In 2007, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows marked the end of the Harry Potter saga. The seventh book also left fans in a state of sad satisfaction — if you managed to skip the epilogue, that is. Later, the British author famously proclaimed that Deathly Hallows would be the last in the series. But if we've learned anything in 2016, it's that the end was never really the end.
This year, Potterheads were gifted an overwhelming amount of new material: The Cursed Child play and script book, a new film (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), plus a ton of new insights into the world of Harry Potter through Pottermore and Rowling's off-the-cuff tweets. The new material also brought with it new characters, new worlds (wizarding life across the Pond!), and new ideas that turned the original series on its head — Harry Potter and The Cursed Child's black Hermione and American Hogwarts, for starters.
It seems now, more than ever, J.K. Rowling has become interested in expanding the Harry Potter universe and introducing it to a new generation of fans who probably weren't even born when the first book was released in 1997. But it's not just the new material — and Rowling's unwillingness to let Harry Potter go — that made 2016 a great time to be part of the Wizarding World. It's also the loyal legion of Potterheads who are unafraid to express and celebrate their undying love for the franchise online.
To understand the power of Harry Potter fans in 2016, you have to start at the beginning of the year. In January, the great Alan Rickman (a.k.a. Severus Snape) passed away. The tragic news quickly had Rowling, Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, and a slew of fans honoring the fallen Hogwarts professor with touching tributes on social media. "We must try not to sink beneath our anguish... but battle on," said one heartfelt tweet.
Then the fan base mobilized a month later, not with saddened hearts, but with open arms, when the Harry Potter and The Cursed Child script book was announced. Suddenly, you didn't have to pack your bags and fly across the Atlantic to see the London stage production, set 19 years after the events of Deathly Hallows, and to get a new dose of Potter.
But being a part of the Harry Potter fandom this year wasn't always easy. For example, outrage and criticism lit up social media when Noma Dumezweni, a black actress, was chosen to portray adult Hermione in The Cursed Child. However, Emma Watson seemed to shut down these racist haters by posting several Facebook photos of her and Dumezweni, along with a post praising the actress.
In June, fans called out the way Native Americans were (again) stereotyped as "magical" beings after a teaser for the History of Magic in North America short stories went online. "If Indigenous spirituality becomes conflated with fantasy ‘magic’ — how can we expect lawmakers and the public to be allies in the protection of these spaces?" Adrienne Keene warned on her blog Native Appropriations.
There was plenty to love and loathe about Fantastic Beasts too when it was released in November. The film served as further proof of the unfading loyalty of the Harry Potter fandom. The critically-acclaimed box-office success introduced fans to the young magizoologist Newt Scamander (played by the impossibly adorable Eddie Redmayne) and his endearing beasts (The Nifler! The Bowtruckle!). It was written by J.K. Rowling and was rife with references to the original Harry Potter films, as well as facts that even the most die-hard fans never knew.
But questions about the upcoming films (Fantastic Beasts is set to be a five-part series) have left fans in both a state of anticipation and skepticism. For starters, beloved Newt Scamander may only have a supporting role in the upcoming films. Furthermore, the avid fan base will have to grapple with Johnny Depp as the main villain in the next four films. Given the actor's unraveling personal life, which includes serious abuse allegations and anger issues, accepting Depp as part of Harry Potter — a franchise that prides itself on love, humility, and goodness — will be a tough ask moving forward.
Despite this, Fantastic Beasts ultimately did give fans a new way of looking at the Potterverse, as Newt Scamander wasn't your typical hero. If Harry Potter was driven by a "Gryffindor-like sense of indignation and rage," as Bustle's Emma Lord wrote, then Newt Scamander is the shy, sensitive Hufflepuff who takes "every trope about the male hero... and flips them on their head."
So where do we go from here?
Rowling recently again alluded to the end of the Harry Potter saga. "I'm done," she told the press during the London premiere of The Cursed Child. But if history has taught us anything, it's that J.K. Rowling is full of surprises, and franchises can last forever. So long as there are Harry Potter obsessives to appease (and money to be made), Rowling may choose to happily oblige them.
And with more movies planned and the upcoming 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the future of the ever-evolving Harry Potter fandom looks brighter than ever. If you thought 2016 was a huge year for Potterheards, 2017 has the potential to be even better — if not a little more complicated.