On Harry Potter Fanfiction, Pt 4

Part Four: Conclusion


Here is where Death of the Author meets Deathly Hallows. We haven’t spoken in-depth about Death of the Author up to this point because, at the time that each of these fanfictions were written, they contradicted nothing. They did not set out to defy the author’s vision, only to embellish it. Katinka did not expect her itinerary for Sirius Black to be borne out by canon, but it is still reasonable to think that neither she nor Tim M were certain that later canon would absolutely disprove anything that they said. However, as I said, every fanfiction is vulnerable to new canon, and every fanfiction author accepts this when writing in an ongoing story such as Potter was. Although I have briefly mentioned “Death of the Author” as it applies to fanfiction authors, in the case of fanfictions such as these, “Death of the Author” cannot truly apply until the series is finished and Rowling has said all that she has to say about Potter – a yet ongoing process, considering the existence of “Pottermore.”

However, to literature as Roland Barthes perceived it, as the Harry Potter septology is concluded, J. K. Rowling’s statements on the world of Potter are finished, and the rest is superfluous. Fans are free to have at the material as they wish – which, as I interpret Barthes’ words, means that fanfiction has the right to every possible interpretation and conjecture, even those which spit in the face of everything that Rowling intended for the series – after all, it is no longer hers to control.

Yet I think that I speak for many fanfiction authors when I say that bold defiance of Rowling’s word is not what they seek.[1] Fanfiction is first and foremost a labor of love – there is no profit for it, only practice, only the chance to play a little longer in the world that Rowling has created. When fanfiction writers want to create a new world wholesale, they’ll branch out into original fiction. For the writers who pen post-Hallows fanfiction and deliberately ignore Rowling’s statements on the future careers of Harry and company, they are invoking the Death of the Author, but that does not mean that they despise the Author. Without Rowling, there would be no Potter. Any disclaimer acknowledges this. Fanfiction writers hand over the final word on a work of literature to the creator, out of love. If they fail to love and respect the creator, then the fanfiction loses something. Fanfiction is not theft or pure invention; it is reinvention, motivated by esteem and affection.

Therefore, I cannot wholeheartedly say that fanfiction must replace canon, or even can. Just because I chose one fan writer’s idea of the Lovegood household that is compelling and balanced doesn’t mean that the fifty other versions I could find online have equal literary merits. Without Rowling’s input, Harry Potter fanfiction, a “literature made entirely of apocrypha, of false attributions, of imitations and counterfeits and pastiches,” would be sheer chaos, without any text to interpret, or point to the many interpretative communities or fanfictions (Calvino 155).

However, it requires a balancing act. In her open, conversational relationship with her fans, Rowling has acknowledged their voices and queries. She has inspired an entire new sub-literature, and as she has spoken to readers of all walks of life, all ages and nationalities, the literature of Harry Potter fanfiction is worth studying, for the zeitgeist that it captures and on its own terms. The best of fanfiction can indeed stand up alongside the canon, as an alternative interpretation. The amateur literature can contrast and complement the flaws and the triumphs of Rowling, who herself began as an amateur writer. As a post-structuralist exercise in interpretative communities, an attempt to approach the creation of a work of art, a surreal reinvention of the commonplace, a feminist re-examination of the texts, and an enthusiastic effort to complete Rowling’s vision of a whole and self-sufficient world, fanfiction has a worthy place as a reflection of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and beyond.

[1] I wouldn’t make this statement quite as confidently in 2018 fandom. The word “entitled” comes to mind.