On Canons and Headcanons

So a while ago, I got a comment on one of my Harry Potter metaposts basically questioning why I bothered to write meta at all, since actual HP canon couldn’t be changed because Rowling had already written it, and questioning why I thus bothered to point out flaws in her writing because it wasn’t going to change for anyone. Here’s the actual comment below.

Here’s the thing… I see a lot of people commenting on various characters as if they were real, living people (how would Neville have turned out if Snape hadn’t abused him, etc.) Neville couldn’t have turned out any different, nor could Snape or anyone in any book ever, because that’s the way they were written. The author (in this case, J.K. Rowling) wrote each character in a particular way for a certain effect, and to fulfill a certain role and purpose in the story she was telling. It’s completely useless and pointless to speculate on how differently things might have been if only… because that is not the way the author wrote the story. Hermione couldn’t have been black; no-one besides Dumbledore could have been gay; Snape couldn’t have been nicer to Harry or Hermione or Neville; Neville couldn’t have grown up less downtrodden; Snape could never have married Lily… because that wasn’t J.K. Rowling’s story.

It’s like, when I was in a creative writing class and we were reading Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”—the woman in that story is a class-A whiny pathetic nasty bitch. We were having a discussion in class about this, and about the awful way the man in the story treated her (because of how she acted, presumably). Someone said “well, she *was* a total bitch!” And the teacher said “Yes, because that’s the way Hemingway wrote her.” It was like this huge eye-opening moment…characters in literature *can’t* be different in any way from the way they were written because they have no existence except within the framework set by the author in order to tell a particular story. Change any of the characters, and you will change the story out of all recognition.

I get your point, commenter. I really do. I know logically that no matter what fans or fandom may choose to believe or say about Rowling’s canon and characters, they are ultimately hers, and in Potter canon, we will never really be able to change the facts as they are: Snape was a douchebag and that messed quite a few generations up. Neville grew up abused and traumatized. Lily Potter died that Halloween on 1981. I can’t change that. I get it. Rowling chose to write her canon that way, and I can’t do a damn thing about the words she ultimately ended up publishing.

But. One thing I think you didn’t really acknowledge, is that it isn’t just Rowling’s canon anymore.

When JK chose to publish The Philosopher’s Stone, she introduced the world to a young boy of eleven with a curious scar on his forehead. By the time the last adaptations of her novels were released, DHs Part 1 and 2, millions of people had read about and fallen in love with that no-longer-so-young boy with a (now iconic) scar on his forehead. And, each reader took the words she had put down on paper, and interpreted and read them in a completely different way. We read Rowling’s canon differently because we were all in different situations, on different walks of life.

And, in that small way, by adapting and interpreting her works differently, we took that canon and each made it uniquely ours.

I won’t argue that my ruminating on Snape’s dickish behaviour could possibly ever change what Rowling chose to write, because it won’t. I can’t argue that my wondering what Neville might have been able to achieve had he not been treated so terribly can ever affect canon.

But, I can argue that my wondering about Hermione’s race and other characters’ sexualities can change something. Because if people read my writing on these topics, they might realize the lack of representation that JK handed to us, and they might realize how much more representation people need in the media they consume.

When JK handed over Harry Potter’s chronicled adventures to the public, she invited us to consume her work. I think, in the back of every writer and artist and singer’s mind, they know or have realized that once you put your work out there, once you share it with someone, it isn’t just yours anymore. You may have begun it, written the source material, but inevitably, people will see it and draw their own conclusions, interpret it their own ways.

I choose to interpret Hermione as a black character. There’s nothing in canon that states that she isn’t. There’s nothing in canon that contradicts me (rather the opposite, in certain cases). I choose to interpret Snape as a child abuser and a person that really fucked over quite a few classes’ worth of kids and their futures. I choose to interpret Luna as genderqueer and asexual and neurodivergent, I choose to interpret Tonks and Teddy as genderqueer and pan, I choose to interpret Ginny as aromatic, I choose to interpret Harry and Neville as child abuse survivors. And I can, because it’s my interpretations of and additions to canon.

To be honest, I think many people don’t love Harry Potter canon as much as they think they do. Rather, I think it’s the fanon they love. It’s the possibilities that magic and Hogwarts and characters that can be built on provide, it’s the framework of Ministries and Diagons and Wizarding Wars that JK has given to us, and it’s what the fandom has built upon that framework, worlds of inclusive, diverse, wonderfully imaginative things that they love. At least, that’s what I’m in love with.

