The Pottermore conundrum for fanfic writers.
Now that details are being revealed from the new Pottermore site and the new info that JKR is making available there, all kinds of previously held canon facts are being thrown into question. For example, Minerva McGonagall was always estimated as having been born in 1924 or 1925, and that she began teaching at Hogwarts in her early thirties. (This was based on a statement Rowling made in an early Scholastic.com interview, in which she said that McGonagall was a “sprightly 70,” presumably in the then-current book, Goblet of Fire, which took place in 1994-95. Subtract 70 from 1994 and you get 1924, and since her birthday is in October, Minerva would have been 70 for most of the 1994-95 school year if she were born in October 1924.)
Now Pottermore is saying that Minerva McGonagall was born in 1935. That changes a lot, particularly the assumption that she was at Hogwarts at the same time as Tom Riddle and was of the same generation (although the HP Wiki article does still say that Riddle was a year behind her at Hogwarts; unless JKR has changed Riddle’s birth year, too, that information will have to be revised by the Wiki people — of course, that would outright contradict what we learn in Chamber of Secrets and The Half-Blood Prince about when Riddle was in school, but JKR seems to be perfectly happy to create inconsistencies).
I would venture to say that hundreds of fanfics, perhaps thousands, have been written, trying to be canon compliant, assuming a birthdate for Minerva McGonagall a decade earlier than the new one. This revised date would also make Minerva only 55 at the start of the Harry Potter series in September 1991 — and only 46 when Harry was dropped off at the Dursleys’ after his parents’ murders.
I said elsewhere recently that I was going to treat any new information that came out of Pottermore as being fanfiction by the ultimate HP fan, JKR, but was going to stick with the series books for my source of canon information. I am very glad that I had already decided that.
I wish that JKR had seen fit to include these details in the books in some fashion, particularly as she must have been aware that fan sites everywhere had information that contradicted her “real” birth dates for her characters. On the other hand, it could be that she never really worked it out very well in advance, and only after the books were out and she needed to come up with a comprehensive, detailed history for her characters, including crucial dates, did she actually sit down and figure out their birth dates. She has said before that she’s “bad at maths.” Well, it seems more like she wasn’t as interested in the details of some of the characters as much as she was others (those of Harry’s generation), and so just left it all ambiguous and approximate in her head for her own purposes when writing the books.
Even some of the younger characters have had controversy surrounding their ages and birth years — Charlie Weasley, for example, had contradictory information about his age and his time attending Hogwarts until later printings sorted that out.
So anyway, my version of Minerva McGonagall will always have been born in either 1924 or 1925. (In the Resolving a Misunderstanding universe stories, she was born in 1924, since at the time I wrote it, given the information I had available, that seemed the most likely year — now I wish I’d kept track of all the information and sources I’d used to establish that date. *ETA: I found and added that information above, in the first paragraph.*) And RaM!Albus was born in 1840 because that’s what all biographical information about him suggested until several months after Deathly Hallows was published. (That was based on the fact that in an interview given partway through the series, JKR said that Dumbledore was about 150 years old.) I may or may not stick with that 1840 date for future non-RaMverse stories.
Basically, if it ain’t in the pages of the seven books of the series, I am not going to feel obliged to consider it canon. If something comes out of Pottermore that intrigues me and that I think would fit in well with a story I’m writing, that’s great, but I can’t keep revising my framework for my fanfic based on information that comes from outside those seven books (and maybe from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch through the Ages). It would be crazy-making!
I will continue to try to be internally consistent within the Resolving a Misunderstanding / Death’s Dominion universe, and that will entail ignoring any details external to the books. (Death’s Dominion, is, however, not DH-compliant, and it is only partially HBP-compliant. It is not fully HBP-compliant because an event occurs that changes the outcome of Year Six; it is not DH-compliant in any way because I chose to ignore all of book seven, in part because the RaM-verse was already not DH-compliant since it was begun before DH was published.)
Despite it only being fanfiction, I was still rather strict with myself when writing Resolving a Misunderstanding; I kept track of all the characters, both canon and original, and all their relevant dates, whether I thought they were immediately necessary for the story or not, so that I could be consistent as I wrote the story. I even created a spreadsheet very early on to keep track of all those details. It wouldn’t do for me to describe one of my characters as being a vibrant youth in a chapter taking place in 1945, then a few chapters later, describe him as an old grey-haired man in 1957. I even sorted out wands for all my characters, whether those details were needed at that point or not. Often, I would find these details handy when I wrote later fics. This was particularly important because there are so many characters in the RaMverse, whether counting the canon characters or the original ones.
Maintaining a document with all of these details helped me to create, develop, and maintain a consistent fictional universe that felt “alive” and real to my readers.When one of my characters is ten years old in RaM in 1957, you can count on her being fifty in 1997 in a later fic, with a back-story to fill in those years, even if little of it makes it into the actual fic.
I hope that people continue to read and write fanfic, even with the ever-shifting landscape that JKR is giving us. I know I will, but I will remain “stuck in time” before all these other details came out, retain my sanity, and retain the internal coherence of my own AU fics, as derivative as they may be from the original HP universe.
- On this day, four years ago . . .
- Thoughts about writing RaM and my other fics
- WiPs and DH