Abstract: Discussing the dangers of pushing J.K. Rowling to continue writing Harry Potter-related novels.
The last 12-16 years have been a wonderful journey for us all. Midnight releases, parties, conventions, podcasts, and websites. The magic of Harry Potter has changed our lives, and the majority of us would agree that it’s been for the better. We have met life-long friends from all over the world, and many of us have gained an appreciation and understanding of literature, as well as a love for reading. J.K. Rowling’s magical world has inspired us to find the magic in our own lives, and to fight our own battles against tyranny and evil, for the sake of love, peace, and friendship.
With all that said, how can we not be mournful seeing the trio’s happy faces as they watch the Hogwarts Express pull out of King’s Cross (our last glimpse of the world we’ve come to love and aspire to)? We want it to keep going! Why not follow Albus Severus into his first year, or even go decades back to the era of the Marauders? It would be fun…it would feel so right. And there is no doubt that if Rowling told us she was continuing Harry’s universe, everyone would be right there with her, as we were with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. It would make an impressive amount of money, and we could hold on just a little longer…
But would it really be right, or make us happy? First off, since when have we cared about what benefits Warner Bros.? Fans are grateful for the decade-long experience they’ve given us, but it has always truly been about the story. The greatest criticisms have always been about the inaccuracies of the movies, when compared to the novels.
Second, while it may sound exciting, more canonical tales of the Harry Potter-universe will not change the sadness we feel at its conclusion, only deter it. Dumbledore once told Harry, “Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it” (GOF, p. 603, UK edition). He knew the dangers of avoiding the inevitable, especially when it is painful. While not all of us are fans of Dumbledore, we have all come to trust his wisdom and advice.
As hard as it is to accept, Harry Potter has reached its natural ending, and the stories of the past and future are best left to the imagination (i.e. fan-fiction). Most stories, cinematic or literary, never conclude with such beauty, grandeur, and dignity. To continue would be to risk and take for granted a treasure little seen, or believed in.
History has taught us these lessons before, through Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Lucas: both benefactors to their respective arts. Conan Doyle created the legendary figure of Sherlock Holmes, who has shaped the genre of mystery for film and literature alike. No one better than Doyle knew how it felt to have a character beloved by the world. But, like any artist, he didn’t want to be confined to only one style, or one story. As a result, fans read in shock of Holmes’ plunge into the Reichenbach Falls, ridding the world of Professor Moriarty. While a heroic finale to the adventures of this remarkable character, then too fans were unwilling to accept the inevitable. After many years, pressure forced Conan Doyle to write The Hound of the Baskervilles, and later three more collections of short stories.
Baskervilles has since become a classic of the mystery genre, and the most renowned of Holmes’ adventures, but his later short stories were not so successful. While still enjoyable, most fans agree that the Post-Reichenbach tales, as a whole, never truly captured the grandeur and genius of Sherlock Holmes again. One potential reason for this might be the simple fact that the author’s heart was not in it. Forced to write about a character he had long tried to escape, it’s no surprise the energy of the early stories was lost.
This is the risk J.K. Rowling faces. We already know of the novel she has written, and it is reasonable to assume that she will continue writing different stories, to expand her craft, and fuel her creativity. But imagine if public pressure forced her back to Harry Potter, and she decided to write a new series, about Albus Severus or the Marauders. Now imagine, frustrated and reluctant, she half-heartedly writes these stories. How would we all feel reading a Harry Potter series that lacked passion and commitment? It would be a resounding disappointment, and would inevitably tarnish the purity of the Harry Potter tale. It is possible that Rowling would get lucky, and produce her own Hound of the Baskervilles, but is the risk justified, or even necessary, just because we’re not ready?
Then there is the terrifying possibility of Harry Potter suffering the fate of Star Wars: excessive media. George Lucas’ masterful 70’s space opera transformed special effects and film-making, and is a true classic of cinema. As well, it’s extensive marketing of toys, books, videogames, and much more, are unparalleled by any film franchise, even Harry Potter. Star Wars is everywhere, and is part of the collective consciousness of society.
So, when news came two decades later of a prequel series, fans were overjoyed to see Lucas and Star Wars in the modern world of media that they helped mould. The prequels, like their predecessors, proved to be action-packed and successful, but some fans felt the story element was lacking, buried beneath special effects. And so the integrity of a classic story might have been sacrificed to hold on to a world that its author was not prepared to let go of.
But the prequels are not what did this; though arguably somewhat lacking in story, they were still enjoyable movies, and a suitable set-up for the originals. No, the story-desecration came in the continuous release of movies and television shows about the Clone Wars (the period between Episodes 2 and 3). Fans initially ate it up enthusiastically, but it has now become very forced, as if George Lucas is pushing the prequel stories as far as he can go. To add insult to injury, the original Star Wars trilogy has been endlessly re-released with countless changes to the movies (ex. the removal or addition of the Ewok song in Ep. 6). This has been done so frequently, that only those who saw the movies when they originally hit theatres, or who own all the editions, truly understand or know the small details of the films.
It would be horrifying to see Harry Potter pushed to those limits, for the sake of money or miss-guided sentimentality. Imagine if J.K. Rowling constantly had the series re-released, making minor changes to fix regrets she had about what she wrote. For many Harry Potter fans, the novels are sacred, and the idea of changing even the smallest detail would be considered blasphemous, in a pseudo-religious way (this is purely intellectual, with no criticism or offence meant towards religion).
Why would it bother us, though? It is after all her story, just as Star Wars is George Lucas’ story. The answer is that well-constructed, popular stories transcend their creators, taking on a life of their own. That’s the whole basis of fan-fiction. Fans’ imaginations are inspired, and they are led to write what they see as possible, in the past, present, and future of the world that has captured them.
But what we need to remember is that writers are human, and so are afflicted with the same unwillingness to let go that fans are. George Lucas is a clear example of this. The fact that J.K. Rowling adamantly refuses to keep going with the series shows her awareness of this temptation, and makes it all the more important it isn’t satisfied.
To be clear, though, this is not about walking away from Harry Potter, or considering it a thing of the past. That, in itself, would almost be the greater tragedy. Fans shouldn’t forget or lose appreciation for the magical journey we’ve experienced together. Fan-fiction, essays, and literary or cinematic discussion are wonderful things. They are the true testament to the series, and our love of it.
The issue is understanding that endings are not goodbyes. If anything, they are deeper chapters, hidden within the pages of every novel. Only when a story has reached its conclusion, can its essence genuinely be felt, and known in one's heart. We have lived through an extraordinary era, and looking at it from the finale, it is all the more earth-shatteringly spectacular. Without endings, we can’t truly comprehend or appreciate the journey. And I know that Harry's journey is worth this consideration, as are all beloved stories.
Let us all wave farewell to the Hogwarts Express, cross through the barrier, and walk into the Muggle world carrying our wands, galleons, and remembralls. It’s our job now to show them the magic hidden just out of sight.
March 2003 - The cover art for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is released in the United States and United Kingdom. It was the first cover to create lots of hype in the Harry Potter fandom, because at that point fansites were flourishing.