I pledged my allegiance to J.K. Rowling at a young age, just as millions of other kids did. Harry, Ron and Hermione were the best friends that a lonely, nerdy kid like me could ask for. I was eight-years-old when I first read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and, to this day, nothing feels quite as much like home as Hogwarts and the “Harry Potter” series.
One of my favorite memories is attending the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2” midnight premiere. I filed into the theater amidst a sea of sorting hats and lightning bolt scars. We played trivia before the movie, and a Bellatrix Lestrange cosplayer bellowed out a high-pitched “I killed Sirius Black,” before chasing a Harry Potter cosplayer around the room and out the door. I cried before the movie had even started because I thought, “I’ve found my people.”
After I left the theater, a piece of my heart stayed in my seat because I knew that was the end of the story. Selfishly, I hoped Rowling would write more books, so I could continue to live in this fantasy world that had kept me safe as a child. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that anything further would just be tempting fate. All was well, and I knew that if she took one more step past that point, nothing would be well again.
Fast forward to present day. After filling Pottermore to the brim with new content, opening multiple theme parks, releasing “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” on London’s West End and announcing not one, not two, but a whopping five “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” movies, I’m really starting to worry that I was right.
The “Harry Potter” franchise seems to be evolving into just another cash grab. Has J.K. Rowling, the prophet of our childhoods, finally sold out? Or is she just another victim of the unstoppable force that is Consumerism?
Since the original series was published, Rowling has released seven books that connect in some way to the Harry Potter Universe.
In 2001, Rowling put out a collection of two Hogwarts Textbooks: “Quidditch Through the Ages” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The proceeds from the sales of this box set went to the charity Comic Relief. Similarly, in 2007, Rowling released “Tales of Beedle the Bard,” a collection of fairytales that was integral to the plot of the last book. The proceeds from these sales also went toward a charity, Children’s High Level Group.
No one could argue, at this point, that any of these additions to the universe were unwelcomed. Both the textbooks and “Tales of Beedle the Bard” sit on my bookshelf today, completing my collection. They were a nice touch to the magical universe and were created for a worthy cause.
The trouble started this year. I began to have that uneasy feeling, like someone had entered my home without my permission.
In 2016, Rowling released three e-books which were compilations of all the short stories that she previously released on Pottermore, as well as some new content. With these stories, Rowling revealed much more about the Wizarding World than we got from the series, including the interesting backstory of Umbridge and McGonagall. On top of that, we got the Wattpad Fanfic of rehashed time-travel clichés that was “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” Though, to be fair, Scorpius was a bright light in that plot-hole-filled mess of a script, and I’ve also never seen it live, which I’m sure would increase my enjoyment tenfold.
But the fun didn’t stop there, no. The movie adaptation of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (a textbook with no actual plotlines, I might add) just came to theaters on Friday. While I’ve been hearing great things about the movie, and I will no doubt be seeing it soon (my Potter-loving heart just won’t let me resist), five movies feels like an over-saturation of the market. “Harry Potter” is a lasting force, and it didn’t need five more movies to milk the storyline dry.
The Real Issue
J.K. Rowling has made billions of dollars, but she has donated a significant amount to charity. So much so that she was dropped from the Forbe’s Billionaires List after donating $160 million.
I don’t think the issue is in fans thinking that she’s only in this for the money, or whether she has “sold out.” I think the real issue is protecting the sanctity of the books so many of us have grown up with.
The wonderful thing about “Harry Potter,” and literature in general, is that we can use our imaginations to be transported to a fantasy place. Writers don’t provide us with every single detail; instead, they put a few descriptions and allow the reader to fill in all the blanks. This was the basis of the debate when a black actress was cast as Hermione in the “Cursed Child” play. But, as Rowling responded, “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified.” Readers filled in all those blanks themselves.
These characters and this world are able to mean so much to so many people because they are personal. Every Hermione, every Burrow, every Diagon Alley are different to the individual reader. That’s the (pardon my pun) magic of reading.
But now Rowling is trying to fill in those blanks for us.
With backstory and answers to every question, our own personal Hogwarts is being bombarded with conflicting information. The more she reveals about the story, the less it feels like my story, the story I grew up knowing, or at least the version that I made in my head. I’m afraid that, if she keeps pushing, it won’t feel like the same story at all, and the connection that fans felt will be lost.
I promised Rowling “always,” and I can’t break that promise. I’m a proud Ravenclaw with an aardvark for a Patronus. Much of my identity is tied to this series, and that won’t change. I will continue to eat up every new story she releases and every “Fantastic Beasts” movie for the next decade, but I will do so while holding my breath and hoping that this story won’t be the final tipping point.