Rewriting the school story through racebending in the Harry Potter and Raven Cycle fandoms

Megan Justine Fowler

University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, United States

[0.1] AbstractRacebending fan work has the potential to be a productive site of postcolonial critique. A close analysis of fans' racebending of the primary characters of two young adult literature texts—the titular hero of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series (1997–2007) and major character Ronan Lynch from Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle (2012–16)—finds that fans' racebending permits postcolonial revision by challenging the predominantly white worlds the books depict as well as recuperating the erasure of diaspora by other fans who insist Britishness and Irish-Americanness equate to whiteness. In addition, many racebending Harry and Ronan fan works center on queer romances: Harry with school rival Draco Malfoy and Ronan with his in-series boyfriend, Adam Parrish. Racebent Harry fan work, particularly work incorporating a queer romance with Draco, creates a space for fans to imagine alternative possibilities for the series beyond the heteronormative, hegemonic conclusion represented in Rowling's epilogue. Similarly, racebent queer Ronan fan works offer depictions of a soft black masculinity that subverts the common association of blackness with anger and aggression. By depicting two characters of color at the center of queer schoolboy romances, fans disrupt the white homoeroticism and imperialism of the school story genre upon which both series draw.

[0.2] KeywordsFan art; J. K. Rowling; Maggie Stiefvater; Photo edits; Postcolonialism; Queer-of-color critique; Queer theory; Race; Young adult literature

Fowler, Megan Justine. 2019. "Rewriting the School Story through Racebending in the Harry Potter and Raven Cycle Fandoms." In "Fans of Color, Fandoms of Color," edited by Abigail De Kosnik and andré carrington, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 29.

1. Introduction

[1.1] This article provides a close analysis of two popular cases of racebending in young adult literature fandom: the titular Harry Potter from J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series (1997–2007) and major character Ronan Lynch from Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle (2012–16). Elizabeth Gilliland defines racebending as "'fan cast[ing]' (recast[ing] an established book, series, franchise, and so forth, with one's own preferred choices) people of color into markedly white fandoms" (2016, ¶ 1.6). Ebony Elizabeth Thomas and Amy Stornaiuolo state "that [race]bending is one…process by which people reshape narratives to represent a diversity of perspectives and experiences…often missing or silenced in mainstream texts, media, and popular discourse…which young people use…to inscribe themselves into existence" (2016, 313). While still attending to the possibilities of racebent fan work to allow fans to write themselves into existence, in this essay I both expand and narrow that focus to explore the ways racebent fan work can subvert the conventions of one particular mainstream genre: in this case, the school story.

[1.2] Racebent Harry and Ronan fan work offers queer-of-color revisions of the characters, centering around queer (note 1) romances for both boys—Harry with school rival Draco Malfoy, and Ronan with his in-series boyfriend Adam Parrish. By depicting two characters of color at the center of these queer schoolboy romances, fans disrupt the white homoeroticism and imperialism of the school story genre, which both series draw upon. Such revisions also allow fans to challenge perceptions of national identity solidified by such genres. Thus, fans' racebending of Harry and Ronan offers postcolonial revisions of Harry Potter and the Raven Cycle by challenging the predominantly white worlds they depict as well as recuperating the erasure of people of color by other fans who insist Britishness and Irishness equate to whiteness.

2. Rewriting the imperialism of the school story genre in queer-of-color fan works

[2.1] The Western-centric school story is one of the touchstone genres of children's literature. Beverly Lyon Clark defines the school story genre, which emerged from nineteenth-century British works like Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857), as follows:

[2.2] The key distinguishing feature of the school story is that it be a story set at school, generally at the secondary level (in contrast with what have been called university novels). It is often—though not always—addressed to children, and it is often written from the perspective of a child…And given the genre ambiguities of stories set at day schools—when a story focuses on the out-of-class-room activities of a child attending a day school, we are not apt to consider it a school story—I am primarily concerned with stories set at boarding school. (1996, 3)

[2.3] Readers and scholars alike have long considered the Harry Potter series part of this long generic tradition, with each of the books depicting a full school year and primarily set at the magical boarding school Hogwarts (note 2). The Raven Cycle fits less easily in the genre, with much of the action involving out-of-class-room activities taking place outside the confines of the boarding school walls; however, the majority of the series' protagonists attend the all-boys preparatory boarding school Aglionby Academy, and the series includes enough of the features traditionally associated with the genre to be defined as a school story.

[2.4] The worlds created in school stories share a few significant elements reproduced in the Harry Potter and Raven Cycle series, elements critiqued in racebent Harry and Ronan fan work. First, although rarely noted, the world of the boarding school novel is almost exclusively white. As Thomas A. Atwood and Wade M. Lee note in their survey of American boarding school fiction, "Taken as a whole, these works appear to share several demographic commonalities—they are set in New England during the mid-twentieth century and their characters are predominantly white, upper-middle-class Christian males" (2007, 108). Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández and Raygine DiAquoi's survey of students of color at actual elite American boarding schools demonstrates that this depiction is inaccurate yet founded in reality: their work clearly demonstrates the presence of students of color in such spaces while simultaneously acknowledging the space of the elite boarding school as "defined by whiteness" (2010, 59). In spite of the presence of characters of color in each series, both Harry Potter and the Raven Cycle reproduce this privileging of whiteness by focusing on exclusively white protagonists and relegating characters of color to secondary or background roles.

