Canonicity, authorial intent, and other concerns of fandom

Hanging out in the Potter fandom lately -- in particular, reading the section on canon in the remarkably comprehensive Harry Potter Lexicon -- has brought to mind Telford Work's delightful essay on the Synoptic Problem from Books & Culture.

While Warner Bros has threatened to crack down on copyright violators, JKR has encouraged the flourishing network of fan fiction and fan art inspired by her creation. Some of these (e.g., the unfinished Paradigm of Uncertainty trilogy, which developed a following in its own right) demonstrate creativity and command of language that suggest that the authors would do well to invent their own characters and publish their own stories.

But Rowling remains the god of her fictional universe, and her word is law. Hence the lexicon's equation of "canon" with the words of Rowling herself -- chiefly in the books, but also interviews and other forums. And yet, Rowling is not omniscient or omnipotent, even with regard to her own universe. She has forgotten what she has written before, and thus contradicted herself on some points. There are laws of nature, logic, and genre, more or less immutable, that constrain her storytelling. Subcreation has its limits.

The canon is closing in hours' time. But Heather Mitchell (final section of linked story) is surely right to predict that the analytical and creative power of the fandom will continue for years to come. The story lives on in the community it creates. And, as Work notes, if this is true for popular fiction, how much more in the case of the greatest story ever told.


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