With a new "eighth story" play out and the first of five new films set to debut soon, the million-dollar question for Harry Potter scholars is “What counts as canon?” For the past three years, a small, dedicated group of scholars has met annually at the SWPACA conference in Albuquerque, NM, (and now also at our sister conference at Chestnut Hill College) and we have been debating this issue since Cursed Child was just a short-story idea glint in Rowling’s eye. The debates have been contentious at times, but as our Chair, Chris Bell, put it, we reached an “intellectual truce” in a five-part division of Potter canon.
Five parts? Why? The Harry Potter fandom and HP Studies is highly inclusive and widely interdisciplinary. Limiting the canon question to the traditional “is or isn’t” distinction violates the fundamental nature of HP Studies and what the series means to fans. A five-part conception makes room for all the different contributions to the Potterverse while still providing a sense of vital differentiation between artifacts.Think of it like a filing cabinet versus an in/out tray: The filing cabinet has a place for everything; you just have to find the right drawer for each Potter artifact instead of saying it's either "in" or "out."
So what are these categories and why? The first is plain old canon, for almost every institution has a “measuring rod” by which it defines itself. The movies have become their own cultural phenomena, but they still require canon as an antecedent, so we dubbed these alternative (alt-) canon. We borrowed Genette’s term to label para-canon, those important HP artifacts that influence how we understand canon but which still rely on canon. Fan Studies scholars have long theorized fanon, and we saw no need to reinvent their work. This left JKR’s (constant) commentary, which became meta-canon. My video gives specifics on what Potter artifacts belong in each category.
The SWPACA Harry Potter scholars have found these distinctions a suitable method for distinguishing the different aspects of the Potterverse in ways that may help limit scholarly in-fighting as we work to gain institutional credit and respect for our work on Harry Potter.
Thank you to In Media Res for including my work in the Harry Potter Universe week!