There are few franchises as generation-defining and globally appealing as ‘Harry Potter.’ From the best-selling books to the critically acclaimed films, it was once considered the pinnacle of franchise management. But then author and creator J.K. Rowling found twitter and used the online social media platform as a medium to expose more and more of her world’s lore. That evolved into her signing off on ‘The Cursed Child,’ a two-part stage play that introduced the kind of ridiculously convoluted plots that time travel stories have been making fun of since time travel was first introduced as a narrative convention.
As if that wasn’t enough, Warner Bros. became desperate enough to produce a spin-off series based on the backstory of the author of one of Harry’s least-referenced textbooks. This three-pronged attack has more or less laid waste to the ‘Harry Potter’ continuity as Rowling gleefully retcons and overexplains her own creation. Sometimes this is simply to include new representation, sometimes it's actually to deepen characters or plot points. As with any clarification of authorial intent, this can be a good thing or a bad thing. In Rowling’s case, it’s more often a mistake than an addition, but she’s said more than a few things that have made improvements on her original work. Here’s a list of the 15 worst and 8 best retroactive changes she’s made to ‘Harry Potter.’
For whatever reason, Rowling felt it was absolutely necessary to establish that, between the infamously mischievous Weasley twins, Fred was born a few minutes before George. Apart from the obvious question of why she thought her fans were desperate for this information, there’s also the matter of Fred never bringing this up in the books. Knowing their personalities, Fred absolutely would have lorded this over George’s head as often as he could. If Rowling had thought of this little fun fact when she was actually writing the material, she would have included this as a running joke.
Readers remember the ditzy Professor Trelawney as Harry’s scatter brained teacher of divination, the art of predicting the future through various bizarre methods. While she seemed pretty pretentious and full of it, her prophecy concerning who could end Voldemort’s reign of terror is the inciting incident of the entire franchise's narrative. So needless to say, fans were more than a little peeved that Rowling later confirmed that divination was just simple poppycock. Why did the whole series even happen then?!
Regardless of what might have happened with ‘Cursed Child,’ the epilogue to ‘Deathly Hallows’ was a lovely picture of the peace that Harry and his friends eventually found. As a bonus, Rowling later tweeted that Harry himself had hope for the peace to endure as evidenced by his kids names. Namely, he never named one after his late friend Remus Lupin so that Remus’s son Teddy could one day use the name for one of his own kids. Now that’s thinking ahead.
Rowling’s confirmation that Dumbledore was gay was essentially what set off her habit of retconning and rewriting her work after the fact. But she took it a step too far when, years later, she went out of her way to confirm that Dumbledore and his presumed lover Grindelwald did indeed have a physical relationship. Even Stephen Colbert went out of his way to discuss how TMI this was. First off, nobody cares, most people assumed as much anyway. Second off, Rowling discussing this feels like a mom talking about her kids in this manner. It’s just creepy.
In the books, Crookshanks, Hermione’s rowdy pet cat, was a fun little diversion. Hermione loved him, Ron and Harry were a little more apprehensive of a gutter cat being tangential to their immediate friend group, and nobody else really cared. But Rowling decided that Crookshanks, who had a defined frumpy personality anyway, needed to be explained in more detail. Turns out Crookshanks is half-Kneazle, a species of magical cats that have good judgement. Why, Rowling? Why can’t you just let us have nice things?
Despite Hagrid’s generally upbeat personality, he’s the character that the series most routinely messes with. He gets expelled for a crime he didn’t commit, is never allowed to complete his education, has been under arrest multiple times on false charges, and he loses his family at a young age. Nevertheless, he always seems cheerful and jolly, like a hippy Santa. Rowling clarified that this was all an act as Hagrid is incapable of summoning the happy memories needed to cast a Patronus charm.
This one was insulting on multiple levels. When Rowling announced prior to the release of ‘Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald’ that she’d always intended Voldemort’s loyal snake to be an Asian woman cursed to turn into an animal, it not only insulted the intelligence of her audience who knew she was making it up on the fly, but also to her Asian readers who saw one of only two prominent Asian characters in the franchise being used as a literal pet. Just so Rowling could have her precious retroactive representation.
In the book, Legilimency was Rowling’s stand-in for ESP. It was a wizard’s art of navigating through one’s mind through a magic spell. But then the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ movies rolled around and Rowling decided it would be fun (read: stupid) if one of her new characters was so good at Legilimency that she was basically just a psychic. Enter Queenie Goldstein. How she’s able to do this naturally is never explained, but it’s safe to assume that Rowling just decided that there are random Charles Xaviers popping up every now and again in the wizarding world.
One of the first iconic images to come out of the series was that of the three protagonists walking in on Fluffy, the giant cerberus that Hagrid set up to guard the Sorcerer’s Stone. As instantly awesome as Fluffy was, he never managed to rear his three heads in the series again. Rowling cleared this up in a tweet saying that Dumbledore had repatriated Fluffy back to Greece and that the headmaster was able to reign in some of Hagrid’s more… adventurous exploits with magical creatures.
Ah, time travel, ye bane of narrative story-telling. No tale can compete with thine ability to completely rewrite everything that happens with little to no explanation. Which is why when Rowling first introduced the magical time-turner device to her universe, she was quick to establish that it could only take a user five hours into the past, smartly restricting its impact on her story. But then she helped write ‘Cursed Child’ where characters go decades into the past with the devices. And ye, a terrible stageplay was wrought.
