Thursday, August 18, 2016

Manufactured magic: What happened after "all was well"

When the last Harry Potter movie was released in 2011, a lot of people assumed the Harry Potter fandom would finally start to settle down. Of course, those of us who live and breathe the books knew better; no way was the lack of new material going to temper our passion.

And we were right. Potterheads are as dedicated as ever. We still go to conventions. We still read and discuss the books. And the original Harry Potter generation is already introducing this incredible story to their kids. (I'm resigning myself to the fact that my kids will probably hate Harry Potter just because I love it, because rotten kids tend to get their just reward when they pass on their genes. My only hope is that I came around to Lord of the Rings eventually, and Chris Pine managed what my parents earnestly tried but could not do—get me to enjoy a Star Trek movie.)

In fact, it turns out that we weren't done getting new Harry Potter material. In just five years, we got Pottermore, tons of information on the Harry Potter world and even some on the North American wizarding school, a promise for at least three movies about New Scamander of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them fame, and a play. JKR invited us further into the world she created (although Potterheads prefer to say "discovered") with her sorting and wand selection quizzes, and even gave us "live" updates on the Quidditch Final in 2014 (spoiler: Krum won). And that's not even getting into theme parks, merchandise, and endless amounts of fan-created content. It doesn't take a business genius to see the money-making opportunities in Harry Potter, so of course people with marketing teams got involved to "give the people what they want."

We drank it all up, and kept demanding more. I'm as guilty of this as anyone.

But after reading Cursed Child (stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers) and getting a sense for how my fellow Potterheads feel about this new branch of "canon," I finally started to see what's happening to the franchise. It's just what the Harry Potter grinches have been predicting for years—continuing a story that has a solid conclusion would only dilute it until it is no longer recognizable. It took Voldemort and Bellatrix having a daughter and Harry being afraid of pigeons for me to see it. JKR's voice, which is what made Harry Potter most special, is slowly being phased out.

The amount of pressure JKR has experienced because of Harry Potter has got to be tremendous. Someone without her talent and sense of humor would probably have had a mental breakdown by now. Passionate fans aren't a whole lot different from gluttonous beasts, and no matter how much information she feeds us, we're never going to be completely satisfied. And those trying to capitalize on Harry Potter's guaranteed money-making powers are even more persistent than fans who just want to know what Moaning Myrtle's middle name is. Warner Brothers and other corporations are going to take the Harry Potter cash cow and keep running with it, whether JKR is on board or not. So she got involved with the Fantastic Beasts trilogy, and signed off on the play. Because she loves Harry Potter too and wants to do right by her fans. And no artist wants to see her creation tarnished by someone else.

But it's clear that her heart isn't into it. Not like it was 10 years ago.

We have no one but ourselves to blame. We wanted more, and we kept getting it—now we're to the point where a writer who is not JKR thought he could get away with having the "canon" Harry Potter say something like, "You don't understand, because you don't have kids" to Professor McGonagall (in an alternative universe, sure, but alternate universes don't belong in Harry Potter anyway).

As I've talked about on this blog many times, I love getting anything Harry Potter related, and I'm not ready to telegraph a "cease and desist" order to JKR. And while the charm, wonder, and—gosh, I'll just say it—magic of the original seven books will always be there, the franchise as it currently stands feels manufactured. Like Squibs trying to imitate the world they can't truly be a part of. Perhaps it's time to start tapping on the brakes. Or—imagine this—let JKR take back her control, even if it means we never get another word on Harry Potter.

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