Disclaimer: I have not read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at this time.
Let’s ignore the fact that Cursed Child is a script. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is written by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne (the order of names varies between the book and Goodreads). One of the major problems that prevents me from running to the store and buying Cursed Child is that it was written by people other than J.K. Rowling. I truly believed that she wrote it all by herself because her name is on the book and because other articles and Amazon say that she wrote the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016). In the weeks leading up to the release date, I looked closer at the cover and saw two other people’s names on it: John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. I was annoyed that it was not all J.K. Rowling’s writing, which made me question if it was going to be worth the money. After so many books exist in a series, can authors other than the original write more of the book series?
That all would have been okay eventually, assuming the script is good, until I read Alexandra Alter’s article titled “Despite Sales, ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ Isn’t Magical to Some Fans.” It said that the Cursed Child “was written by the playwright Jack Thorne, with input from the creator of the series, J.K. Rowling, and the play’s director, John Tiffany.” How can J.K. Rowling put her name on it if she didn’t write it? I know she is the creator of the Harry Potter universe, but it hurts my trust in her to put her name on the script as if she wrote it. I suppose she can license out everything, but from what I’ve seen in reviews, the writing style is not consistent with the Harry Potter books. I assume they mean that the dialogue is not at all similar since it is a play.
Can a book series suddenly have authors added to the creation of it? Ghostwriters continue the work of V.C. Andrews, though she is dead. This does not quite fit as an answer because ghostwriters do not receive credit for writing her novels. Sir Terry Pratchett revealed in a 2012 New Statesman article that he intended to pass the torch on to his daughter to carry on the Discworld series, although she has refused to write more Discworld novels since his death. Assuming she had gone on to write more Discworld novels, wouldn’t they be canon? The publishers would market the books as part of the universe, and her father gave her permission to continue the series. Based on this, it seems that permission should be all that is necessary. Another example demonstrating the need for permission, Arthur C. Clarke allowed use of his characters and locations by Paul Preuss to write a book series, the Arthur C. Clarke’s Venus Prime series.
Let’s consider the fans of the Discworld series. Wouldn’t fans consider Pratchett’s daughter’s writing as canon, especially since Pratchett announced that anything she wrote for the series would be canon? Probably.
Going back to the Harry Potter series, fans dictate some of what is canon because we debate about the movie adaptations. Working under the idea that a movie adaptation is a work in its own right, everyone who put effort into making the Harry Potter films have added to and changed the universe. Fans debate over how well they match the books, but fans have on some level accepted the films as canon. I know I have accepted the films in this way because a friend and I used to duel like wizards. We used spells from the books and the movies (some spells are only from the movies), so my friend and I clearly accepted the movies as canon. I don’t know about the rest of the fandom, but clearly two fans have treated the films as canon.
We also have Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) coming out in November. As fans, we are excited that a new movie set in the Harry Potter universe is coming out because we get to see more of the universe we love. We have already accepted it as canon, regardless of J.K. Rowling writing the script. (It works better that J.K. Rowling wrote that script, so it already adds it to the canon universe.) In this way, fans make some decisions.
As I think about it, I read a couple of manga series where one of the creators changed. Demon Diary, for example, changed story creators (Lee Chi-Hyong for the first volume and Lee Yun-Hee for the subsequent six volumes) while the art creator stayed the same. This demonstrates an ability to change creators of a book series and universe. If we can change creators (like directors for the Harry Potter movies), then we can surely add more in.
The main concern of any reader (and hopefully the authors) is that there are no contradictions to what we already know. TV Tropes explains this well in their article titled “Continuity Snarl.” The Continuity Snarl comes along when new creative teams take over and change things. Then a new creative team comes along and changes things further and overrides the changes previous teams have made. This goes on and on, and it can get to the point that know one really knows what is canon anymore, like we see in the comic book industry. That is also why it is okay for the fans who read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to treat the play as non-canon. The reasons I have heard is that they found too many contradictions to treat it as canon.
The best conclusion I can draw is that Jack Thorne and John Tiffany are now creators of the Harry Potter universe, if only a small portion, like J.K. Rowling. She allowed them to build on further to the Harry Potter universe, whether fans like it or not. But fans’ thoughts are important because we can choose to accept films and plays as part of the universe, if only among our fellow fans, and because we talk enough to voice our concerns about contradictions.
Do you think it is possible for authors to be added to a book series or universe after the series is in motion? Should we consider Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, and the Harry Potter movie makers as creators of the Harry Potter universe as well? Let me know in the comments.