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The Rowling Magazine Issue #73 · January 2023

The hierarchy of canon: The sources of Harry Potter lore

1967 words

The Harry Potter series has a vast and complex canon, with multiple sources including the novels, companion books, interviews, and various forms of merchandise. This abundance of information can be confusing for fans, and it has led to the development of a hierarchy of canon that some use to determine the level of authenticity and authority of different sources. In this article, we propose a hierarchy that follows certain rules and is not intended to be official. Some fans may adopt this hierarchy, while others may have their own interpretation of the canon of the Wizarding World.

Just to clarify before continuing, in the context of a franchise like Harry Potter, the term “canon”, as we are using it here, refers to the body of works that are considered to be part of the official, established continuity of the series. This can include the main series of books, as well as other materials such as companion books, interviews, and official websites. When we say something is considered to be part of the canon of a franchise, we mean it is generally accepted as having happened within the fictional world of the series and is used to inform future storytelling.

The main rule of this hierarchy is that J.K. Rowling is the only person who can create or update the canon of the Wizarding World. As the creator of the series, Rowling’s words and writings hold the most authority and are considered the most reliable source of information. The second rule of this hierarchy is that the medium in which Rowling shares new information about the canon is important. Official mediums, such as her books and website, are considered higher in the hierarchy than other mediums. Additionally, mediums where it is likely that Rowling took the time to carefully craft and edit her writing, such as interviews or companion books, are also considered higher in the hierarchy than more spontaneous mediums such as social media.

Based on these rules, the hierarchy of canon in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is as follows:

Novels: The original seven novels in the Harry Potter series are considered the highest level of canon. These books provide the most detailed and comprehensive depiction of the Wizarding World and are considered the most reliable source of information.

Companion books: Companion books written by J.K. Rowling, such as The Tales of Beedle the Bard, are considered the next level of canon. This category also includes the Daily Prophet Newsletter written for Bloomsbury in 1998/1999. These books provide additional information and context about the Wizarding World, but may not be as comprehensive or definitive as the main series.

Pottermore – Original J.K. Rowling Website: The articles and commentary published on Rowling’s original website and later on Pottermore, when authorship has been attributed to J.K. Rowling, are considered the next level of canon. This includes any additional writing or details about the Wizarding World that Rowling has published online.

Interviews: Interviews given by Rowling in different media, such as radio, newspapers, magazines, and television, are considered a lower level of canon than the books or her official website. These interviews provide an opportunity for Rowling to speak about the series and share her thoughts and ideas, but they may not always be as detailed or comprehensive as the other sources.

Facts provided by Rowling to filmmakers, video game makers, theme park designers, etc.: Canon facts provided by J.K. Rowling to filmmakers, video game makers, and other creators of Harry Potter–themed products are considered a lower level of canon than interviews. The fact that Rowling provided these facts must be confirmed by a reliable source, such as a trial like the 2008 one against The Harry Potter Lexicon book. Some fans may argue that these facts should be higher in the hierarchy due to the more official nature of the medium, while others may consider tweets by Rowling to be a more reliable source due to the direct communication.

Tweets by Rowling: Tweets by J.K. Rowling are considered a lower level of canon than the facts provided to filmmakers and video game makers. These tweets are often brief and may not provide the same level of detail as other sources.

Answers given by Rowling at signing events and other events: Answers given by J.K. Rowling to fans at signing events or other events are considered the lowest level of canon. These answers may be considered less reliable than other sources unless they are confirmed by a recording, such as an audio or video.

It is important to note that the hierarchy of canon proposed in this article is not an objective truth, but rather a perspective held by some fans. The Harry Potter movies, while popular and widely loved, are not considered canon in the Wizarding World by many fans because Rowling was not directly involved in their creation and they may differ from the events and details depicted in the books.

The Fantastic Beasts movies, which were written by Rowling, are considered canon by some fans, but the screenplays may have been heavily edited and modified by the film crew, making it difficult to know exactly what came directly from the author. As a result, it is difficult for some fans to consider even the screenplays alone to be part of the official canon of the series. The case of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a stage play based on an original story by Rowling and friends, is similar in that Rowling worked on and approved the story, but the screenplay was written by Jack Thorne. Some fans may consider the play to be part of the canon of the Wizarding World, but others may view it as a separate interpretation of Rowling’s work that does not necessarily align with the events depicted in the books.