[2.5] In addition to their overwhelming whiteness, school stories often reproduce the order of hegemonic institutions and imperialistic overtones from the origin of the genre. Roberta Seelinger Trites states, "School settings exist in adolescent literature to socialize teenagers into accepting the inevitable power social institutions have over individuals in every aspect of their lives" (1998, 33). Elizabeth A. Galway (2012) argues, contrary to much of the praise for the series, that Rowling's work does very little to subvert or challenge these conventions of the school story. Through an analysis of Tom Brown's Schooldays, Galway establishes the imperialistic project at the heart of most nineteenth-century British school stories: "Tom [learns] sacrifice, loyalty, and courage; these are traits that Hughes extols and presents as crucial to the development of an ideal young Englishman ready to serve his country upon graduation. He draws a clear connection between the education of young men and the future of the British Empire," "imply[ing] that boarding school will be the most important factor in Tom's becoming an ideal Englishman" (70–72). She goes on to argue that Rowling does little to challenge this paradigm, with the Harry Potter series "upholding the basic premise that the boarding school setting has a positive and necessary influence on the hero's development into an ideal citizen" (82) by presenting "the school setting [as] the chance to see how authority, exercised properly, can be a positive force" (75). Rowling molds protagonist Harry Potter into the ideal British citizen through the homogenizing forces of the traditional school story, teaching him respect for the institutionalized authority through which he learns to access power, due in no small part to his whiteness, established heterosexuality, and traditional masculinity. Racebent Harry fan work, particularly works in which he is in a queer relationship with Draco Malfoy, however, challenges this portrait of the ideal British citizen; clearly, if Harry represents quintessential Britishness, a queer, black Harry rewrites hegemonic notions of Britishness, challenging the common equating of Britishness with white heterosexuality.

[2.6] This brings us to the final commonality: the paradox of homoeroticism in the school story. In the popular imagination, the boarding school has become nearly synonymous with queer possibility, as Catherine Tosenberger argues in her analysis of Harry Potter slash fiction, attributing the prevalence of queer rewritings of the series in part to the setting: "Hogwarts is a British boarding school, an institution that is so consistently coded as queer space that it's practically shorthand for homosexuality, British-style" (2008, 199). However, in the traditional school story, the boarding school, depicted as a homogenizing institution deeply paranoid about fulfilled homosexual desire, doggedly seeks to repress such queer potential. As Holt McGavran writes, "Such traditional patriarchal societies as those of the white English-speaking world—and most certainly that of the elite boys' boarding school—almost set up boys and young men to fall in love with each other and yet threaten them with social ostracism and mental and physical abuse if they express their feelings openly" (2002, 69). This homoeroticism was actually a key part of nineteenth-century British school stories, which depicted the creation of male homosocial bonds as vital to maintaining the empire, as long as any queer desire remained unrequited (Tribunella 2011). Thus, the unrequited (implicitly white) homoeroticism of the school story served to sustain hegemonic, imperialistic institutions of power. While Stiefvater subverts the tradition of unrequited homoeroticism through the romantic relationship between Adam and Ronan in the Raven Cycle, Rowling represses the queer potential of the genre in favor of maintaining hegemonic heteronormativity throughout the entirety of the Harry Potter franchise (note 3). Furthermore, though Stiefvater does break with the conventions of the school story by depicting a requited queer romance, she upholds the dominance of white queer representation in young adult literature, a genre that until fairly recently had a relative lack of queer characters of color in comparison to white queer characters, with queer characters of color being relegated to supporting roles, if present at all. Racebent Ronan fan work disrupts the tradition of white homoeroticism in the school story and young adult literature more broadly, while Harry Potter fan work depicting Harry as a queer man of color subverts the imperialistic, hegemonic institution of the boarding school that Rowling preserves through the privileging of whiteness and repression of potential queerness.

3. Racebent Harry Potter as the quintessential British schoolboy

[3.1] In the case of Harry Potter, fans' depiction of Harry as a person of color undermines the image of ideal British masculinity constructed by the school story genre, particularly in fan work that depicts him in a queer romance with Draco Malfoy. In Tom Brown's Schooldays and other similar school story novels, unrequited schoolboy crushes on ideal representations of British masculinity and citizenship were encouraged, as "promoting the crush of a younger boy on an ideal older specimen of young manhood help[ed] socialize the boys into effective and respected leaders" (Tribunella 2011, 463). As mentioned above, within this construction, the qualities of boys who represented ideal British masculinity included wealth and high status, an eventual leadership role in the British empire, and, of course, whiteness. Most racebent Drarry (Draco/Harry) fan work depicts Draco as having an unrequited crush on Harry, a common reinscription of Draco's preoccupation with Harry throughout the book series. By positioning nonwhite Harry as the unrequited object of Draco's affections, such fan work presents nonwhiteness as representative of idealized British masculinity, subverting the typical nature of this construction.

[3.2] Tumblr artist saltysalmonella, for example, has a number of comics set during the pairs' school days which depict Draco's botched attempts to flirt with Harry. For example, in one comic, posted to Tumblr on May 14, 2016, Harry bemoans Draco's hatred of him, not understanding why he hates him so much. The Tumblr artist then depicts a series of flashbacks where Draco bestows Harry with compliments like "Nice hair, Potter" and "You look…good today, Potter," all of which Harry misconstrues as insults, responding with phrases like "Fuck off, Malfoy" and "Whatever, Malfoy" ( Similarly, fan artist jam-art posted a series of drawings to Tumblr on September 5, 2016, depicting Harry and Draco standing in front of the Mirror of Erised, a mirror enchanted to show those who look into it whatever their heart most desires. When Harry asks Draco, "What do you see?" Draco sarcastically retorts, "What, Potter, forgot how mirrors work?" inadvertently revealing that his innermost desire has already been achieved by standing side by side with Harry (

[3.3] Each of these pieces of fan art replicates the dynamics of the unrequited school boy crush as described by Tribunella. However, by racebending Harry, fans challenge hegemonic notions of desirability, constructing black or Indian Harry as the object of white, blonde Draco's affections. In addition, this disruption reinscribes the typical dynamic of the school boy crush in school story fiction, transcribing idealized British masculinity onto Harry's nonwhite body. By challenging the notion of white British masculinity as the ideal and replacing this construction with a nonwhite figure, racebent Harry Potter fan work depicting a queer relationship between Harry and Draco undercuts the imperialism of homoeroticism in the school story genre.

