Neither of these moments appears in the Harry Potter books but they are now, technically, film canon. (Alright, the first one does, but it’s specifically described as Dumbledore delivering the line “calmly“). How Harry can be almost expelled for flouting the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery while trying to prevent a disaster one summer and then, with nary a slap on the wrist, cause temporary retinal damage for no reason the next, who knows? But there it is, for anyone to Google.
The thing is, they make for good movie moments. As much as I have many conflicted feels about the way Michael Gambon interpreted a Dumbledore he never read, and the way David Yates directed him in that, the fact remains it was an interpretation. I was free to watch it or not watch it. Like it or not like it. There are three universes at play here: the books, the films and the one in my head. It is neither realistic nor desirable for those to all be identical (if nothing else, book and film are very different media; as sorry as I was to lose Hermione’s impassioned S.P.E.W. campaigning, I concede it would have made pretty dull viewing).
Now, enter a new galaxy. Along comes a play, based on an idea none of us have yet read, with the original author’s involvement, in which some characters make the leap (though only in a form vaguely similar to how we last saw them, briefly, in a train station, and not at all how we spent the most time with them). In this completely fresh creative effort, which – not actually being the next book or film in either existing series – has pretty much full freedom to stand alone, one character is a different race from her mainstream portrayals thus far (ie book covers and film casting). And in a virtuoso display of how quickly the commenters of the internet can race to the bottom, every single individual who cannot cope with their white-centric world view being nudged even a tiny bit turns to the text to prove that it’s not ‘canon’.
I am not going to argue the point over Hermione. How I feel is pretty much summed up in this one tweet; I also couldn’t face battling the hordes for tickets, so it’s going to be a long time before I get to see The Cursed Child (sob!) and whoever is in it by then I shall be very excited about it. But this canon malarkey has got to stop. This obsession with picking over the details – as if authors can’t be fallible! As if there are not inconsistencies within universes! As if art can’t just bloody change if we want it to! – is taking the very joy out of being an enormous nerd.
Look, I get the geekery, of course I do. Two nights ago, on the way home from town to see the Christmas lights, my husband got my full spiel – not for the first time, frankly – on the individual nature of each individual and group strand of the MCU so far, and why Captain America: The First Avenger gets away with being the world’s longest origin story while Iron Man dispenses with the practical bit in the first ten minutes. He got the Shakespearean Thor spiel, and my speculations about how the use of Spider-Man might be the bit that prevents Civil War coming across as an Avengers movie. The thing is this: it is enormously enjoyable to deconstruct and reconstruct, to Google original comic book references, to spot Easter eggs, to come up with elaborate theories and to be, frankly, a bit paranoid – the interlocking successes of the MCU surely rest in part on this irresistible urge to neatly link things together. But it is also nonsense. Because between the myriad comic book strands, the visions of Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios, the scriptwriters, the directors, the editors, the cinematographers and the interpretations by the talent (plus the audiences themselves) there can be no such real thing as canon. It’s simply impossible. There are too many people involved. Messy, messy people.
It is, of course, disappointing when something you see does not satisfactorily chime with the contents of your head – or when your favourite paper moment doesn’t make it to the screen. But it is not necessarily wrong. There are times, I think, when one can be critical – for example, I think Yates made a downright peculiar choice to have Bellatrix and Voldemort dissolve rather than be real dead bodies, as I thought the whole point of those battle scenes in the book was to show the brutal, damaged, evil but very real humanity of the man who was once Tom Riddle. But that was less to do with having it be exactly as I pictured it, and more to do with making that point as I had understood it; I didn’t want any hint that the pieces of Voldemort could be swept back into a pile and reanimated (as if Otto Chriek and his emergency blood had just teleported over from the Discworld). Or any re-affirmation of his belief in his own exceptionalism. And yet I understood that it made for a much more cinematic moment, and had to concede that even when we’re both staring the same source material right in the face, Yates and I might yet be reading it differently.
Let me get things straight: of course I’m not saying that everyone should like every interpretation, neither that it’s necessarily wrong to argue it (it can be fun). But I think you do have to ask yourself why it’s bothering you and if your objection doesn’t come from the text, but an unexamined prejudice. And even when it does come from the text – does it really matter? When people argued that Jack Reacher, continually described in the books as being a huge dude, could not be embodied in not-quite-so-massive Tom Cruise, I did have a moment’s pause. But actually, it made little or no impact on the final result (in fact, it actually heightened the tension in scenes where gangs of rent-a-muscle thugs sneer at Reacher’s cast-iron self-confidence).
When it comes down to it, canon, despite being apparently pegged to the page or screen, none the less still lives entirely in the eye of the beholder – and the beholders of Hermione live in a world where whiteness is regularly the default. Our lenses are scuffed and blurred, and it sometimes takes someone making an unexpected choice to unfog them a little. Canon is a security blanket; reassuring, familiar, warm and comfortable – but if you look at it a little closer, frayed, full of holes and overdue for a wash. Sometimes adding a little embroidery or a patch can change it into something newer and more beautiful. And even if you run in desperation to Mama, you might not get the answer you want to hear.