Hogwarts Legacy, a video game set in the Wizarding World, would not be considered canon by many fans as it was not created by Rowling and she was not involved in its development. It may be considered similar to other merchandising products that have been licensed to use the Harry Potter brand and characters, but it is not considered an official part of the canon of the Wizarding World by many fans.

It is important to note that not all fans of the Harry Potter series agree on the hierarchy of canon and what should be considered part of the official continuity of the Wizarding World. Some fans may have a more inclusive definition of canon and consider a wider range of materials to be part of the series, such as official merchandise like mobile games, movies, toys, and other products. Others may have a more exclusive definition of canon and only consider the original books and perhaps a few select companion materials to be part of the series. The definition of canon is ultimately a matter of personal interpretation and may vary from fan to fan.

One example of a more inclusive definition of canon can be found on the Harry Potter Wiki, which considers a wide range of materials to be part of the official continuity of the Wizarding World. In addition to the original books and companion materials written by J.K. Rowling, the Wiki also includes official merchandise such as mobile games like Hogwarts Mystery, movies, toys, and other products as part of the canon. The Wiki also includes information from the movies, such as props and costume details, as well as information from events, exhibitions and companion books related to the film series. This more inclusive definition of canon allows the Wiki to provide a comprehensive and detailed depiction of the Wizarding World, but it may not be accepted by all fans as the definitive version of the series.

While it is ultimately a matter of personal interpretation for individual fans to decide what they consider to be part of the canon of the Harry Potter series, it is important for the people in charge of creating new stories within the Wizarding World to have a clear understanding of the rules and continuity of the series. This includes J.K. Rowling, the creator of the series, as well as Warner Bros and other studios and production companies that may be involved in developing new Harry Potter stories. By having a clear understanding of the canon, these individuals can ensure that their new stories are cohesive and consistent with the established history and rules of the Wizarding World. This helps to maintain the integrity and believability of the series and keeps the stories engaging and enjoyable for fans.

It is also worth comparing the canon of the Harry Potter series to that of other franchises, such as Doctor Who and Star Wars. Doctor Who has a more complex and fluid definition of canon, with no official timeline or hierarchy of sources. Star Wars, on the other hand, has a more hierarchical definition of canon, with the original trilogy of films and the prequel trilogy being considered the highest level of canon. The acquisition of the franchise by Disney in 2014 resulted in a significant shakeup of the canon, with many elements of the Expanded Universe being reclassified as “Legends” and no longer considered part of the official continuity.

One way that the Harry Potter series could adopt a more hierarchical definition of canon similar to that used by the Star Wars franchise would be to establish the original books as the highest level of canon, similar to how the original trilogy of Star Wars films is considered the highest level of canon. Companion books, website materials, interviews, and other sources could be ranked lower in the hierarchy, with official merchandise like mobile games, movies, and toys potentially being considered even lower on the hierarchy. This hierarchical approach would allow for a clear hierarchy of sources, with the original books serving as the foundation of the series and other materials being considered in relation to their proximity to the original source material.

It is worth noting that the hierarchical definition of canon proposed in this paragraph is very similar to the hierarchy of canon suggested at the beginning of the article. Both approaches place the original books at the highest level of canon and consider companion books, website materials, interviews, and other sources as lower levels of canon. The main difference is that the approach proposed in this paragraph also includes the inclusion of official merchandise like mobile games, movies, and toys in the hierarchy, something that a company like Warner Bros. might be interested in doing.

Also, headcanons, or personal ideas and concepts about the series that are not supported by official sources, can be a fun way for fans to express their creativity and speculate about the series. However, they can also cause confusion for inexperienced fans who may not be aware of the difference between official sources and personal headcanons. It is important for fans to understand the hierarchy of canon and the official sources of information in order to fully understand the series and avoid confusion.

As the Harry Potter series continues to expand with new products such as television shows and mobile games, it may become increasingly difficult for fans to determine what is considered canon and what is not. In order to maintain the continuity and integrity of the series, it is important for there to be clear rules and definitions for determining canon. These rules should be defined by an official entity, such as J.K. Rowling herself or Warner Bros., as it is unlikely that the entire fandom will be able to agree on a single definition of canon. By establishing clear guidelines for what is considered part of the official continuity of the series, fans will be able to better understand and engage with new stories set in the Wizarding World.

You are reading an article from The Rowling Library Magazine Issue 73 (January 2023).
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