusion my imagination is still trying to cling on to. Mixing the universes of the movies and the books confuses my mind. I just don’t like it.
If I were to enjoy new canon from Jo, it would be because I believed it was real. But because of the way it’s mediated — online, as part of a meta, selectively-in-universe patchwork of content, subject to deletion and alteration at any time (see: Lavendergate 2015) — every new piece of canon only serves as a further reminder that it’s all made-up, and can be altered at will. Pottermore may be official, but it’s still just a website. It’s a product, now full of pictures from the movies, that should have nothing to do with Jo’s writing. How could I possibly buy into the reality of Harry Potter, when I’m being forced to accept “canon” as a shifting, fluid thing?
The solid completeness of Harry Potter, cemented in seven books and forever ingrained in my mind, is suddenly precarious and fragile. Pottermore makes me nervous. J.K. Rowling’s tweets make me nervous. The blow that finally shatters the illusion can come at any time, and I’m not ready to give up my childhood refuge.
If you disagree with my argument, think of it like this: If someone gave you a painting and you loved it, you wouldn’t let the artist take it back five years later to make alterations, right? So why should I let Jo do it with the story she gave me, the complete work of art that framed my childhood? It’s already perfect, and it’s mine. She gave it to me, and I’m not giving it back.
If you enjoy Pottermore and the tweets, fantastic. I’m sure that’s the intention. But I already have what I need, and I think it’s time to peace out before I lose the magic completely.