COLUMN: Too Soon For Rowling To Take Another Ride On The Hogwarts Express?
Published: Sunday, September 22, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 22, 2013 21:09
Last week, J.K. Rowling revealed she would be penning a script for a Harry Potter spin-off series. The free world rejoiced. Ben Affleck (Batman) was forgiven. In Rowling’s own words, “all was well.”
In a statement, she said of the project, “Although it will be set in the worldwide community of witches and wizards where I was so happy for 17 years, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world.”
Harry Potter returns. Well, the wizarding world of Harry Potter returns. Okay, so not exactly the world we know, but an older one I guess. That’s still exciting right? Well, here’s the story in all its starkness. Rowling is writing a script (not a book) expanding upon the wizarding world. The movie will feature characters we have never seen before and will take place in New York City, not Hogwarts. This story is not about Harry Potter. This will not be a Harry Potter movie.
At this point I’d like to preface that I do in fact love Harry Potter. I know, real original. I own my own wand, robes, and cheer for the Falmouth Falcons. I don’t love Harry Potter because I find the wizarding world so mind-blowingly immersive. Sure, it’s important to the story, but it’s not the story. The story is Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I’ve read countless children, young adult, and regular old adult books with compelling setups and immersive worlds.
City of Bones (which was just released as a movie a month ago to disastrous critical results) is a great example. Cassandra Clare’s Bones is a fine young adult novel, with a quick pace and intriguing world of angels and demons. I’ve actually read the entire series and remember enjoying it. Don’t judge me. I was young. And while I’ve read the entire series, I’d have a hard time remembering the names of most characters and even what happens plot wise. Cassandra Clare actually got her start writing Harry Potter fan fiction. But turn to Harry Potter, and I (and I’m sure many others) could name nearly every character along with their arc in the overall story plus who and where they’ve snogged. Where Harry Potter bests other series in is not world richness but character richness.
So if you’re hailing the decision by Warner Bros. and Rowling to make a whole new series in the wizarding world, you’re banking on the fact that Rowling can once again create the sort of characters we all fell in love with. I don’t think someone as intuitive as Rowling has necessarily lost that ability, but talented artists fall short of the mark for any number of reasons. There’s simply no given that this new host of wizards will hold a candle to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and all the others.
This is also an odd time for Rowling to come running back to Harry Potter. If she had been suffering from four year’s worth of writer’s block, I could buy this somewhat abrupt retreat. If her more “serious” books had bombed, I could see why she’d want to return to the wizarding world. But that has not been the case. While her first non-wizarding foray, The Casual Vacancy (2012), did not exactly set the world on fire, The Cuckoo’s Calling, released this summer under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, was universally praised. Rowling is perhaps the richest, most famous writer in the history of civilization. Why go back?
I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe in an interview five or 10 years from now we will. I can, however, explain why I think it’s a step back—why it’s too soon. I remember going to the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 in July of 2011. It was the summer before my senior year. I went with a bunch of friends, saw a lot of people I knew, and generally had a great time. Hallows truly felt like the end, even more so than the final book. When I read the final book, I knew Harry’s story wasn’t really over. I still had the remaining movies. But driving home after that final midnight screening, I felt like the Harry Potter chapter of my life had finally closed. It was sad, yes, but also exciting. I didn’t all of a sudden become a man that night, but I did grow up just a little bit. I was going forward. Now it feels like I’m being pulled back.
Nevertheless, this is Harry Potter. I’ll be at the premiere. I’ll probably be carrying my wand, but right now, I’m all about guarded optimism.