[3.4] Fan work set in an imagined eighth year at Hogwarts after the war is another trend in racebent Drarry fan work which further exemplifies the political possibilities of Draco and Harry's relationship and its potential to subvert the hegemonic ending of the book series. Galway argues that the commercially published book series does little to deviate from the hegemonic structure of the school story genre; rather than subverting the imperialist impulses inherent to the genre, it frequently reinforces them: "Rowling's novels…ultimately serve…to help validate existing power structures and notions of authority" (2012, 81). Many fans have expressed a similar dissatisfaction with the lack of resolution of the systemic issues in the wizarding world at the conclusion of the series. While the final Harry Potter book details the defeat of Voldemort and thus implies a presumed end of the conflict over blood purity, the series does not depict the fallout from this devastating war. Instead, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007) skips from the final battle to an epilogue set nineteen years later, which wraps up the story with each of the major characters neatly paired up into heteronormative couples and little indication that the major issues of the wizarding world that led to war have been resolved.

[3.5] So derided in fandom spaces is the epilogue that there is an entire category of fan work referred to as "EWE," or "Epilogue? What Epilogue?" (Fanlore 2016). Much of the Drarry fan work featuring a nonwhite Harry falls into the category of EWE, ignoring the final conclusion of the series to instead pick up immediately after the war in an imagined eighth year of Hogwarts during which the boys finish their education. By setting racebent Drarry fan work during this period, fans can deal with some of the fallout from the series much more directly, making explicit the racial undertones of the novels by recasting Harry as a person of color as well as subverting the heteronormativity of the epilogue.

[3.6] In a postwar series of comics in which Harry and Draco strike up a tentative friendship-turned-romance, blogger simrell (2016a; 2016b) explores the couple's attempt to navigate the complicated postwar dynamics of their relationship. In one such comic, captioned "hermione is only giving him a second chance to make harry happy," simrell depicts Draco's attempt to apologize to Harry for all of the terrible things he did to him while they were in school (2016b). Harry responds by taking Draco to meet Ron and Hermione and suggesting that if Draco really wants to apologize, he should apologize to them. Here, Harry holds Draco accountable for his prior behavior, implicitly accepting Draco's apology through companionship while still acknowledging the fraught nature of their relationship. In commentary tags on the comic, simrell also notes the shift in Draco's character post-war: "I strongly believe that post war draco would feel nothing but regret and shame it probably took him a while to get there but he realized it eventually and this one apology is by no means the end of his self discovery" (2016b). Rather than the nicely resolved portrait provided by Rowling in the epilogue, simrell here depicts characters actually grappling with the fallout of the events of the war and the conflicts they have struggled with throughout their time at school. Unlike Rowling's rather empty allusions to a wizarding world at peace in the epilogue, simrell's (2016b) comic actively depicts characters who were on opposing sides of the war tentatively moving toward dialogue about what transpired and eventual reconciliation.

[3.7] Racebending in the Harry Potter fandom reinscribes the subtextual racial implications of the pureblood-privileging wizarding society onto actual bodies of color, repairing the political potential of the metaphorical conflict in the series. While the racial implications of the conflict around purebloodedness are not directly discussed in simrell's (or many others) fan works, most of the racebent Drarry fan work set during eighth year that fans produce is visual, consisting primarily of fan art and comics. The visual representation of Harry's nonwhite body in these works, which frequently consist of conversations between Harry and Draco about the wizarding war, serve as a constant reminder of the racial element of the war that fans seek to emphasize. Fans take advantage of the possibilities of visual adaptation to avoid the failings of the Harry Potter series in regards to racial representation; as described by Gizelle Lisa Anatol, "While all of the students mentioned might be visually apparent to the characters within the fictional storyline, their visual difference for the reader quickly disappears and their racial identities fade into the background" (2003, 173). Fans utilize visual representation to ensure the race of their racebent characters cannot be erased in the same way.

[3.8] Much racebent Drarry fan work sees the boys finding comfort from their postwar trauma in their relationship with one another. For example, in a caption to their fanart of a black Harry comforting a clearly guilt-ridden Draco, Tumblr user goddamnshinyrock explains the appeal of setting Drarry fan work after the war: "I love year 8 fics, where they're figuring out the people they're going to be after the war, but still stuck in hogwarts making up for the disrupted (or skipped) year 7. And if those fics have hurt/comfort dealing with the aftermath of, well, of everything, then I am 10000% there for that" (2015). Similarly, in an earlier comic in her series, simrell (2016a) depicts Harry and Draco blatantly flirting with one another while their dynamic still holds the tinge of their past involvement in the war. When Harry asks why Draco does not have a girlfriend, Draco responds, "[A]nd get ~all this~ Pssh, who'd want to date a death eater?" "I dunno, Malfoy," Harry replies, "~all of this~ is actually pretty fit" (simrell 2016a). Draco then turns a bright shade of red and has to look away from Harry's gaze. In tags to the comic, simrell describes how their relationship will serve as a means of healing for the couple: "They still have to talk about the war and about the trauma they went thru and about the bullying and the scars draco will have to deal with not only harry's underlying resentments but hermione and ron's too (harry and draco have been spending more time together") (2016a).

