‘I’m done with Harry Potter:’ J.K. Rowling’s journey away from and then back to her iconic franchise

Steven James
@StevenLeeJames

Harry Potter prequel and spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be the first in a five-movie series.

Fantastic Beasts is based on the 2001 book of the same name by J.K. Rowling about the magical creatures in the Harry Potter universe. Rowling wrote the book, a field guide of 75 beasts, with the pen name Newt Scamander for the U.K. charity Comic Relief. The book is common in wizarding households and required for first-year Hogwarts students. You learn more about why these creatures are important to the magical world, and it’s cool to just have this book in your personal library to occasionally read.

The seven core Harry Potter books were phenomenal. Even with all of the magic, action and epic adventures, the true heart of the story was always love triumphing over evil, no matter how dark things got. Rowling gave us a solid seven-part story that was about the good guys vs. the bad guys, and challenged what tolerance meant to audiences, especially for those who were growing up while the books were being released. From an artistic point of view, there was no need for a prequel or a sequel, whether that be a book, a movie or a play.

But here we are, with Rowling, who had said she was done writing more works in the series long ago, has written a full screenplay based on the field guide and plans for the series are constantly expanding. This comes after the lazy, half-thought-out shit that was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Her return is a bit puzzling — and perhaps a bit worrisome. Not everything that works in a book works in a movie, and Warner Bros., the studio calling the shots, has recently made several appalling creative and financial decisions.

That studio’s desperation combined with the Harry Potter fanbase’s inability to let go of the wizarding world have conspired to trap Rowling in her own success, a trap she’s begun to wallow in as the years have passed.

A desperate studio

For anybody not paying attention to movie news, Warner Bros. is in a hovel. In an attempt to keep up the modern movie business, which means consistently producing $100 million-plus movies and stringing them into a franchise, the studio has lost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Superman controversially snaps General Zod’s neck in Man of Steel, a scene that has become an icon of fan dissatisfaction with the DCEU. Images courtesy Warner Bros.

In 2015, Jupiter Ascending and Pan lost Warner Bros. more than $100 million each. The Man from UNCLE, which had a budget of $75 million, only made $45.4 million at the domestic box office.

In 2013, the studio’s top five highest-grossing movies — The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Gravity, Man of Steel, The Great Gatsby and We’re the Millers — grossed just under $3 billion worldwide. The studio’s top five for 2014 — The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, Godzilla, The Lego Movie, 300: Rise of an Empire and Edge of Tomorrow — combined for just $2.4 billion worldwide. The same group for 2015 — American Sniper, San Andreas, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Intern and Creed — combined for just $1.7 billion.

That was the year Star Wars: The Force Awakens made $2.1 billion by itself. The Avengers: Age of Ultron made $1.4 billion and Inside Out made $857.6 million, earning Disney $4.3 billion in 2015 on their own. Universal also had a spectacular 2015, with Jurassic World, Furious 7 and Minions bringing in a combined $4.3 billion globally.

This March, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice made just $873.3 million worldwide. Because Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara, as well as his associates, were hoping for the movie to cross the $1 billion mark, they are currently desperate with trying to figure out how to make more money.

Henry Cavill also starred in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., an embarrassing botched release for Warner Bros.

One of the causes of Warner Bros.’ issues could be Tsujihara himself. He succeeded Barry Meyer as CEO in March 2013, and then as chairman in December 2013. During Meyer’s reign, which began in 1999, the company purchased DC Comics and the rights to Harry Potter. Original properties, including The Matrix and Inception, thrived. Despite Disney’s strong hold on the global entertainment industry, Warner Bros. was one of the few studios that could compete.

In late 2013, Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment decided to not renew their contract, ending an eight-year partnership. Tsujihara said the split was due to Legendary not being interested in financing as many as films as Warner Bros. would’ve liked. The partnership created 32 films over eight years, including The Dark Knight trilogy, The Hangover Trilogy, Inception, the 300 movies, Man of Steel, Sucker Punch, Due Date, Watchmen, Godzilla and Interstellar.

