We didn’t see this year coming, but we heard it from all sides. In Signal & Noise 2016, you’ll find the way we made sense out of all of that sound.
J.K. Rowling always said that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would be the last book in the Harry Potter series, but if 2016 taught us anything, it's that Rowling is more invested in the wizarding world than ever. In the years since The Deathly Hallows's release on July 21, 2007, Harry Potter has become Rowling's Room of Requirement: Sometimes it's there, and sometimes it's not, but when it does appear, it becomes whatever she needs it to be.
Through Pottermore, as well as her own Twitter account, Rowling is always telling us something new about the Potter universe — whether you like it or not. Remus Lupin had to die because she couldn't possibly kill off Arthur Weasley, and The Boy Who Lived had to lose another father figure; Hermione and Ron weren't actually meant for each other; Hagrid never gets married; Lupin's werewolf affliction was a metaphor for HIV and AIDS; and Albus Dumbledore, the late, great headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was gay. (Rowling "revealed" Dumbledore's homosexuality just three months after The Deathly Hallows's release, but ask any Potter fan, and they'll tell you the subtext was always there.)
For fans who grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, these new revelations are often tinged with disappointment. This year, from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to the never-ending stream of new material on Pottermore, it's become painfully clear that the fandom has outgrown Rowling. And yet Rowling can't seem to let Harry, or us, go.
Here's a look into how the fandom reacted to the biggest Harry Potter milestones of 2016:
JANUARY 14, 2016: Alan Rickman's Death — It seems fitting that the most divisive year in Potter fandom would begin steeped in the tragedy of Alan Rickman's passing. The prolific actor was most widely known among young fans for his performance as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter movies, in which he made the complicated character both sympathetic and iconic. Rickman's original goodbye letter to the franchise after the last movie wrapped circulated on Reddit in the days following his death, giving fans the opportunity to mourn together.
February 10, 2016: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Official Script Book Announced — Though fans learned of The Cursed Child's existence back in late 2015, tickets for the stage play's initial round of performances at the Palace Theatre London sold out faster than you can say "Alohomora." Not to mention that the play was only accessible to fans who lived in the U.K. or had the money to travel there and afford the tickets. So the announcement of the official script book felt like a win for the fandom; there would be a new Potter book, something fans thought they'd never get again.
March 7–11, 2016: J.K. Rowling Finally Explains History of Magic in North America — As a sort of primer for the New York–centric Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Rowling gave Potter fans a chance to read up on America's magical history in a series of short stories on Pottermore. While the Magical Congress may never sound as cool as the Ministry of Magic, History of Magic in North America did answer some of the fandom's lingering questions about how magic worked across the pond.
Rowling cast Lumos Maxima on America's dark history, from the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 to the growing divide among the wizarding communities in the New World with the persecution of millions of Native Americans. She also introduced a merciless band of rogue wizarding mercenaries known as the Scourers, who eventually became the Second Salemers in Fantastic Beasts. But not all of it worked for fans. Sure, it was cool to learn about magic in North America, but so much of this information felt like superfluous exposition — and there wasn't nearly enough information about the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Rowling also came under fire for appropriating Native American culture by using lore from various Native traditions like the Navajo Skinwalkers to explain the evolution of magic in North America. It wasn't the best lead-in to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
JUNE 28, 2016: Introducing the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry — In yet another short story posted to Pottermore, Rowling explained the magical institution's interesting origins, from its founding in the 1600s to its Slytherin connection and the creation of its houses: the Horned Serpent, the panther Wampus, the Thunderbird, and the Pukwudgie. (Pottermore also released the official Ilvermorny Sorting Quiz the same day.) Think of the four houses of Ilvermorny like this: Horned Serpent favors scholars, Wampus is know for its warriors, Pukwudgie is a house for healers, and Thunderbird speaks to adventurers. Or, you know, don't. Fans were into Ilvermorny for a minute, but no one still really knows what the fuck a Pukwudgie is.
JULY 7, 2016: Emma Watson Meets Fellow Hermione Noma Dumezweni — Emma Watson was so enamored with Noma Dumezweni's performance in Cursed Child, she called the emotional experience "immensely comforting" on Facebook. "Meeting Noma and seeing her on stage was like meeting my older self and have [sic] her tell me everything was going to be alright," she added. "Noma was everything I could ever hope she would be. She's wonderful."
Hence this truly affecting backstage meet-cute:
When the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child cast Dumezweni as its Hermione, it was a triumphant moment for many black and mixed-race Potter fans who had grown up searching for themselves in its pages. At last, the fandom's decades-long push for a brown-skinned Hermione was no longer just a dream, but straight-up canon. Knowing that Watson not only loved Cursed Child but adored Dumezweni's performance as Hermione shut down the haters once and for all.
JULY 31, 2016: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Is Released and Harry Potter Turns 36 — Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the official eighth story in the Harry Potter saga, was released to the masses on the Boy Wizard's 36th birthday. The play, written by Jack Thorne and based on a story from Rowling and John Tiffany, picks up 19 years after the end of the Second Wizarding War and follows Harry’s young son, Albus Severus Potter, through his Hogwarts years.
