Pop Culture

Everyone Loves Ben Barnes’ Darkling, but His Most Famous Role Is One That Doesn’t Actually Exist

Ben Barnes being too intense for my own good as the Darkling in Netflix's Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone is back on Netflix for its second season, bringing us all right back into the world created by Leigh Bardugo, together with Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li) on her quest to eradicate the terrible Shadow Fold that splits her country in two. That is, of course, while also battling the Darkling—her opposite and her mirror, who is more than willing to do anything to bring her over to his side.

The Darkling is undoubtedly one of the best villains ever put to YA paper—and I would argue on fantasy paper full stop. He’s charming and ruthless with all the terrible depth that makes us want to caps-lock our feelings on social media, and also one-half of a very bad but also very interesting and very popular ship in the fandom, so really he’s got it all. And now he also has a brilliant performer to bring him to life onscreen.

Ben Barnes—or Bin Bons, if you’ve been around since his Narnia era—is technically older than the Darkling is described to look like in the books, but oh my god does he bring a whole new brand of gravitas and unhinged-ness to the character. He’s undoubtedly one of the best parts of the show, and I love every single moment he’s onscreen. And yet.

And yet I would like for us all to take a moment and remember that his most famous role, the one that shot him to fandom stardom and made his face an unmissable fixture of every Tumblr blog and Twitter page, is not only one that he never played, but it’s also one that has never really technically existed. I’m talking, of course, about a young Sirius Black.

The Marauders fandom

Despite being pretty important characters in the Harry Potter story overall and in Harry’s development in particular, the Marauders are still no more than secondary characters in the whole Harry Potter saga. And maybe it’s the fact that they all tragically died young. Maybe it’s the fact that all we ever got from the Harry Potter canon were the basics about them. Maybe it’s the fascination of a seventies setting with the beautiful bittersweet feeling of prequels in which you know exactly where things are headed.

Or maybe it’s the fact that Remus and Sirius have always been clocked by the fandom as queer and that the ship between the two—that you might also know as Wolfstar—has always been one of the most popular out of the myriad of Harry Potter ships out there.

Whatever the reason, the Marauders have sparked a fandom-within-a-fandom pretty much since the beginning—the prequel fans wanted before J.K. Rowling launched the disappointing Fantastic Beasts series, and before her reputation imploded into transphobia. It’s built almost entirely on headcanons that have become so widespread as to be considered fandom tenets by now, fanfictions the length of novels that detail the years the Marauders and their friends and enemies spent at Hogwarts and then fighting in the first wizarding war, and edits so masterful and so sad that will tear your heart in two.

And of course, those edits all needed visual material to bring the characters to life. David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Timothy Spell and Adrian Rawlins—who played Remus, Sirius, Peter and James respectively in the movie adaptations of Harry Potter—were all great in their roles, but they were entirely too old to be playing character in their early-to-late teenage years. 

The point is that the fandom needed some younger faces to create its body of fanwork, and that’s how the fancasts were born—and how the “Ben Barnes as Sirius Black” agenda started.

The fancasts

The fancasts for the Marauders have, of course, had their changes throughout the years—but none have remained ingrained in the fandom’s hearts and the very first that appeared on Tumblr when the fandom truly started to pick up speed sometime in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

Ben Barnes had just finished working on the two Chronicles of Narnia movies, in which he played Prince Caspian—Prince Caspian in 2008 and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 2010. In 2009, he also starred in an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which he played the titular character. The movie is admittedly Not That Great, but it has the immense merit of giving its lead actor period clothes and charming attitudes that were perfect for the rebel son of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.

Alongside him, “playing” his fellow Marauders, were Aaron Taylor-Johnson—fresh off Nowhere Boy success—as James Potter; Dane DeHaan as Peter Pettigrew, particularly in clips from his 2013 movie Kill Your Darlings; and especially Andrew Garfield—who had just starred in Never Let Me Go in 2010—as Remus Lupin. 

Some fancasts changed over time and some were added as the fandom grew—like Timothée Chalamet as Sirius’ younger brother Regulus, Sophie Skelton as Lily Evans, and Alexandra Shipp as Mary MacDonald—but Ben Barnes as Sirius and Andrew Garfield as Remus have always stuck, so much so that even the actors know by now.

And honestly, I love it all so much. I love that it’s such a powerful staple of fandom that it found its way to the actors who now get asked sneaky questions about it in interviews. I love that it’s been going on for a long enough time that both Barnes and Garfield could by now also play the versions of Sirius and Remus that Harry actually meets. I love that the edits never stop coming and that the love for the versions of these characters that were shaped by fans never stops growing.

Most of all, though, I love how the role for which Ben Barnes’ face is immediately recognisable in the great wilderness of fandom spaces is one that has never really existed in the first place.

(featured image: Netflix)

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