[3.9] The depiction of Draco and Harry's queer relationship as a means of healing from the traumas of war clearly inverts the typical role of homoeroticism in the school story genre. While homoeroticism in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century school stories was meant to replicate the eventual military bonds between young men and engender loyalty to the British empire, racebent Drarry fan work uses a realized queer relationship to heal after war has taken place and, furthermore, as a means of reconciliation between two people who fought on opposing sides of the battle. Via her caption, simrell (2016a) encapsulates the justifiable uncertainties and insecurities both Draco and Harry feel toward one another. However, she also notes such interactions and conversations are significant to overcoming the wounds of the war, and the developing romantic relationship between the boys serves as a new space where healing can begin and in which the boys can renegotiate the political and racial tensions of wizarding Britain. Companionship within a queer interracial romantic relationship serves as a means of navigating shifting British identities, colonialist power dynamics, and racial tensions.

[3.10] Eighth-year Hogwarts becomes a site for imagining alternative possibilities to the conclusion of the series as well as for renegotiating the central messages of the school story genre. Racebent Drarry fan work breaks the mold of the homoerotic subtexts of the school story genre in another fundamentally important way: homoeroticism is realized as queer desire and reciprocated queer romance. Fans subvert both the extremely heteronormative ending of the Harry Potter series and the strict parameters of unrequited homoerotic desire in the school story genre at large, where queer romantic feelings must always remain unconsummated, lest the boy succumb to "sexual vice" and ultimately perish for his failings (Tribunella 2011, 467). The queer interracial relationship that fans depict between Harry and Draco subverts "the tradition of this colonial genre…[through] a discourse of resistance from within…confronting authoritative discourses on a colonial system of values perpetuated through the educational institutions [and] compulsory heterosexuality" (Bakshi 2015, 1). Such fan work "invests the genre with a disruptive potential, unknown to its original form" (1). Racebent Drarry fan work utilizes the space of the boarding school and the homoeroticism of the typical English school story genre to subvert the genre's heteronormative and imperialist impulses by realizing a queer interracial relationship that works to heal wartime traumas. While most of this fan work does not directly address systemic change within the wizarding world at large, the rewriting of racial and homoerotic subtexts as text, the subversion of the epilogue, and the depiction of former enemies healing together through a queer interracial relationship in racebending Drarry fan work gestures toward the beginnings of change in a way left unrealized by the series.

4. Disrupting "white-by-default" British identity

[4.1] The challenge to the assumption of whiteness that racebending fan work offers is vital. With their racebent fan work, fans critique the overwhelming whiteness of Rowling's series, contesting the predominant association throughout the Harry Potter books of Britishness with whiteness. Karin E. Westman argues that, in spite of accusations of the series' being extremely Edwardian and Rowling's own insistence that the wizarding world is not informed by the politics of the muggle world, "The wizarding world struggles to negotiate a very contemporary problem in Britain: the legacy of a racial and class caste system that, though not entirely stable, is still looked upon by a minority of powerful individuals as the means to continued power and control" (2002, 306). This struggle is entirely metaphorical in the series. The magical politics in the series, in which a war breaks out over blood purity and purebloods seek to exterminate mudbloods, obviously parallels white supremacist rhetoric and the racism that people of color experience in the real world. However, because the victims of this prejudice in the text are largely presented as white, the series falls into the narrative trappings of what is colloquially known as fantastic racism, or the use of fictional forms of racism in fantasy and science fiction as a metaphor or parallel to real-world racism without centering this narrative around actual characters of color.

[4.2] Although Rowling attempts to write a narrative that exposes the evils of prejudice, her centering of assumed whiteness and restriction of characters of color to the background inadvertently reinforces a hegemonic formulation of quintessential British identity supported by political figures like Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose "regime characteristically rested upon an 'ethnic absolutism' which identified the 'nation' with 'whiteness'" (Hill 1999, 216) as well as "excluding both racial and sexual minorities" (Barron 2007, 9). This inadvertent reinforcement of the norm aligns with Anatol's argument "that although the Potter series attempts to embrace ideas of global equality and multiculturalism, the stories actually reveal how difficult it is for contemporary British subjects such as Rowling to extricate themselves from the ideological legacies of their ancestors" (2003, 165).

[4.3] This failing comes in spite of Rowling's continually expressed antiracist sentiments. For example, Rowling openly supported the casting of black actress Noma Dumezweni as Hermione in the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016) and racebent interpretations of the character, tweeting, "Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair, and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione" (2015). However, this comment rings disingenuous, as Rowling fails to acknowledge the white-as-default nature of her work, in which she indicates every nonwhite character by the prose while describing major (presumably white) characters with no racial tags. Furthermore, Rowling's "strong investment in the [film adaptations], in their production, and in the casting of actors" elided any incidental racial ambiguity in the text, as the casting of white actors in most major roles confirmed Rowling's vision of these characters as white (Cuntz-Leng 2015, 65): "The visual nature of the movie…closed the formerly underdetermined narrative space of what the [characters] could look like and filled it with a concrete image," undermining Rowling's claims that "white skin was never specified" (56). Only now are fans beginning to challenge this foreclosure and recuperate the racial ambiguity and possibility of the novels through their reparative racebending fan works. Thus, in spite of her support for alternate interpretations, Rowling's white-as-default writing and her confirmation of whiteness in these adaptations demonstrates her inability to think outside her own experience, inverting her attempts at dismantling the mechanisms of prejudice through her fantasy narrative; "It is the mythic absence, and the violently repressed but very real presence of racially marginalized peoples, that reinforces White supremacist fantasies" in former British colonies (carrington 2016, 207) and, I would argue, Britain itself. As Abigail De Kosnik writes, fan practices like racebending challenge white supremacist practices of erasure, and as such, this fan practice "symbolically annihilates not white characters…but white dominance and white privilege in media representations" (2016, 169). Fans use racebent Harry Potter fan work to think outside Rowling's limited presentation of Britain and recuperate the radical potential of the series to oppose white supremacist rhetoric.

