Monday, 7 January 2019

Harry Potter & The Downward Spiral

As is the case for most people my age, the Harry Potter series is a huge part of my life, and was an even bigger part of my childhood. I grew up reading those books and picking on the flaws in the movies, and I believe that the franchise will forever be in the hearts of those who were raised on the tales of the iconic characters and their magical adventures.

But recently, I've found that I've become less and less interested in the new developments in the world of Harry Potter. The franchise is still evolving, but I've tuned a lot of it out. Partly, it's because I've grown up, and while the stories will always be important to me, they've simply taken a back seat now that I'm an adult. However, another huge reason for this sense of ennui is the simple fact that the Harry Potter franchise has been so unnecessarily drawn out for a long time now, and I'm only just noticing it.

I suppose it started with Harry Potter & the Cursed Child (although in my opinion, it started when the HP film series began the ridiculous trend of splitting the last movie into two parts, but that's just me). I thought it was an interesting concept, but the execution fell really flat in retrospect. The first time I read it, I enjoyed it. But the more I look back over it and remember the events that unfold in the script, the more it seems like fanfiction, not an actual published work by an established author. It's the sort of thing you'd expect to find on WattPad - a story that had been written by a teenage fan who wanted to bring their own '19 years later' idea to life, and to continue the story in a way that satisfied them. And there's nothing wrong with fanfiction, for the record, but I'm starting to feel that fanfiction has actually started seeping into the mainstream.

Allow me to give you an example of this trend: a little film that came out in 2018 called Solo: A Star Wars Story. I saw it once, and I probably wouldn't watch it again, partly because I'm not a massive Star Wars fan, but also because it was boring and unnecessary. It's an amazing example of retroactive justification, and an example of how filmmakers have the ability to sap any sense of audience imagination out of a franchise. What I mean by that is they explain the backstories of things that the audience probably never even wanted to know because they were content with Han Solo simply being a character in the original Star Wars universe. If somebody wanted to speculate about his past and any aspects of his life before he first appeared in the movies, it was up to the audience members to create little backstories in their heads, to use their imaginations, to debate where his name came from, how he became a pilot, etc. But now, all of that creative leeway has been stolen by those who made this wholly-unnecessary film. It's as if someone took their sub-standard Han Solo fanfiction and brought it to life on the big screen. I feel as if I shouldn't be so harsh on a film that most people seemed to enjoy and which is perfectly harmless viewing, but it just irks me so much that this kind of content is lapped up by audiences. It's the reason I can actually defend The Last Jedi (and there goes any credibility I may have had): because at least that film talks about moving forwards and leaving the past behind to die. It tries to do something different with the franchise instead of rehashing the same storylines.

But I digress. This post is about Harry Potter, not Star Wars, and for me, the moment that the Harry Potter franchise started to go in a similar direction was the release of the first Fantastic Beasts movie. It was a perfectly fine film - I even went to see it at the cinema with a guy I was seeing at the time because we were both huge Harry Potter fans - but it didn't make me feel anything stronger than 'Huh, that was alright, I guess'. And no, I haven't seen The Crimes of Grindelwald, and I'm not interested in watching it at all if it contradicts the original seven books/eight films. I don't find spinoffs particularly exciting because they almost always come across like a quick cash-grab. After all, people will go and see any film if you slap the name of a massive franchise on the posters.

The Harry Potter books were special because they were about Harry Potter and his adventures at Hogwarts. The magical world felt real and uncomplicated, as if wizards and witches could actually exist alongside us Muggles without us knowing. But that magic starts to fizzle out when you introduce far too many characters to this world, as well as a hundred new magical abilities that were never mentioned in the modern Harry Potter novels. The wizarding world has started to feel too chaotic, too overcrowded, and for the first time, it doesn't feel believable. It's odd to say that adding too much detail into a world makes it feel less real, but it's true.

Up until now, though, I've been ignoring the most obvious problem with all Harry Potter material released after the original series: J.K. Rowling herself. The longer that this franchise drags itself along, the stronger I feel that she is a person who doesn't know when to quit. Imagine for a moment that the original seven books and eight films were the only parts of the HP franchise that existed. It would be blissful. The characters would be revered, and there would still be plenty of imaginative space left for fans of the series to come up with their own stories that existed outside of the canon. But J.K. Rowling has essentially run her own creation into the ground at this point with too much world-building, too many spinoffs, and just too much STUFF. Some good things have come out of it, like certain aspects of Pottermore: giving fans a chance to be officially sorted into a Hogwarts house and find out what form their Patronus would take is a real treat. Although I've never been, the Harry Potter Studios sound wonderful, allowing the fans a glimpse behind the scenes of the films, and giving them a chance to explore the wizarding world for themselves. There are plenty of parts of the Harry Potter franchise that give back to the fans, and I'm grateful for those things.

