What a Time to be a Potter Fan
Includes Review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Like a lot of kids in the late nineties, my parents got me the Harry Potter books to encourage me to read. Mission successful I say; I love reading now, and J.k Rowling has been a big influence on my writing. Of course this wasn’t the only series I was reading at the time, nor the only series that shaped my reading tastes (thanks Animorphs), but it has been one of the biggest influences in my life. And I’m not the only one that has been inspired by the world of Harry Potter. Let’s look at some stats shall we?
It took Rowling six years to write Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The manuscript was turned down by twelve different publishers, and when Bloomsbury did publish the book, the initial run was only 500 books. It’s amazing to think that there was a time when Harry Potter was such a small brand. I mean, obviously it had to have been, but with hindsight the lack of interest is hard to fathom. It is hard for me to imagine Harry Potter as just being another somewhat popular children’s book, rather than the juggernaut it has become.
And a juggernaut it is. The franchise has sold over 450 million books, making it the best-selling book series of all time. The entire Potter franchise is worth an estimated 15 billion dollars, and has been translated into 73 different languages. There is even a tribute at King’s Cross Station.
Whilst the books are intended for children, myself and a lot of other adults also like them. Is this just because of nostalgia? Or do people want to read kids’ books and play Pokémon rather than grow up? I think it’s worth talking about that last assumption, because it assumes that there is a problem with adults and children sharing the same interests. Whilst there are certainly books and shows designed exclusively for either children or adults (such as Playschool and Pulp Fiction), in most things there is overlap. Besides, whilst the first two Potter books definitely felt like whimsical children stories, the series matures with its characters and there is a lot there for an adult to like.
Rant aside, I think the point is made very clear that Pottermania isn’t going anywhere. It’s also hard for me to say much about the series that you haven’t heard before, since nearly everyone has read the books or at least seen the movies. What more can be said about one of the greatest franchises of all time? Well, fortunately there is a lot of new Potter related material out now for us to discuss. Let’s start with Cursed Child.
Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
By Jack Thorne (script). J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany (story)
I’m not going to give this script a rating, because that would be unfair. A play after all is more than just its script, and having not seen the play I don’t think I’ve really got the proper Cursed Child experience, so I’ll refrain from making a decisive judgement.
I will say though that I liked the script. I’m not as crazy over it as I am about the novels, and there are flaws, but it’s okay. Cursed Child didn’t have the same vibe to it as the other books in the series. The magic and the world-building and even a lot of the themes from the main series are put aside for a character driven drama. It also doesn’t seem to have as much depth. Ron is almost a joke character, and a lot of parts in the plot are a bit simple. I can see why some people are disappointed in Cursed Child as a continuation of the Harry Potter story. Though, I should point out that this story isn’t focusing on the same things Harry had to go through. The main draw of the play is the strained relationship between Harry and his son Albus. Albus isn’t popular, isn’t anything like his father, and resents his father for being Harry Potter and the expectations that placed on Albus. Seems like a believable reason for a teenager to have a chip on their shoulder.
The highlight of the book for me though was Scorpius Malfoy. Apparently the actor who plays him is also getting a lot of praise; shame I can’t see the play. Not only is Scorpius the anti-Draco, but his backstory and personality are interesting and well executed. Like Albus, he is unpopular, partly due to rumours about his parentage, partly because he is a big nerd.
One criticism that Cursed Child drew is that it feels like Harry Potter Fanfiction. I got that vibe at times, but in Cursed Child’s defence there is a lot of fanfiction out there. Fanfiction.net has accumulated over 747,000 entries for Harry Potter fanfics, many of which continue the story. I think most plot points revolving around Albus and Scorpius would have been done in fanfiction at least once before. Also, there seems to be a deliberate attempt at fanservice at times – not the sexy type – most of which I enjoyed. However, the big reveal at the end uses a Harry Potter fanfic plot element that I find extremely unrealistic. More so because for it to be plausible, it’d need to be foreshadowed pretty explicitly in the main books. I don’t like this particular element in fanfiction, and I certainly don’t like it in cannon.
In short, I did like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Though as I said, it has flaws. It’s also hard to continue on a story that ended so well in Deathly Hallows. Still, it’s a fun little story, that takes an interesting look at the future for our beloved characters. I’d totally go see it if I could. Just don’t come into this story expecting an in-depth saga like in the books.
Magical Beasts Everywhere!
Of course, Cursed Child is not the only new addition to the Wizarding World. On November 18, the new movie Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them will be released. This movie is looking awesome. Don’t believe me? Here, watch some trailers.
Fantastic Beasts is loosely based on a spin-off book by Rowling of the same name. Fantastic Beast the book however is presented as a copy of Harry’s own school textbook. The book is a simple bestiary however, not a tale of Newt Scamander’s adventures in New York.
The movie Fantastic Beasts is set in 1926 New York, so no mention of Harry Potter or Voldemort here. Instead we see how the Wizarding World operates in a different time and place. I for one am excited to see this world explored more in-depth. As well as the fantastic worldbuilding this movie promises to bring, it also appears we’ll get the amazing costumes and special effects we’ve come to expect from a Harry Potter movie.
One of the main characters in the movie is a muggle (or No-Maj as they are known in America), a development that I am really looking forward to. Whilst the main books have a great anti-discrimination message, I felt that the point was slightly undermined by how horrible most of the muggles in the story were. The only re-occurring muggle characters we see are the Dursley’s, who I find I hate even more as an adult than I did as a kid. Hermione’s parents are rarely seen in the series. Therefore, the implication of the trailers that Newt has a muggle friend/sidekick is a big plus for me. To make this even more interesting, information Rowling released on Pottermore reveals that at the time the movie is set, legislation called Rappaport’s Law was in place. Rappaport’s Law made it illegal for wizards and witches to interact with muggles more than needed to perform daily activities. The penalties for befriending or marrying muggles were harsh.
Pottermore Has Stuff Too
Now might be a good time to mention Pottermore. Rowling has written four pieces on the history of magic in North America, which are interesting, though somewhat brief. The reliance on Native American clichés and the claim that some real witches were killed during the Salem Witch Trials are a bit problematic, but overall the pieces give an interesting context for Fantastic Beasts. If you haven’t read them yet, you can read them here.
Pottermore has another new gem. The history of Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the American magical school, was put up recently. (read it here) As well as providing more context for Fantastic Beasts, this story is also interesting in its own right. I feel it builds onto the Wizarding World we know from the main books, and the characters mentioned here were quite interesting.
And now I am out of space, and struggling to find something to say about this amazing world that hasn’t been said a million times before. I’ll just end this with one more bit of good news. It turns out that Fantastic Beasts is the first movie in a new trilogy. We can rest assured that while Harry Potter’s story may be over, his world isn’t going away anytime soon.