[4.4] The equating of whiteness to British identity continues to be extremely pervasive, as proven by the intense backlash many fans have received for their racebent Harry Potter fan work. Many fans resisting interpretations of Harry and best friend Hermione Granger as nonwhite use their British identity as evidence of their race. On blog harrypotterconfessions, an anonymous user criticizes the growing trend of racebending in the fandom, stating, "In Europe we don't have such a great diversity like in America, especially back in Harry's time" (Anonymous 2016); however, Tumblr user thatonewritergirl rebuts, "I'm literally living in London and it's one of the most diverse places in the world. That was still the case 'back in Harry's time' which was literally just the nineties. Yes, African children would probably go to a school in Africa. But black British children would absolutely go to Hogwarts" (quoted in prongsyouignoramus 2016). Tumblr user drakonarin, in their resistance to racebent depictions of Harry and Hermione, went so far as to produce a piece of fanart depicting a white Hermione and Harry in which Hermione angrily pronounces, "I'm ENGLISH!!! I have fair skin! See?!" and, dragging Harry into the frame, points to him and insists, "And he's not Indian!!!" (2015). In response, fanartist neffle altered drakonarin's fanart to include a black Hermione and desi Harry, changing the term fair skin to dark skin and removing the word not, followed up with the caption, "hey drakonarin i fixed ur shitty comic" (2018). Similarly, an anonymous user writing to Tumblr blogger prongsmydeer states, "Harry Potter is a BRITISH story. Everyone is one [a white person]. Maybe except Lee Jordan, but he's played by a black actor as well" (2014). The user here clearly conflates Englishness with whiteness, even dismissing the notion that Lee Jordan, a black character from the series, is British, in spite of his clearly black British identity in the original text. As these examples show, racebending fans actively work to combat the assumption of other fans that Britishness equates to whiteness. Such fan discussion and fan work continues the project of postcolonial interventions in fandom described in andré carrington's case study of Harry Potter fans who create fan work for minor characters of color from the series, whose "portrayals of Black British-diasporic women…dislodge tropes of fantasy from a British cultural frame of reference that is presumptively identical to Whiteness" (2016, 197).

[4.5] These clashes between fans reinforce Anatol's (2003) fears about Rowling's attempt at depicting a multiethnic Britain: "While she perhaps attempts to display a 'colorblind' society where everyone is distinguished solely by magical ability, she makes it supremely easy for the reader to forget (or ignore) the multiethnic surrounding that she initially seeks to establish" (173). Anatol argues that this danger stems in part from "a world where white people are the dominant social group," in which "whiteness becomes the 'default' for unmentioned race; it is interpreted as the norm and assumed when unstated" (173). Many fans who support or create racebent Harry Potter fan works make similar critiques of the series. For example, user claudiaboleyn explicitly explains, "The default is white. The default is straight. Therefore many children's authors who have no desire to actively discriminate (because I do not for one moment think J K Rowling intentionally snubbed these groups) do end up alienating rather a lot of their young readers" (2014). claudiaboleyn's (2014) comment demonstrates awareness of the white-as-default mentality prevalent not only in fandom but in children's literature and the Western publishing industry as a whole, as well as the ways these fans frame their fan work as resistant to such defaults. In addition, claudiaboleyn's (2014) comment reveals racebending Harry Potter fan work as an intervention not only in fandom but in British children's literature as a whole, given that "in British children's literature, ethnic and cultural diversity remain relatively underrepresented…[as] there are still relatively few writers of colour relative to the population of modern Britain" (Sands-O'Connor 2017, 175). In spite of the prevalence of British children's literature on a global scale, racebent Harry Potter fan work gives voice to those who are relatively absent from these commercially published children's books.

[4.6] Tumblr user itsvondell recognizes their racebending fan work as actively challenging the whitecentric mentality of mainstream media. In a post explaining their reasons for depicting Harry as a black, mixed-race child, itsvondell explains, "Personally I'm mentally acting against the white-as-default-unless-otherwise-specified that's pervasive in imagining media especially in predominantly white fandom culture" (quoted in rowanthesloth 2014). By reimagining a character who has become central to the global cultural conception of British identity, fans who racebend Harry not only challenge misconceptions of British identity by other fans but also participate in the radical political formation of black British identity, which, as Stuart Hall notes, has pronounced "Englishness is black" (1997, 59). Through their fan work and online conversations with resistant fans on Tumblr, Harry Potter fans producing racebent fan work challenge the dominance of white characters in mainstream media and the assumption that British identity is white by default.

5. Rewriting the all-American boy with racebent Ronan Lynch

[5.1] Unlike the Harry Potter series, which, as discussed above, elides explicit mention of characters' queer desires, the Raven Cycle series offers an explicit queer subversion of the subtextual homoeroticism of the school story genre by realizing a queer romantic relationship between two male protagonists, Ronan and Adam. However, the series' author Stiefvater upholds the white exclusivity of this homoeroticism (and of the boarding school at large, with few exceptions) and reifies the imperialistic lineage of the school story genre. Pynch (Adam Parrish/Ronan Lynch) fan work which depicts a black Ronan disrupts the imperialist tradition of the school story genre, instead incorporating African American experience into the boarding school genre.

[5.2] This disruption serves as a site of much controversy within the Raven Cycle fandom. In fact, numerous fans who oppose racebending Ronan cite his privilege as counter to representing him as black. For example, Tumblr user lazyleezard argues, "The most ridiculous thing about people making Ronan black is how none of them consider what would happen to the aggressive looking alcoholic trouble maker Ronan Lynch without his white privilege" (2015). Similarly, a post on trcfanswhy rebuts those who oppose racebending Gansey, another character from the series, by arguing, "'White privilege is a fundamental part of Gansey's character' uh–no more than anyone else's! If Ronan were a person of color he'd be dead or in jail" (quoted in whimsicalunitato 2016). This critique of depicting the boys as black is twofold, stemming in part from the notion that their privilege could only be white in nature and in part from a fear that Ronan's attitude in the series, in particular when reinscribed onto blackness, reads like the stereotype of the angry black man. Stiefvater herself has expressed this anxiety in a post on Tumblr, aimed at fans who racebend Ronan (2015).

