Harry Potter must not go the way of Star Wars

·6 min read
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II - Warner Bros
Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II - Warner Bros

Is there a fan out there who can think of Harry Potter as anyone other than the young Daniel Radcliffe, with his achingly earnest, eager little face? Or Ron Weasley as anyone except the delightfully goofy Rupert Grint? Or hoity toity Hermione as someone other than the young Emma Watson, with her nose in the air just so? Perhaps the better question is: who would even want to? Plenty, it seems.

Harry Potter is about to turn 25 years old. The first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published on June 26 1997. The final film, The Deathly Hallows Part II, came out in 2011. Yet Pottermania, sustained to an almost bewildering degree by the cult-like fan-fiction communities in America in particular, remains as feverish as ever. In a world where stories are seen by both creators and consumers as limitlessly extendable commodities, the demand for another celluloid Potter instalment, naturally with a fresh new cast, is growing as powerful as Voldemort himself.

And people are listening. Rumours have long been circulating that HBO Max, Warner’s fledgling streaming service, are developing a Harry Potter TV spin-off, although details are thin on the ground. Certainly, it was reported last month that the new Warner CEO, David Zaslav, almost certainly with an eye on the growing clout of the streaming giants over traditional studios, is planning to meet with JK Rowling in the coming weeks to discuss ways of creating new Potter content. The eight original films grossed $7 billion worldwide. The question of how to find new ways to shake the Potter money tree must keep him awake all night.

Yet the sticking point, of course, is Rowling herself, who has repeatedly made it clear she will not write another Potter novel. Her own attempts to reboot the franchise with the Fantastic Beasts prequels, which she has adapted herself from her Wizarding World spin-off books, and which take viewers back in time to the British wizardry community in the 1920s, have offered diminishing box office returns: the most recent, The Secrets of Dumbledore, released in April, has taken only about $400 million worldwide.

Whatever the definite charms of Eddie Redmayne as Magizoologist Newt Scamander, each iteration has felt like exactly what it is: an enterprise driven more by the demands of a commercial franchise than by narrative imperative. Meanwhile the mooted film adaptation of the West End and Broadway hit Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the Jack Thorne play penned with Rowling’s blessing that takes the Potter story a generation into the future, with the offspring of Harry and Ron and Hermione forced into a reckoning with their respective family legacies at Hogwarts, has also hit the rocks, with Radcliffe the latest to declare his lack of interest in any film adaptation.

A scene from the West End production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Manuel Harlan
A scene from the West End production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Manuel Harlan

More significantly, plenty of fans, many of them the sort who tend to be pretty vocal on Twitter, don’t want Rowling to produce another Potter story in the first place. Her perceived transphobic stance on transgender issues has alienated huge swathes of the Potter fandom, with even Warner increasingly keen to distance their most profitable brand from its creator – Rowling was conspicuously absent from the 20th anniversary reunion Return to Hogwarts, featuring the original cast, and released in December.

Twitter abounds with righteous Tweets from fans torn between their love for Potter and their fervent desire not to be seen to be adding to Rowling’s bank balance. “Because of Rowling, I would love stories in this universe from other people that aren’t her,” recently said Kat Miller, director of the oldest and largest Harry Potter fan site Mugglenet. “I just want thoughtful stories made within the universe that I love.”

Yet herein lies the nub. For this sort of hunger for new Harry Potter content, in which the world the characters inhabit is considered more significant than the original source material, invariably signals the death knell for the stories themselves. Arthur Conan Doyle became so exhausted by the demand for new Sherlock Holmes stories he eventually killed Sherlock off, although he resurrected him some years later at the demand of a mutinous public. The Star Wars saga, in which George Lucas returned to his original trilogy with a prequel trilogy in the early Noughties, before in 2012 selling the franchise onto Disney to turn into a hydra headed multi media franchise spawning seemingly endless spin-offs, some of which roved far beyond the reach of quality control, is a warning against the dangers of milking a beloved story sequence until it runs dry.

JK Rowling at the world premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them - AP
JK Rowling at the world premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them - AP

Moreover Rowling herself is wholly culpable in clogging up the Potter machine with needless Potter trivia – she would regularly, at least before the Twittersphere turned against her, drop tidbits that offered new character perspectives and Potter world spin offs via her Pottermore (now Wizardingworld) website and on Twitter. So frequent and jarring have her interjections been that the New York Post ran an opinion piece in 2016 headed Stop Ruining Harry Potter.

They were right. It’s time to call time on Harry Potter. Whatever the flaws in the original writing, the seven books and eight films combine to create a perfect arc of storytelling that retains its own discrete mythic power. As conceived by Rowling, the sequence as it stands provides the readers and viewers who first encounter it when young with a formative part of their childhood, inextricably linked in their imagination to their memories of growing up.

What’s more, the books mean something very particular to a generation who came of age in tandem with Harry, Ron and Hermione, and who would queue up outside bookshops at midnight every year or so for the next instalment. Stories, in films or in books, don't only belong to their original audiences, of course, but today's blind demand for Potter content suggests a far greater attachment to the Potter phenomena than to the stories themselves.

Some might say this doesn’t matter. After all the Marvel universe has provided a paradigm in how to sustain a narrative world potentially forever, with the success of recent spin off Wanda Vision proof that feeding the franchise need not lead to a creative quagmire. Yet Marvel takes its narrative model from Greek mythology rather than from a single artist’s imaginative vision.

Meanwhile, one dreads to think what will happen to the stories of Roald Dahl after Netflix announced the creation “of a unique universe” inspired by the original characters. In today’s age of binge culture, where it seems stories are increasingly considered disposable exercises in brand extension, it’s time we valued the integrity of the original, and leave Potter well alone.

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