In Cool Takes, S. D. Kelly offers a fresh reflection on hot topics by exploring the intersection of faith with high and low culture.
Not too long ago, I asked a local author to read from one of his books at an event in the small town where I live. The book was on the topic of a local historic building. With such niche subject matter written for an even smaller audience, it never occurred to me that he would turn down the chance. Much to my surprise, the author declined. “Once I launch a book, I give it a few months.” he told me. “At this point, I have no interest in talking about that book.”
I think about what he said every time I read another one of J.K. Rowling’s revelations about the world of Harry Potter. It’s been nearly ten years since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published, yet she just can’t stop talking about that book. In the last several years, Rowling has written an 800-word prequel, a Hogwarts textbook, a book on Quidditch, a book of fairy tales (proceeds from the sales of these works have all gone to charitable causes), and launched a website where information on the Potter universe is ladled out of a leaky cauldron–a website with the typically unsubtle name of Pottermore.J.K. Rowling can tamper with the characters to her heart’s content, but I can no longer, in good faith, be part of this creator-consumer bargain.
On the other hand, it makes sense that Rowling is something of a monomaniac. As a writer, she emerged whole from the general muddle, a talent that rose of its own volition without the assistance of writing instructors and an advanced creative writing degree. Not to diminish the labor involved, but the entire Harry Potter series seemed to spring out of nowhere, fully-conceived (early career interviews have Rowling projecting the seven books and having a fairly clear sense of the story’s arc and resolution). So perhaps Rowling’s is the sort of creativity that feeds from a single source. When her well runs dry, so will the revelatory speeches giving extra-Potter bits about Dumbledore’s sexual orientation and tweets offering shout-outs to Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. Someday, the work of J.K. Rowling will finally, fitfully be complete.
This day can’t come soon enough. Recently, pieces appeared in The New Yorker and Slate bemoaning Rowling’s meddling and ubiquitous presence on Twitter, raising questions about the role of creator in continuing to create (as well as curiosity about how much time Rowling must have on her hands).
But more is Pottermore, and now we have the London debut of a play that gives us a Harry Potter sequel: a glimpse into the doings of Harry and his family 19 years after Hogwarts. It’s called Harry Potter and the Curse of Middle Age, and the plot involves a very modern dilemma: Should Harry get LASIK surgery like a common Muggle, or resort to magic to finally take care of the astigmatism that has plagued him ever since his days in the cupboard under the stairs? Does Harry struggle with hemorrhoid flare-ups, and are his in-laws, the Weasleys, as annoying as Lucius Malfoy always claimed?
No, the play is not really about that. It is about this, as stated in the official synopsis:
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.
The actual plot of the play sounds only marginally better than one about male pattern baldness. The only part that doesn’t sound boring is the part we’ve read before in the previous seven books: the stuff about darkness coming from unexpected places.
When the Harry Potter series was published, I was already well beyond the target demographic. All the same, I was an avid reader who placed my pre-order for The Deathly Hallows in an atmosphere of hushed humiliation, painfully aware of the fact that I was way too old to be so wound up about this phenomenon. When the great day of its release finally came, I walked home from the bookstore with my copy in an unmarked paper bag, like a book wino. I realize that, as a reader, old or not, it is a waste of time to protest the fact that Rowling trolls through the Potterverse like a deity, squeezing and reshaping what she has molded, refashioning reality according to her will. Rowling behaves like a deity because, when it comes to Harry Potter, she is one. But as creator she has violated the basic rule of creation (not to mention publishing): free will. We readers have claimed Harry Potter out of our own free will, and out of our own free will we can give him back. At this point, I am giving Harry Potter, at least in all his post-2007 iterations, back. J.K. Rowling can tamper with the characters to her heart’s content, but I can no longer, in good faith, be part of this creator-consumer bargain.
On a recent visit to that amazon of American retail stores, Walmart, I had the opportunity to follow through on my end of the deal. I saw a stack of books displaying Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. My reaction to the sight of a new entry into the Harry PotterEverMore universe was markedly different than that of my reaction to the release of The Deathly Hallows, if just as furtive. What did I do when I saw the book? Reader, I flipped it off. I did. I extended the middle finger, discreetly, to the pile of books with the accompanying silent vow that I will never read a word of it. It was not the most mature reaction, but it was certainly the most fitting. The future of the world of Harry Potter may be in the hands of its creator, but its past is within my own control, and even J.K. Rowling can’t take away the Harry Potter I once knew. The loop is closed, the universe is no longer expanding, and time has stopped for Harry Potter. Avada kevadra.