[5.3] While some of these critiques do hold validity, they also flatten both the complexity of Ronan as a character and the additional layers that fans add to his character through racebending. Part of the power of depicting Ronan as black stems specifically from the privilege of his character, as recasting this privilege as black subverts the typical all-white space of the school story genre by depicting a wealthy young black man attending an elite preparatory school. As such, racebent Ronan challenges the typical conflation of black masculinity and the lower classes in American fiction. Reinscribing Ronan's privilege with blackness thus functions similarly to mainstream representations of middle- and upper-class black male characters who "challenge dominant conceptions of black manhood" (Gray 1995, 403).

[5.4] Blogger queeraang (2016) argues that racebent Ronan deviates from negative stereotypical depictions of blackness in numerous ways:

[5.5] nothing about ronan is even a black stereotype other than he's "a thug" (and what ppl mean when they call ronan a thug is not what they mean when they call a black boy a thug) like to review

bratty rich kid

loves jesus

loves his family/friends

comfortably queer

takes no shit

also who does ronan rly even fight with besides declan? like he just looks mean ain't nobody tryna fuck with him

[5.6] As queeraang (2016) outlines, many components of Ronan's character subvert the typical depiction of blackness in mainstream media. The blogger also complicates the notion that Ronan is depicted as thuggish in the text. This characterization largely stems from the representation of "black heroes…as one-dimensional fierce strong warriors favoring brawn over intellect" (Fu 2015, 12–14). By contrast, as queerang (2016) notes, while Ronan is difficult and sarcastic, his fights largely consist of arguments with his older brother and one encounter where he defends Adam from his abusive father (note 4). In addition, Stiefvater depicts Ronan as innately intelligent—for example, his mastery of both spoken and written Latin is unmatched. For a racebent Ronan, this attribute subverts the devastating history and continued espousal of associating blackness with inferior intellect, such as when online users opposed to casting a black actor as Spider-Man demonstrated "the[ir] belief that a black teenager can't speak in full sentences, be emo, or be a nerd" (Fu 2015, 12). The multiplicity of Ronan's character—as angsty, nerdy, protective, always more than just angry—allows fans to racebend his character without reducing him to a black stereotype.

[5.7] Tumblr user sonjarostova (n.d.) uses Ronan's three-dimensional representation in the series to justify racebending Ronan:

[5.8] I also don't think it is fair to consider Ronan a thuggish character either. Think back to Adam's observation that Ronan "manifested beautiful cars and beautiful birds and tenderhearted brothers" while he in comparison was a monster. Ronan is a subversion of a trope…he's tough on the outside, but inside he's a big teddy bear. I think for the very reason that we see all these sides to ronan is why it is okay to cast him as a black man. He is not a negative stereotype because we have seen the motivation for his more rough-and-tumble ways. The problems with media representation of POC is when the characters are nothing more than cardboard cut outs of criminals, drug dealers, and bad parents…not when they happen to do these things but also are seen as people with a broad spectrum of emotions and motivations.

[5.9] As sonjarostova (n.d.) writes, although Ronan has a prickly surface at the beginning of the series, the series ultimately subverts this facade as mostly bluster, gradually exposing Ronan as a kind, gentle creator of beauty over the course of his character arc. Racebent fan work taps into this component of Ronan's character, presenting a much more multifaceted black character than the thuggish black representation that Stiefvater fears racebending could engender. Arguments that fans who racebend Ronan simply participate in the depiction of blackness as aggressive and angry ignore the true nature of most black Ronan fan work. Rather than reducing Ronan to a stereotype of black aggression and anger, most black Ronan fan work emphasizes Ronan's gentleness and his queer romance with Adam.

[5.10] Many black Ronan aesthetic posts characterize Ronan with a sense of soft masculinity. While originally referring to the pan-Asian phenomenon of "transcultural, metrosexual soft masculinity" (Szeto qtd. in Min Yuen 2014, 225), the term soft masculinity has come to encompass a global range of expressions of masculinity that deliberately disavow toxic masculinity, or "the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence" (Kupers 2005, 714). These expressions take a variety of forms, such as men "express[ing] themselves emotionally," freely demonstrating physical affection and intimacy, or utilizing "feminine" symbols like flowers (Coles 2008, 241). Many fans who racebend Ronan pick up on this iconography in their posts. For example, in one photo set, Tumblr user prairienina (2017) has superimposed a quote from The Raven King (2016), the final book of the Raven Cycle, over a black faceclaim (that is, models or actors that fans use to represent characters in their fan works) for Ronan. In this quote, Gansey, one of the other male leads from the series, warns Adam to be sensitive in his romantic relationship with Ronan: "Don't break him, Adam," prairienina has placed over an image of Ronan hiding his face in his hands, "he's not as tough as he seems" (2017). This photo set emphasizes the vulnerability Ronan demonstrates in the series, both as a character and in his relationship with Adam, in the representation of black Ronan.

