J JK ROWLING JUST CAN’T LET HARRY POTTER GO
W H a T ’ S a n a u T H O r T O d O W H e n T H e W O r L d K e e P S d e m a n d I n g m O r e f r O m b O O K S T H a T H a v e e n d e d b u T C O n T I n u e T O T H r I v e a S C u LT u r a L P H e n O m e n a ?
19 YEARS ON: Cast photos of a grown- up Harry ( from the upcoming Harry Potter and the K Rowling always said that the seventh Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ( 2007), would be the last in the series, and so far she has kept to her word. But t hough she’s written many new things in the intervening nine years, including four adult novels, she’s never been able to put Harry to rest, or to leave him alone. What’s an author to do when she once seemed to be done? Taking an approach that some fans love and others do not, Rowling has never made a secret of her continued immersion in Potter- world. Over the years, she has regularly interjected new elements into the old stories, sometimes through sudden Twitter pronouncements, sometimes by other means.
She also regularly produces fresh ancillary material — new stories, new elaborations — on her Pottermore website, most recently a series of fictional essays about the history of magic in North America. And now comes Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a play in two full- length parts that opens July 30 and is being advertised as the official “eighth story in the Harry Potter canon”. Set 19 years after the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the play imagines Harry as an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic and focuses on his middle child, Albus Severus, and his struggle to come to terms with his family’s legacy.
No one who remembers the frenzy surrounding the publication of each of the Potter books would be surprised to learn there is now a frenzy surrounding this play and all the details around it, like the disclosure that a black actress, Noma Dumezweni, is portraying Hermione.
The news has been released slowly — Rowling is a master of controlled publicity — and cast photos of a grown- up Harry ( Jamie Parker) and Ginny Potter ( Poppy Miller), along with Albus ( Sam Clemmett), have been unveiled on the Pottermore website.
Performances, at least for the first of the two parts, are sold out through May 2017. Secondary- market tickets to the first preview are selling for nearly $ 5,800. And the play’s script — by Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, who is also the director — is No. 1 on the Amazon best- seller list, despite the fact that it won’t be published until July 31, Harry Potter’s birthday.
If that wasn’t enough, this fall will come Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a movie that is both a spinoff and a kind of prequel. Written by Rowling ( who did not write the screenplays for the eight Potter movies), it is very loosely based on her book of the same name. That volume was a fictional wizarding- school textbook. The film takes its supposed author, Newt Scamander, sends him back many years to when he was a young man and transports him to America. Starring Eddie Redmayne, the movie is expected to be the first of a trilogy.
Clearly, Rowling has not wanted to put Harry Potter behind her. It’s an interesting dilemma for an author, particularly one who creates an elaborate world over many volumes: How do you stop? ( Do you want to stop?)
Both Philip Pullman, author of the Dark Materials series, and Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, have spoken about further books to come, years after those stories were apparently put to rest. On the other extreme, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle grew so weary of Sherlock Holmes that he killed him off, only to resurrect him years later in response to widespread public unhappiness. In an interview, Maggie Stiefvater, author of the wildly popular young- adult Shiver and Raven series, spoke of the temptation to revisit characters she thought she had finished with. The Shiver books were meant to be a trilogy, she explained, and she even put a note into the third one promising never to come back to the story. But then, while writing the Raven books, she changed her mind and published a fourth Shiver book. “I had thought, ‘ No outs whatsoever’, and then I looked like a total idiot,” she said. Stephen King, who has written many series as well as stand- alone novels, said that the same thing tends to happen to him. In 2012, for instance, eight years after completing his sevenvolume Dark Tower series, he produced an eighth book, The Wind Through the Keyhole, whose action takes place between Books Four and Five. Characters with unfinished business inveigle themselves into his head, he said in a telephone interview. He’s currently toying with going back into his Bill Hodges trilogy, though End of Watch, coming out next month, is meant to be the final instalment. “There’s a character named Holly I keep thinking about,” he said. Rowling gives interviews very rarely and declined to comment for this article. But King said he sympathised with her relationship to her material. “There are two things,” he said. “I think she likes the Harry Potter people, and it’s a little bit hard for her to let go. And she’s aware that there are millions and millions of people who l oved t hose books. Writers feel a responsibility to their readers, and some of that is a way of saying to the fans, ‘ If you want a little more, I’ll give you a little more.’” Indeed, all this new material is proving exciting to many Potter fans. They can’t get enough. Now, even the smallest snippet of information about the play — the introduction of handcarved sconces for each of the Hogwarts houses and of new wand designs, for instance — sends the Internet into ecstasy. On May 2, Rowling issued a Tweet apologising for killing off Remus Lupin, the reluctant werewolf, in
mutable. Hearing new details about things they hadn’t realised were open to interpretation feels like cognitive dissonance, as if someone were tampering with the wording of the Constitution. “It’s dispiriting to be faced with daily reminders that one of your former heroes is still tinkering with a world they thought you left behind perfectly preserved in childhood,” Heather Schwedel wrote recently in Slate.
For her part, Stiefvater said that she never acquiesces to fans’ requests for extra information. “Some people come up to me and ask me to give them material outside the books — for instance, what is Gansey’s favourite icecream flavour?” she said, referring to one of her teenage protagonists. “I never respond to them. Personally, I think it’s unfair — it rewards only some readers and not those who don’t dig through all the archives to find the new little factoids.”
She counts herself a Rowling fan and considers Harry Potter’s world to have closed after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
“I have such respect for what JK Rowling has done,” she said. “I know I engaged with her series at a moment in time, like a lot of people did. And if you return to it, it feels like it’s stretching on — people aren’t remembering the series as much as the cultural phenomenon.” Of the new details that have emerged over the years, she said, “They ripple throughout fandom and, for fandom, it’s highly rewarding but, as a reader, it’s not how I engage with books.”
With a new set of movies on the horizon, some fans worry that Rowling will make the same mistake that George Lucas did after the three original Star Wars films, producing inferior work that detracts from the brilliance of the original.
They mention, too, how Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman dismayed readers who loved To Kill a Mockingbird and wanted its world to remain intact. ( An article in The Atlantic last September about Rowling’s post- Potter, Potter- rich work was titled “Harry Potter and the Never- Ending Story.”)
But to Anelli, who was a teenager when the books were published and is now 36, there can’t be enough new material. “She’s creating it, and whatever she creates becomes part of the story. As long as she wants to make it, as long there’s more story coming from her, I’m super- happy,” she said.
— New York Times Syndicate