The Harry Potter universe lives on. While the last book was published nine years ago, and the last movie released five years ago, the Wizarding World is back in a big way in 2016. Here in LA the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Studios. This weekend the script for the new stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child comes out. In a few months the spin-off movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hits theaters. It's a new golden age for the Wizarding World, and you'd think fans would be happy. But not everybody is.
This week the Boston Globe ran an op-ed titled "An open letter to JK Rowling: Please, just stop." It includes these sentiments:
Like so many millennials, I grew up enchanted by the books, much preferring the wizarding world to this decidedly lesser Muggle-populated one, where even the best of days pales in comparison to one that could involve, say, a trip to Hogsmeade or a ride on a hippogriff.
Manifestations of this enthrallment were plentiful: In my bleary-eyed stupor the day after “Deathly Hallows” (2007) came out, the result of staying up all night as a 15-year-0ld — after receiving my preordered copy at a midnight-release party at Borders, of course — to finish the 759-page novel in one sitting. In the dog-eared, water-damaged pages of my paperback “Chamber of Secrets” (1999), a testament to the countless times I returned to that and the other books, sometimes to just devour a single chapter or passage during a free moment. And in my custom-made quidditch cape, a seventh-grade birthday gift that joined a hodgepodge of items — a Hogwarts Lego set (which, Gulping Gargoyles, goes for a lot on eBay these days), a never-eaten bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans — that still inhabit my childhood bedroom.
So why am I not excited about the publication of “Cursed Child”? Well, for starters, it’s not a novel, and it’s not even by you; it’s the script of a play written by Jack Thorne, based on a story conceived of by the two of you and director John Tiffany. Handing off the characters that you so meticulously crafted over the course of 15-plus years — tying the velvet bows atop Dolores Umbridge’s head and digging the grave of the loyal Dobby (“Here Lies Dobby, a Free Elf”) — feels almost like a betrayal. Getting an “official” Harry Potter story written by someone other than you seems cheap, second-rate, even a bit wrong — not unlike when Harry watched Snape’s memories through the Pensieve.
“Cursed Child” picks up where “Deathly Hallows” left off, 19 years into the future; the synopsis of the two-part play, which premieres Saturday, reads, “Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs.’’ I, like Harry, am grappling with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs — his, and my own. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful here, Jo, but you’re messing with my childhood.
Uh oh, the old 'ruining my childhood' complaint.
First of all, I have bad news for the millennial editorialist: as the biggest generational cohort since the Boomers, be prepared for your childhood to be strip mined for the rest of your life. Expect every TV show, movie, book and video game you liked as a kid to get rebooted, remade, resurrected and retread.
But more than that, this writer - and anyone unhappy with the continued expansion of the Wizarding World - is missing the point here. JK Rowling has created the greatest fictional universe since George Lucas put "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" in front of his space movie. The world of Harry Potter began in those seven books, but it lives far beyond them. Rowling is adding to her universe in a way that reminds me of how JRR Tolkein added to Middle Earth; she's interested in the history and the culture of her world, and it's telling that she didn't write Cursed Child, the sequel to her series, but rather the tangential Fantastic Beasts. You can see where her fascination lies - she wants to explore more nooks and crannies of this world that started in her head and has been so generously shared with us all.
I did not grow up with the Harry Potter books - I'm an old fucker. I started reading the books when Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban came out; I read it for the one good reason to do anything in this life - for a woman - but what I had assumed would be a goofy kiddie story ended up being a fictional world so rich, filled with characters so deep and beautiful, that I found myself a lifelong Potter fan. As in Star Wars or Middle Earth, a big piece of the appeal for me is not just Harry and friends, but rather the expanse of the world. The editorialist chafes at Rowling's additions to her universe:
And yet, the magical world of Harry Potter shows evidence of something akin to urban sprawl, awash with continuations, spinoffs, and editorializing from you as you continue — through tweets and other means — to add annotations that are too often immaterial (e.g., Dumbledore was gay) and at worst upsetting or even infuriating (knowing that Americans use the term “no-maj,” as in “no magic,” instead of “Muggle” irritates me immensely).
But that stuff brings me so much joy. I love reading the notes and the marginalia of a universe as well-crafted as this one. When Rowling brings out a new item - whether it be a quick tweet or a phony newspaper story on Pottermore - I find my enjoyment of her world enriched and deepened.
I'm glad that Rowling maintains control of the Harry Potter universe. She may not have more money than God, but she has more money than the Queen, which means she's not doing any of this stuff for the payday. She's doing it because this world scratches and squirms inside her brain, and she's always thinking about it and adding to it and having more of it revealed to her. And she wants to share it with us. Will all the new stuff be good? I'm terrified of The Cursed Child because the spoilers I have read come across like fan fiction, and Fantastic Beasts, gorgeous as it looks, hasn't quite hooked me yet - but I'm still hopeful and I'll still be rooting for the Wizarding World.
One last thought - the editorialist feels that the Harry Potter books were a vital part of her childhood, and that they should stay that way:
I grew up with Harry and distinctly remember feeling, as I walked home from seeing the final movie in my sophomore year of college, that the end of the series coincided with the end of my youth. It was a depressing thought, but I was comforted knowing that I could still return to your fantastical world, which would remain the same, unchanged, even if I would not.
Here's the big reality check: your childhood is over, but millions and millions more are underway right now, or just getting started. Why can't these kids have a new series of films to anticipate and get excited about? In the event Rowling (or an author of whom she approves) create more young readers books in this universe shouldn't these kids have a chance to experience that same midnight line excitement that was such a core part of your growing up? Childhoods don't end when yours does, a lesson that we have been trying to teach the Ghostbros for the last year.
At any rate, your childhood is secure. As a Gen Xer who has seen many beloved elements of my childhood rehashed and occasionally ruined, I understand that the events of my childhood, barring the invention of a time machine, remain untouched. And even if the stuff I loved as a kid gets tainted by modern hands... who cares? I'm not a kid. That stuff got me through the tough years to be who I am today. I would rather live in the moment - and have hope and excitement for new versions of stuff from my childhood like Star Trek or Planet of the Apes or stuff from my early adulthood like Harry Potter - than be trapped in some idealized version of the past. When you realize that is when you actually, truly grow up.