[5.11] Fans also evoke Ronan's gentleness in a trend that appears in numerous black Ronan fan edits: the incorporation of flowers. For example, gahfa's Ronan-centric photo edit "ronan lynch, the dreamer" incorporates an image of a young black man pressing his face into a bouquet of flowers as well as another where a dark-skinned black model has a string of flowers arranged over his left eyebrow, sweeping down to cover his left cheekbone (n.d.). Similarly, blogger prcy has posted photo-edited tarot cards for both Adam and Ronan with flowers bursting from their faces (quoted in druskeles n.d.). Such images counter "[t]he social construction of Black manhood in mainstream American culture [a]s rooted in the idea of 'Blacks as beast'" (Hunter and Davis 1992, 466). Contrary to the long legacy in America of documenting black bodies primarily as either threatening or disempowered, dehumanized, and brutalized, the images these fans use entwine Ronan's blackness with a soft masculinity, demonstrating the "power [of] the photograph…to refute…challenge and, possibly, erase stereotypes and caricatures of blackness" (Young 2010, 57).

[5.12] Much racebent Ronan fan work focuses on his romantic relationship with Adam. As demonstrated above, many fans juxtapose images of their faceclaims of Ronan with quotes from the series about his feelings for Adam. For example, Tumblr user solkoroleva's aesthetic post superimposes the first half of a quote, "Ronan was looking at him," on an image of a black model smiling broadly at another model (n.d.). The next image shows a pair of clasped hands—one black, one white—with the remainder of the quote, "as he had been looking at him for months" (quoted in sparrkelzandrainbows n.d.) The choice of images—Ronan's smile, the pair's clasped hands—demonstrates the way the post incorporates Ronan and Adam's relationship in the series, filled with longing and desire, and juxtaposes it with a depiction of easy intimacy between the couple. Many pieces of racebent Pynch fanart mirror solkoroleva's (n.d.) post, representing Ronan and Adam's romance as casually intimate and filled with a sweet, often innocent affection. For example, fan artist clemish has a series of drawings where Adam coyly steals a kiss from Ronan by telling him "[Y]ou've got something on your face" (2016). The piece depicts Ronan as innocent, blushing, and wide-eyed as Adam leans up to kiss him. The caption for the drawing reads, "i love soft blushy pynch" (clemish 2016). The user clearly evokes an awareness of the tender nature of the fan art in her caption, and, notably, chooses to depict Ronan as the softer, more innocent partner through his blushing surprise; this is typical of depictions of soft masculinity, which "encode…the message of the innocent 'purity' of a teenage boy's first kiss" and "signif[y] a first love that is pure" (Jung 2011, 49). Again, fans choose to represent black Ronan in ways that emphasize his queerness and the soft masculinity at the core of his character, subverting the depiction of black men as angry and aggressive rather than reinforcing it.

[5.13] The representation of Ronan in these examples counters not only fans opposed to racebending's concerns that black Ronan fan work reduces his character to a negative stereotype of blackness but also, much like the Harry Potter fan work described above, offers a subversion of the typical utilization of homoeroticism in American school stories. As do their British counterparts, American school stories emphasize the maturation of the child into an ideal American citizen. As Tribunella (2002) writes in relation to notable American school story A Separate Peace (1959), the protagonist's "'maturation' throughout the novel represents his movement away from an effete intellectualism and 'adolescent' homoerotic relationship…abandoning the queer possibility and accepting a hegemonic and necessarily heterosexual masculinity" (82–83). This disavowal of queer futurity is carried out in the name of adhering to "American cultural values, including, quite significantly, heterosexuality and masculinity in men" (83). Another key component of this construction of American masculinity that Tribunella omits is whiteness. While Stiefvater's novels already subvert the American school story tradition to some extent through the depiction of Ronan and Adam's requited, actualized queer relationship, fans who racebend Ronan's character extend her subversion of the genre to incorporate an explicitly nonwhite protagonist. Unlike the protagonists of school story fiction who came before him, black Ronan disavows the hegemonic portrait of American masculinity—as well as troubling stereotypes of black American masculinity—as a gay upper-middle-class black man in a happy, healthy, requited queer relationship.

6. Deconstructing Irishness as whiteness

[6.1] In much the same way as racebending Harry Potter fans, fans who racebend Ronan from the Raven Cycle face a considerable amount of backlash as they contest other fans' white-as-default mentality in regard to another European identity: Irishness. The Raven Cycle centers on a band of prep school boys seeking the tomb of a Welsh king in the fictional town of Henrietta, Virginia. Given the subject matter of the central narrative, the series frequently draws upon Celtic mythology, and much is made of Ronan's own Irish heritage. Similar to Harry Potter fans who object to racebending characters, many fans who protest racebending Ronan's character cite the frequent allusions to Ronan's Irishness as undeniable proof of his whiteness. For example, user mildlunacy (2016) argues that racebending Ronan betrays the character's identity in a way that racebending characters like Hermione Granger does not:

[6.2] Ronan is defined by his Irishness, in a way the core of Hermione's story really isn't about being born English…The character is constantly referencing his super-Irish musician and dreamer father, and the penchant for Celtic music, alcohol and violence he'd left behind. He's traditionally Catholic, he's culturally Irish, and he also looks "black Irish" (that is, black hair and blue eyes)…To change that is to change much more than Ronan's skin color, and I don't think representation has to mean obliteration, a *replacement* of canon.

[6.3] Here, mildlunacy conflates Englishness with whiteness, even as they argue Hermione can be racebent because her English identity is not "the core of [her] story," and thus making her nonwhite will not impede upon her Englishness. This conflation then extends to Ronan's Irish identity, with the blogger claiming that to recast Ronan as a black man negates the possibility of his being Irish and obliterates the core of his identity, never even considering Ronan could be both Irish and black. This resistance to depicting Ronan as black because of his Irish identity seems particularly odd, given the choice to racebend Irish Ronan in fandom seems to, at least subconsciously, tap into the historic and still well-known association between Irishness and blackness (Ignatiev 1995; O'Neill and Lloyd 2009; Onkey 2009).