Rowling never gave the strict but endearing Professor McGonagall a backstory in her books, but when she wrote about her on her Pottermore site, she painted the picture of a tragic woman forced to choose between love and her career. It added depth and dimension to an already complex character. But then ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ became canon instead and not only was McGonagall made decades older than she had originally been, but all her new agency was wiped out in a simple cameo appearance. Thanks J.K., we hate it.
While the books were always focused on Hogwarts, it was implied that there were more schools of magic outside of Europe. After the fact, Rowling confirmed the existence of multiple academies around the globe. Not only does this deepen and widen the overall world of her stories, but it implies a variety that has yet to be explored. What does a Japanese school of magic look like? Or a Ugandan school? What kind of spells do they teach in non-romantic languages? Are there other kinds of magic? Tell us!
In all the abysmal nuggets of new cannon added by the first ‘Fantastic Beasts’ movie, one of the few good aspects was the romance between Queenie and Kowalski. The forbidden love was believable, the characters were likable, and the actors had terrific chemistry. This was largely continued through ‘Crimes of Grindelwald,’ but then… that ending. Queenie, previously a caring and optimistic woman, decides very suddenly to be a villain and mind controls Kowalski into joining her. It was random, uncharacteristic, and made no sense.
One of the few bits of Dumbledore’s past that readers were afforded before ‘Deathly Hallows’ was that he taught transfiguration before he was headmaster. While this was more a fun fact than anything, it actually informed a lot about his character. He wasn’t the kind of warrior mentor that a defense against the dark arts teacher would be, he taught kids how to bend reality for fun like the lovable goofball he really was deep down. But ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ made sure to retcon that by making him the DADA professor.
The fan theory that Dumbledore, the only known character to have assembled all three of the legendary Deathly Hallows, had become, as legend states, the master of death, or perhaps even death itself, had circulated the internet for some time before Rowling heard it. While she didn’t outright confirm it as canon, she did go out of her way to praise the theory and bring attention to it. Theory has been made fact on less evidence than that and it certainly would explain Harry’s meeting with Dumbledore at the ethereal Kings Cross Station.
Perhaps no character in the entire ‘Harry Potter’ franchise has been handled as poorly as Credence Barebones. Introduced in the first ‘Fantastic Beasts’ movie, he was seemingly killed off in the climax. Then he showed up with no explanation in the sequel. Then, after a series of red herrings, it turned out he was actually a Dumbledore, presumably a cousin to Albus and Aberforth. There’s still a chance that this will pay off in some way in the sequels, but that means we have to actually watch the sequels. And that just doesn’t seem worth it.
The end of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ wrapped up pretty simply. Creedence is revealed to be the living macguffin that Grindelwald is looking for, goes on a rampage through New York City, and gets blown up by the MACUSA aurors. Very clear cut, no ambiguity. Then he shows up in the sequel. How did he survive, you know, dying by multiple explosive spells to the face? Never explained in any capacity. Because why would audiences want consistency? Or even narrative cohesion?
The Obscurial macguffin in ‘Fantastic Beasts’ made a modicum of sense but wasn’t really too earth-shattering in terms of the lore. But it did provide Rowling with an explanation as to just what happened with Ariana Dumbledore. Turns out Ariana, for whatever reason, had been consciously or unconsciously suppressing her magical abilities until it developed into the parasitic entity that caused her to lose control of her power when confronted by a group of muggle boys. The resulting lash-out caused her affliction to worsen leading up to her death.
When readers were introduced to Dumbeldore’s pet phoenix Fawkes, it was never explained how the two met. The older, more experienced wizard had a more majestic bird than the younger wizard. Easy to believe. If readers needed an origin, they could just imagine Dumbledore and Fawkes had saved one another’s life at one point and had a buddy cop thing going. But Rowling used ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ to establish that all Dumbledores automatically get a pet phoenix. Not only does that bring up more than a few plot holes, it also makes no sense.
At a certain point, Rowling is going to have to have her own fans proofread her scripts before they get turned into movies. ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ introduced the Appare Vestigium, a tracking spell that let Newt see holographic images of where Tina had gone. Where to even begin. There are literally dozens of instances in the series proper where the simple application of this spell would have resolved any and all conflict. The investigation of Sirius Black? Pettigrew did it, open and close. Who’s the heir of Slytherin? Ginny in the hallway with a basilisk.
Professor McGonagall never got a true backstory in the books because she didn’t need one. She lived in the moment and didn’t dwell on her past. But then Rowling gave her one on Pottermore and boy howdy was it good. Turns out Minerva grew up watching her mother regret choosing to love a muggle man over capitalizing on her academic success and, when put in the same situation, chose to learn from her mistakes and take the road less traveled. This reframes her from being just a stern teacher to a human woman and that makes all the difference.
Voldemort, as a character, is predicated by his inability to love. Rowling has gone on record saying that this comes from his mother using a love potion on his father, implying that she equates physical love with emotional love. So Voldemort, logically, could never, say, impregnate Bellatrix Lestrange with a hereto-unknown daughter. But then ‘Cursed Child’ introduced Delphini, their kid. There are so many things wrong with this that the fact that Bellatrix would be visibly pregnant when the golden trio are taken to Malfoy Manor is one of the lesser plot holes it causes.
The internet is largely still split over Rowling’s announcement that Dumbledore was gay. Some claim it’s good to represent a historically oppressed group in popular fiction, others point out that if Rowling really wanted to be so brave, she should have included it in the actual text. But one thing is undeniable: making Dumbledore gay and more importantly making Grindelwald his true love turns one of the biggest aspects of his mysterious history into a tragic element to his character that gives new perspective to his whole identity. Kudos where it counts, Rowling.