Gryffindor Tower #1: Does Does Harry Potter: The Product Leave Room for Harry Potter: The Story?

by Dan

Being as this is my first real column on MuggleNet, I want to thank Emerson for giving me the chance to write for his website, and tell you a bit about myself. My name is Dan Hoppel, and I am a twenty-year-old college student at the University of Scranton in Scranton, PA. I love writing about anything I can, and since I have a newly-acquired love for Harry Potter, I can’t think of a better way to spend my time. If you enjoy this, check out my first editorial by clicking here.

The following is an excerpt from Entertainment Weekly Online :

The rest is (very profitable) history. Last year’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, starring three neophytes — Emma Watson (as Hermione Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), and Radcliffe — conjured $318 million in the U.S. and more than twice that overseas, sliding in behind Titanic as the second-biggest worldwide box office hit in history. Then there were the 9 million DVDs. The plush toys. The videogames. The Coca-Cola tie-ins. The vibrating broomsticks. ”Two years before that picture came out, we sat down as a company, heads of all different divisions, putting together a strategy,” says Dawn Taubin, president of domestic marketing for Warner Bros. ”It wasn’t about one movie. It was about building a long-term property. You were talking about 10 years.” (Says director Chris Columbus), “and listen, there’s no question that there are many different ways for AOL Time Warner to benefit from Harry Potter: The Product, but I have no control over the merchandising and marketing. It’s all part of the big Potter world.”

Now, to the casual moviegoer, this may seem almost normal. Find something in pop culture, something that has the rapt attention of millions of people, and turn it into a merchandising machine. We’ve seen it with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings(arguably the two biggest franchises, besides Harry Potter). So the question is: Why would I choose to write about Harry Potter, in particular, when so many movies have taken the same route? The answer, you will find, is quite simple, and revolves around a single grudge I have with the Harry Potter franchise.

If we can admit that just about every major movie has tie-ins to all different types of merchandising, why does Harry Potter raise my ire? It is simply because Harry Potter wasn’t created with any intention of being a merchandising machine, it was created as a story. And a damn good story at that. You may say that Lord of the Rings is another story-turned-movie, which I cannot argue. However, Harry Potter did something that LOTR can never claim. The stories of the Boy Who Lived were the book series that got almost every young person into reading. We’re not talking about your average bookworm, either; Harry Potter brought reading into the mainstream. Kids who have never picked up a book were reading the Harry Potter books cover to cover, time and time again. Harry Potter made reading cool. There’s no debating the popularity of the books. And don’t misquote me, I did not say “the popularity of the movies”, and I did not say “the popularity of the tie-ins.” I said the popularity of the books. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came in second in worldwide box-office draw. However, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was the fastest-selling book ever. Not second-fastest, or third-fastest, but THE fastest. Star Wars was always intended to be a global merchandising conglomerate; LOTR has been made the same. However, Harry Potter cannot claim that fame, because the core of the Harry Potter franchise is a story, a story free of the commercial propaganda of which other franchises have taken hold. Even in that same EW article, when some accuse Columbus of not delivering an original movie (Sorcerer’s Stone), he maintains that he did what he knew was the right thing to do: he stayed true to the story. For sure, the final confrontation between Harry and Quirrel could have included a car chase, a gun battle, or even a lightsaber duel, and consequently could have even doubled profits; however, Columbus, realizing that his core audience was going to be the fans of the books, chose to stay true to J.K. Rowling’s plot. Criticize all you want, but in twenty years, the only people who will remember the Harry Potter movies as a part of their lives, not just as stories and movies, are the ones who loved the books before there ever were motion pictures to match.

Don’t misunderstand me; I feel that there’s nothing wrong with the Harry Potter Product machine, but my main point is to make you all understand one thing: no one, from Warner Bros. executives to the product manufacturers, can ever let the Harry Potter Product overshadow the Harry Potter Story. In the end, what makes this different from Star Wars is the fact that Harry Potter was first, and always will be, a story made for the sake of storytelling. And trust me, this, coming from one of the biggest Star Wars fans alive, I’m telling you: don’t ever let anyone forget that Harry Potter will always be, first and last, a boy on the pages of books and in the hearts of our imaginations. For no matter how good the cast of the movies may be, and no matter how much money Warner Bros. may make on of the Harry Potter Franchise, it wouldn’t have ever come to be without J.K. Rowling’s vision of a wonderful new world. And this one isn’t in a galaxy far, far away.