Don’t get me wrong, I love canon. I love that Fleur defended Bill and her love of him to Molly, I love that a young boy named Harry Potter realized he was capable of wonders, I love that a little girl named Hermione and a little boy named Ron decided to love him and support him through years of danger and fun, I love that Quidditch is really quite a complicated game. But I also love the universes where a post-DH Harry doesn’t go into law enforcement, he goes into professional Quidditch because it’s what he loves. I love the universes where we can see what can be really done with magic: mapping dangerous places, Cursebreaking and all the wonders that accompany it, what would happen if a Metamorphmagus became an Animagus, what might’ve happened if Sirius had become the Potters’ Secret Keeper anyway.

I can’t change canon.

But I can change how someone sees canon. I can choose to see canon differently from you. I can choose to add my own details, branch off differently. I get the feeling that you like to stick to the source material, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But me? I like to diverge. I like to twist and weave and mold. And to be honest, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that either.

We both love Harry Potter. We also just choose to see it differently. I’m not claiming to try and change canon. I’m not trying to change what you love. I’m just writing what I think of what I love, and posting it.


About Danny

I blog about whatever's on my mind. Usually that's stuff like Harry Potter metaposts, writing, and LGBTQ+ topics.
This entry was posted in Books, Fandom-related, fangirl stuff, Harry Potter, Ideas, Me, Meta, Theories, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to On Canons and Headcanons

  1. Reblogged this on Where Books Never End and commented:
    I just had to reblog this. Thank you so much, Lollipops and Rainbows, for speaking the truth.

  2. River says:

    About rewriting stories or headcannons or “what-ifs”. . . the thing is, people don’t just do it with stories. They do it with real life too. They say, “What if I had dated so-and-so?” or “What if I had taken that trip to Nigeria?”. They spend time considering how their own life, or their friend’s life, or their cousin’s life, or a celebrity’s life would have been different if ___. And the interpretation–also a real-life thing. People see what they want to see, ignore what they don’t want to see, and reinterpret someone’s past actions in light of new events. So saying that doing so in the framework of a story is useless is sort of ridiculous, since it’s a human thing to do anyway.

    So yeah. Even though, in HP’s case, I’m pretty much firmly in the “canon” camp, I get what you’re saying here. There are other stories that I’ve loved to live in and imagine and interpret. The wonderful thing about a well-built story world is the sheer number of possibilities contained within. When readers explore those possibilities, it’s amazing.

  3. Exactly! There is nothing to stop anyone from seeing Hermione as black, and it makes the story better anyways! With her hair, her fighting for elf equality, nobody pronouncing her name right?
    What you said is true. There come a lot of different perspectives, and there’s no changing the real book, but you can change the imaginations.

    • Danny says:

      It also really explains a bit of why certain elitist purebloods hate her so much–if you factor in racism (of which there is sort-of-representation, in the form of muggleborn vs pureblood) as well as her being muggleborn, it really adds something to canon. And it definitely clarifies things about her hair, pushing for equality, and the whole name issue, you’re right. (I didn’t even remember the whole SPEW-related stuff at first.)

      • That’s true, about paralleling the racism. I sometimes imagine Harry olive skinned. And the Weasley’s would be like the family who didn’t care what color skin you had.
        But yeah, good points.

        • Danny says:

          I can totally see Harry as a biracial kid tbh, like Lily’s white and James is a POC–it’d def explain the Potter boys’s hair too, if James is black. And I usually read Blaise as a person of color, too. I’ve actually written meta on it, but I’m prob not going to publish it.
          Any other cool headcanons of yours?

        • Well something that I found fun to headcanon was this post on tumblr: http://andythelemon.tumblr.com/post/104799901195/totally-digging-luna-being-partly-korean-or-maybe
          I really love the idea of Luna having the Asian style.
          I have tiny little headcanons that I can never really remember, but they are there.

        • Danny says:

          Not sure what you mean by “the Asian style”, unless you’re referring to Luna’s fashion sense? though that sounds a little like fetishization to me

          I can’t really see Luna as Asian–in that case, her hair probably wouldn’t be so blonde, but a much darker brown. In my experience as a POC of Asian descent, most mixed kids with an Asian parent usually show Asian traits: dark hair, dark(er) skin, distinctly not-Caucasian bone structures . . . basically, not just the slanted eyes and sliiiightly tinted skin that Luna has in that fanart. But props to you for hc-ing Luna as a mixed POC (I’ve got more problems with the fanart of her than your actual HC–I’m not trying to attack your headcanon or anything).

  4. Pingback: January Favourites! | Twist in the Taile

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