However, I'm not particularly grateful for the gratuitous information that J.K. Rowling inserts into the canon at random. If anybody has been paying attention to Harry Potter news at all in the past week, you'll know the tweet that I'm referencing here, and that tweet (and the subsequent backlash) is the reason I'm writing any of this at all.

Yes, I'm talking about the infamous 'wizards used to relieve themselves where they stood and vanish the evidence' tweet. Does J.K. not realise that this nugget of 'trivia' completely destroys the entire plot of the second book? That's not an observation that I made, by the way, although I wish I had. Some absolute genius replied to Pottermore's tweet with this:

I cracked up before realising that he was absolutely right. The Chamber of Secrets, a chamber which can only be accessed via bathroom plumbing, would have no reason to exist if wizards could simply vanish away their own bodily fluids. People with far more knowledge of the HP universe than me have also observed the fact that Vanishing charms are only taught in fourth/fifth year, so how did young wizards cope with this scenario? Also, are you telling me that MUGGLES came up with an idea for a human waste disposal system before, you know, WIZARDS? Get outta here.

There's so much wrong with this tweet that I can't get into it all here. Just do what I did and look at the replies on Twitter. I guarantee it's a good laugh. But J.K. has done worse than making up unbelievable facts about what wizards did before bathrooms. She is the queen of retroactive justification, saying that Hermione was never specified to be white in the books, and also hinting at Albus Dumbledore's homosexuality. However, it's easy to realise that these facts were simply made up long after the books were published to gain brownie points - there are moments in the books where Hermione's face is described as 'white' or 'pale', rendering that first point moot, and the question of Dumbledore's sexuality is never raised in the books, nor in The Crimes of Grindelwald, which would have been the ideal time to expand upon that concept since fans believed that Grindelwald and Dumbledore were more than friends. If those characters truly had those characteristics, they would have been mentioned in the original material, and not thrown in as an afterthought.

I've never been a fan of the idea that a single person can 'destroy a franchise' or 'ruin my childhood', but I'm starting to understand it now. The magic of Harry Potter was that it was a story of good vs. evil set in a secret world that exists alongside our own. The books were intriguing, memorable and well-written, driven by fleshed-out characters and an almost immaculately-built world. There were plot-holes, of course, but it was hard to care when the stories were such a joy to read. The series ended on a satisfactory note with Harry, Ron and Hermione sending off their children to Hogwarts, and there was no need to add anything else to it that might contradict the source material. But now, we are stuck with two Fantastic Beasts movies that add nothing to the original canon and feature characters I couldn't care less about, and a play that needlessly tacks a hastily-written fanfiction-y Part 8 onto the end of an iconic book series, which also features new characters that I couldn't care less about, as well as characters who would have been better left as memories from the final chapter of The Deathly Hallows. The issue here is that the people behind the Harry Potter franchise don't seem to know when enough is enough, and although this is not an issue that is specific to Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling's creation is certainly one that springs to mind when it comes to creators ruining their own beloved characters and stories.

Of course, there are easy solutions to some of these problems. Don't read The Cursed Child. Don't watch the Fantastic Beasts films. Unfollow Pottermore and J.K. on Twitter so you don't see any more of these ridiculous 'facts'. Reread the original books and rewatch the original films to remember how much you love Harry Potter.

But I'm writing this article anyway because I want to send out a message to all creators out there: KNOW WHEN TO QUIT. Yes, creators and artists need to take risks, and some may not pay off. Maybe these were J.K. Rowling's risks that blew up in her face, and if they are, then that sucks (although she should have seen the backlash coming with that trivia tweet). But creators also need to know when enough is enough. If you want to create a quick, cheap spinoff that has nothing to do with the source material and even ends up contradicting it, you've gone too far. It just ends up looking greedy and thoughtless, like you're neglecting the world that you YOURSELF created. If you create something that people love and go crazy for, push it as far as you can, but know when to pull back. It's for this very reason that I'm nervous to watch the reunion episode of The Inbetweeners that aired on New Year's Day: I love the original series so much that any more stuff that's added to it is guaranteed to be a disappointment. It's the reason that I went into screenings of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Deadpool 2 with a feeling of trepidation, since I had loved the first instalments of the series so much that the second parts were sure to be let-downs (although in both cases, they weren't).

Know when to go forward with a project, know when to let it die. That's pretty much what I'm saying. And it sucks that I have to aim a comment like that at someone like J.K. Rowling, who I admired so much when I was young and attempting to write my own blockbuster series. But times change, and franchises change, not always for the better.

1 comment

  1. Great things you’ve always shared with us. Just keep writing this kind of posts.The time which was wasted in traveling for tuition now it can be used for studies.Thanks Harry potter wizards unite unlimited gold


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