Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Thoughts on Harry Potter

     If, as I’ve written here before, you can only fully understand events after they have past, then now is the proper time to understand the Harry Potter phenomenon. The last book came out several years ago, and the last film opened two weeks ago. They will endure, perhaps, much like classics such as “The Wizard of Oz” and “Peter Pan,” with new generations discovering them anew.
     I’ve read and enjoyed, for the most part, all of the books, but I’m still not sure what set them apart from all the series that came before it and after it. C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” are also perennial favorites in print, though the films have been not nearly as successful as Harry Potter. Tolkien’s ”The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is also incredibly popular, but despite being filled with elves, orcs, hobbits and other fantasy creatures, it has always been more for adults than children (although “The Hobbit,” a sort of prequel, is a children’s book).
     I think part of the reason for the success has been that Rowling clearly had a plan for the series before she started writing: seven books, each mostly correlating to one year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And as the cast grows older, they actually mature. They even turn into surly teens. They face real-world problems, such as grades and bureaucracy. The grownups are sometimes wise and caring, sometimes mean and dictatorial, sometimes incompetent and clueless. And the good can die as easily (more easily, actually) than the evil. Even evil is shown not to be absolute; there are gradations. And sometimes who your parents are or were partly or largely determines how you turn out.
     I do have a few problems with the series. Keeping in mind that it is a series intended for children, occasionally the names of the characters give too much away. Especially galling to me is the name of Remus Lupin, as it reveals a key plot point to anyone who knows the legend of Romulus and Remus and/or the meaning of the adjective “lupine.”(If you don’t know them, look them up.) Since the key plot point wasn’t known to his parents, presumably, it seems quite a coincidence.
     The first half of the book version of “The Deathly Hallows” also mostly bored me to death, in which Harry, Hermione and, sometimes, Ron are essentially on an extended camping trip. Oddly enough, I liked the film version better.
     And while it’s not J.K. Rowling’s fault, I was also irritated that the first book’s title, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was changed to “… Sorcerer’s Stone” in the U.S. (presumably in case the word philosopher might scare some readers away), because the Philosopher’s stone is a term from alchemy with a rich history and a specific meaning behind it; a sorcerer’s stone could mean anything.
     I’m sure Rowling could name her own price for an eighth Harry Potter book, and Scholastic or any other publisher would gladly pay it. But I don’t think she will. Rowling respects her fans, and to do that would be a betrayal of sorts.
     Any non-Harry Potter book that she does write will have to face unrealistic expectations however, and that money and acclaim will be tempting. Anne Rice wrote one vampire book, “Interview with the Vampire,” and then wrote other, less successful types of novels, with no vampires or other supernatural entities, before writing “The Vampire Lestat.” More vampire novels followed, plus some witches, a mummy and other miscellaneous creatures.
     But Harry Potter has ensured that Rowling need never write for money again, so I doubt she’ll go that route. She may put out her Harry Potter Encyclopedia, may release deleted scenes or her original outlines or notes, may allow graphic novel adaptations, stage plays or musicals or do more, ancillary books such as "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," "Quidditch Through the Ages" and "The Tales of Beedle the Bard." She might even retell some of the stories from another character’s point of view.  But the saga of Harry Potter has probably ended, on J.K. Rowling’s terms and as she intended. And that’s an accomplishment.


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