Fan reactions were mixed. Some even called it bad fan fiction. There was a lot going on in Cursed Child — time travel, secret love children, Cedric Diggory the Death Eater, and the goddamn Trolley Witch — and not all of it worked. For example, since when was the Trolley Witch an indestructible Terminator? The pumpkin pasties transform into legit bombs. How was this not explored in any of the previous stories? When the Dementors boarded the Hogwarts Express in The Prisoner of Azkaban, did the Trolley Witch take a few out with her pumpkin pasties? Like, WTF. That being said, the heart of the story is Albus and Scorpius's friendship — and that was something fans could relate to.
They're two outcasts who happened to find one another on the Hogwarts Express, just as Harry and Ron did all those years ago. Yet there’s something about Albus and Scorp's friendship that’s more emotionally engaging from the jump. These are two kids who need each other, and Thorne didn't let us forget that. It's rare to see a male friendship depicted so tenderly, especially when you compare them to Harry and Ron.
ALSO JULY 31, 2016: Rowling Says 'Harry Is Done Now' — Haha. Yeah. Right. "He goes on a very big journey during these two plays and then, yeah, I think we’re done," Rowling told Reuters at The Cursed Child's opening-night gala in London. "This is the next generation, you know. So, I’m thrilled to see it realized so beautifully but, no, Harry is done now."
When it comes to Rowling, though, wording is everything. She was careful to say, “Harry is done now,” but there’s no mention that Albus Severus Potter’s story is complete. You can't fool us, Jo.
AUGUST 17, 2016: Rowling Announces More Harry Potter Stories — Remember when Rowling confirmed that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was the final story in the Potter saga? WELL. Pottermore announced three new short e-books "that dig deep into the Harry Potter stories." The trio of books, titled Pottermore Presents, featured tidbits taken from Pottermore’s archives and original writing from Rowling herself. She may be done with The Boy Who Lived, but she'll seemingly never be done adding to the wizarding world mythos at large. It appears that Rowling, like us, just can’t quit Hogwarts.
AUGUST 31, 2016: Rumor Has It Warner Bros. Wants More Potter Movies — Following the rapturous success of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London, rumors started circulating that Warner Bros. was looking to capitalize on Harry Potter's pop culture resurgence. (Of course they were! This is Hollywood.) The New York Daily News reported that the studio was interested in turning Albus Severus Potter's adventure into a new trilogy. Adding fuel to the rumor mill fire, Warner Bros. did file a new trademark for The Cursed Child — a Class 9, which is specifically for motion pictures — in 2016. The only hang-up? The studio reportedly wanted Daniel Radcliffe to reprise his role as The Boy Who Lived. (Sure?)
SEPTEMBER 22, 2016: Pottermore Launches Its Long-Awaited Patronus Quiz — After years of waiting, Pottermore finally unveiled its Patronus quiz to the masses, and surprisingly, it became another point of contention among fans. Everyone wanted to be a stag, and no one wanted to be a turkey vulture, but as it turns out, the world is full of turkey vultures and weasels.
OCTOBER 13, 2016: Rowling Says Fantastic Beasts Will Be Five Movies — Fans who were already skeptical of the new franchise became even more dubious after Rowling announced that the Fantastic Beasts franchise would be five — yes, FIVE — movies instead of the originally planned three. That's just a whole lot of movies, and what's even more frustrating for Potter fans is that there's zero source material. The only thing we know, thanks to director David Yates, is that both Grindelwald and Dumbledore will be featured prominently throughout the series.
NOVEMBER 1, 2016: Johnny Depp Joins Fantastic Beasts — What. the. fuck. Potter has always been an inclusive, thoughtful fictional universe, one that's fought against oppression and abuse. So in light of the actor's domestic abuse allegations, Depp's casting seemed like a tone-deaf decision for the franchise. Fans were not happy. Not to mention that he's not even British, and he's playing Gellert Grindelwald. WHAT HAPPENED TO ONLY HIRING BRITISH ACTORS, JO?
NOVEMBER 10, 2016: Rowling Neither Confirms Nor Denies We'll See an Openly Gay Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts — Although the older Dumbledore never revealed his sexual orientation in the books, the younger incarnation of the character seen in Fantastic Beasts might be a little more open with his sexuality. At a press conference for the film, Rowling said, "You will see Dumbledore as a younger man and quite a troubled man. We’ll see him at that formative period of his life. As far as his sexuality is concerned, watch this space." Um. OK? For a series that has always championed the "other," it's frustrating that Rowling never explicitly wrote Dumbledore as a gay man. It makes sense that fans are hoping to get the queer Dumbledore they've always wanted, and celebrated, in Fantastic Beasts.
NOVEMBER 17, 2016: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Opens — The film generated mostly positive reviews, thanks to its endlessly entertaining array of beasts and a particularly memorable supporting performance from Dan Fogler. It also answered the mystery surrounding Ariana Dumbledore's tragic death from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. However, the fact that no fewer than four sequels await kind of dulled its shine. That's just a lot of movies.
Check out more from the year in music, culture, politics, and style in Signal & Noise 2016.