[6.4] Many fans of racebent Ronan face similar critiques, such as blogger bropunzeling (2015), who received this ask from ducttapetuesday: "I'm just confused as to why everyone believes Ronan is POC?…Ronan is very irish and even said he doesn't like being in the sun because of his pale skin." bropunzeling responded, "irish people can be and are poc. so there's that. edit: @hasserole added: also you can have pale skin and not be white." Tumblr blogger mythaelogy (n.d.) linked this post, reiterating bropunzeling in a nearly identical interaction, where an anonymous user asked, "What do you think about Ronan Lynch being depicted as a POC in a lot of photosets? He's supposed to look like his full-on Irish dad, so shouldn't he be a white boy?" Many of the arguments against black Ronan take on a similar tenor of purity, an insistence that Ronan must be Irish exclusively and that this Irishness is by default white. This argument falls somewhat flat in the context of the series, given Ronan is in fact born from a union between his Irish father and the woman his father dreamed into existence as a result of powers the Lynch men share, so any claim of Ronan's having a pure racial or ethnic identity rings false. These claims do, however, emphasize that the interconnectedness of notions of whiteness and British/Irish identity are tinged by false conceptions of racial purity.

[6.5] Tumblr user rp-side-blog conflates whiteness not only with Irish identity but with the broader notion of European identity in a response to a post by adamparrishtrash (quoted in adamparrishtrash 2018) praising black Ronan fan work: "I have a question are you choosing to make Ronan black even though he's described as Irish and his dad is from somewhere in Europe (I think)." adamparrishtrash (2018) dismantles this notion by simply stating, "There are black people in Ireland. So…" (note 5). The prevalence of the same argument against racebending Ronan over and over demonstrates the troubling pervasiveness of the false notion of Ireland and Europe at large as exclusively white landscapes. Furthermore, in this particular instance, the dogged insistence on equating Irish (and European) identity with whiteness seems particularly odd, as Ronan is an Irish-American living in Virginia, making arguments about whiteness in Ireland and Europe, however misinformed, ultimately irrelevant to his character. Again, these posts seem to reinforce the reliance on a notion of purity, with Ronan's Irishness being characterized as an untouched Irish identity imported directly from Europe with no consideration of the falseness of this construction in not only Ireland but in the history of American identity.

[6.6] While fans' staunch opposition to depicting Ronan as black and Irish bespeaks Ignatiev's titular claim—the Irish, at least for these fans, have truly become white—this opposition shows a complete ignorance of American history and a strange erasure of the black presence in the United States. There is a long and well-recorded history of miscegenation between Irish and black Americans, as well as between the Irish and black populations in the Caribbean (Ignatiev 1995, 41; Rodgers 2009, 33–46; Robinson 2009, 49–63; Malouf 2009, 149–64). While those opposed to racebending Ronan participate in a continued erasure of this legacy and bizarre denial of the existence of mixed-race Americans, visual racebent Ronan fan work, particularly aesthetic posts—that is, edited photo collages meant to represent a book series or particular character—which use real models to represent Ronan's character, implicitly and explicitly recuperate this history.

[6.7] The two most predominant faceclaims for black Ronan, Dudley O'Shaughnessy and Reece King, are Afro-Caribbean and Irish and Afro-Caribbean, Irish, and Portuguese respectively, further solidifying fans' claim that Irishness does not equate to whiteness. Ironically, given cries of canon-incompliance by fans opposed to racebending, O'Shaughnessy and King are both more accurate representations of Ronan's identity than many white faceclaims. The mere presentation of these two models offers proof that negates anti-racebending fans' claims that Irishness is exclusively white. Furthermore, fans' casting of O'Shaugnessy and King demonstrates that racebending is not an act of erasure or a denial of Ronan's Irish identity; their fan work attends to this component of Ronan's identity, simply adding an extra dimension. Aesthetic posts like that of user softgods (2015), who couples a photograph of Dudley O'Shaughnessy with text explaining the Irish meaning of Ronan's name, demonstrate that fans who racebend Ronan are not interested in obliterating his Irish heritage but in celebrating it by representing an Irish experience not only rarely depicted but also outright erased in cultural, fictional, and fan spaces. Black Ronan aesthetic posts disrupt the false construction of Irishness as exclusively white by having Ronan be visually embodied by actual black Irish men.

7. Conclusion

[7.1] Fans racebending Harry Potter and Ronan Lynch deconstruct the false equivalency of Britishness and Irishness with whiteness and subvert the imperialistic underpinnings of unrequited homoeroticism in the school story genre, opening up potentiality for resistance within the genre. In so doing, fans use racebending fan works to bring voice to the queer-of-color experiences that remain largely unattended to in popular young adult fiction. Racebent Harry fan work which depicts Harry and Draco in a romantic relationship ruptures the hegemonic, heteronormative ending of the book series, instead imagining possibilities for systemic change to the wizarding world through the healing nature of Harry and Draco's queer romance. Contrary to the fears of those opposed to racebending Ronan, black Ronan fan work honors Ronan's Irish heritage and undoes the association of blackness with aggression by representing a gentle, soft Ronan in a loving queer relationship. These two case studies demonstrate racebending as a productive site for critique, both of the series that these fan works represent and of larger generic conventions, like those of the school story.

8. Notes

1. As in same-sex romantic relationships, with the word queer in this piece functioning both as an umbrella term for LGBTQIAP+ identities and relationships and also as a critical theoretical framework, such as queer-of-color critique.

2. The boarding school serves as the primary setting for the traditional school story, and Rowling's work has been credited with the revival of the more traditional form of this genre.

3. Despite her assertion in interviews that Dumbledore is gay, his queerness is not directly addressed in the texts.

4. The fact that Ronan does not go to jail after this fight lends credence to his white privilege; however, it subverts the notion of Ronan as simply an angry black man, as his violence here is first and foremost protective.

5. According to the Central Statistics Office's online 2016 census report, 1.4 percent of the Irish population identifies as black Irish.

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