August 28, 2016

Harry Potter and the Boy Who Became a Franchise

Posted in Pop Culture at 5:24 pm by chavalah

Probably my favorite use of my timeturner ever. :P

Probably my favorite use of my timeturner ever. 😛

The script boasted the biggest single-week sales in the last decade, according to Bookseller’s Magazine, and will almost certainly be the bestselling book of the year, probably by a lot. The play in London is sold out through May. The next movie, first of a trilogy, is slated to open big in November. And now J.K. Rowling has announced three new ebooks about Hogwarts history to come out next month.

Like many fans, perhaps my first reaction is trepidation. What does new Harry Potter content mean? And will it destroy the magic of the original seven books?

I suppose that’s a rather irrational concern. It’s not like Rowling can take a time turner and erase the publication of Harry’s Hogwarts adventures and his showdown with Voldemort (though if you know the plot of that play… :P) New content, no matter how straining and mediocre, will not take my memories of midnight release parties and all-day reading binges, or connecting with people for years over the love of this story.

We’ve been asking to live at Hogwarts forever, and in many ways that’s exactly what we’ve gotten. The movie studios are now a tourist attraction. Theme parks have cropped up in Florida and California. There’s toys, collectibles, games—I have, among other things, a plush golden snitch and Harry Potter Clue. 😛 Pottermore was the website dedicated to Rowling’s storyboarding behind the scenes, which has now culminated in these more accessible ebooks. Even in the middle of writing her original series, she produced some paraphernalia–Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander, now the inspiration for the new movies; and Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp.

So, it’s a franchise. In the most cynical sense, it’s about making Potter into a never-ending, money-grabbing brand. But for mega-fans, it’s about making the fantasy more real, because the Wizarding World is about more than Harry Potter. It’s a place with lasting value on its own. That’s why J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Silmarillion, which has nothing to do with the adventures of Bilbo Baggins or the Fellowship of the Ring. In fact it’s a lot like Rowling’s Tales of Beedle the Bard; it’s the mythology that fuels their cultures.

Still, you have to be dedicated. It’s a lot easier to see the Potter series as self-contained; to deal with it on its surface rather than deal with the man behind the curtain. I admit, I didn’t get too far into Pottermore because of the time drain. I’m kinda looking forward to the ebooks; information delivered much more simply.

Some of the magic dimmed for me when Rowling started releasing backstory to complement the first Fantastic Beasts movie. That meant that she had to imagine how magic would work in North America. The writing has been dull and the content offensive to a Native American tribe. Even without all of that mishegas, I have mixed feelings. As much as I want the Wizarding World to be the Wizarding World, and not just the UK and Europe, so much of the inspiration for the originals comes from British folklore and the Western canon of literature. Surely anything with origins in other places would feel very different, and that’s never been the focus of the series. It’s not even the focus of the Fantastic Beasts, films, which appear to be fantasy adventures about a Brit in 1920s New York. I’d rather keep non-Western magic with non-Western writers, methinks.

I actually went into Cursed Child with a bit of optimism. Harry’s life, after all, is safe territory, isn’t it? I certainly adored the original novels. Reactions from fans have been mixed, at best. After writing my review, I think I’ve found the equilibrium of accepting that the plot is full of holes but the Potter themes—finding light in the darkness by working together, and choosing the right path over the easy path—still rang true. I’d like to think that was Rowling’s contribution to the play that was largely penned by Jack Thorne. Definitely had a bit of a different feel, and not just because it was stage directions rather than vivid description. My favorite reviews of Cursed Child are actually discussions; check out the BookRiot Podcast and the Slate Audio Book Club.

I don’t know if I should go any further without acknowledging that Potter fans have also generated a lot of content about their beloved series—from fanfiction to fan films; international Quidditch teams to Wizard Rock bands. Then, making the biggest impact on the real world, we have the HP Alliance. Any huge fandom has a little bit of a natural aversion to franchise, methinks, because once a story expands, it inevitably becomes less of the thing that enticed the first fans in the first place. And yes, new installments could be of subpar quality. 😛

Harry Potter is here to stay. I believe that it will be a touchstone for children’s-to-YA fantasy to last the ages (it certainly reinvigorated the genre in publishing) the way that Star Trek and Star Wars are for adult science fiction and fantasy. For my part, I think I’m done with the story of the Boy Who Lived. Sorry, Harry, but nothing can top your prophetic hero’s journey that defined the original seven books. I am still interested in expanding the Wizarding World, Hogwarts lore in particular, though I’ll likely take anything that strays into other cultural territory with a grain of salt. I also want to check out more fan-produced material, because I know from convention panels and midnight release parties that there’s nothing quite so magical as Potterheads geeking out together. How far will canonized Potter material stretch into the future? I can’t say. But I’m on my broomstick and I’m ready for the ride.

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2 Comments »

  1. […] Following up from last month, Harry Potter brought in record sales, surprise surprise! GoodReads launched this quiz about Cursed Child. And there’s been other news coming out of the Wizarding World, which I covered on Chava’s Footsteps. […]

  2. […] shallow appropriation of some Native American mythology but because the writing was so bland. And, like I wrote in my Cursed Child post back in August, a lot of the magic of the Potter series for me centers around British folklore in […]


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