After its split with Warner Bros., Legendary’s new major partner became Universal, and has produced 15 movies in less than three years, a full movie-per-year higher than its average with Warner Bros., including hits like Jurassic World, Straight Outta Compton and Warcraft. It has become a subsidiary of Wanda Group, the world’s largest private conglomerate corporation and cinema chain operator.

There’s a palpable tension in the ranks. Earlier this year, Tsujihara famously received an open letter from an angry employee who called him and his associates out for letting the executives who consistently backed flops like Blended and Jersey Boys and disappointments like The Hobbit trilogy, as well as the creative teams that made the movies, keep their jobs while people from lower departments had to lose theirs, especially because they had no say in how these ghastly blockbusters were made.

The Harry Potter book series has grossed more than $7.7743 billion worldwide. The movie series isn’t far behind, with an accumulative worldwide gross of $7.723 billion. All eight movies rank individually among Warner Bros.’ highest grossers of all time, with Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban’s $249.5 million bringing up the rear as the studio’s 26th best showing ever. It’s no surprise, then, that the studio that’s been hemorrhaging money since Tsujihara took over would turn to it as a savior, and given the fanbase’s singular obsession with the original author, it’s no surprise that Rowling herself needed to return as well.

A fanbase unwilling to let go

The Battle of Hogwarts occurred on May 2, 1998, and it’s become fashionable to celebrate the anniversary and grieve for the casualties from this fictional battle.

May 2 is also the anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, a non-fictional event. Thirty-eight real people died in either the blast or due to acute radiation poisoning while cleaning up the scene, an estimated 4,000 — again, very real — people have or will develop cancer or leukemia due to the fallout and an estimated 150,000 otherwise healthy pregnancies were terminated due to fears of contamination. The full effects of the disaster are still being researched.

Neville Longbottom kills Nagini during the Battle of Hogwarts in part two of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Viewership in Mourning is far from unique to the Potter universe, but the lengths this fandom has gone to are pretty extreme.

In 2007, Rowling said she considered writing more material for Harry Potter, but knew nothing would top the core series. To meet fans halfway, she created entertainment and Harry Potter news website Pottermore, which launched in April 2012, and has remained an integral part of the fan website. Since its 2015 update, the site has been dedicated to expanding the Wizarding World and served as another way for Rowling to bring headlines back to her work, now nearly a decade past. Other fan pages, most notably Muggle Net, abound.

Overall, fan pages like this post cool information about the Potterverse, including interesting facts about magical creatures and objects and being a general center for excitement about Fantastic Beasts. Also, Muggle Net’s #MinervaMonday is absolutely delightful.

However, the admins of these pages, as well as some of their fans, perpetuate the kind of obsessive behavior that has made a fictional battle a more prominent memory that the worst nuclear disaster in history. The emotions one feels while reading or watching Potter are real, but the story isn’t. The fanbase’s desire to remain in the world in which that story is set has helped prevent Rowling from leaving it as well.  

A victim of her own success

The Casual Vacancy, released on Sept. 27, 2012, was Rowling’s first novel outside of the Potterverse. It sold 124,603 copies in its first week, falling short of the record for fastest-selling adult novel in the U.K., which is still held by Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, released on July 21, 2007, sold more than 2.7 million copies in the U.K. and 8.3 million copies in the U.S. by the end of that day.

Harry Potter confronts Voldemort during the Battle of Hogwarts.

Rowling had some touching words last week after Donald Trump’s election.

This isn’t the first time she’s tweeted about the Donald. It may be the first time, though, she’s tweeted about him in a way that didn’t relate back to the Potterverse. This past June, she tweeted Trump was worse than Lord Voldemort. She has also compared people she considers bigots to Death Eaters. She is not doing anything wrong by voicing her opinions, but as we’ll see, this is part of a large, strange pattern of using Twitter to stay in the headlines and conflating fiction with reality.

This began almost immediately after Deathly Hallows was released. She revealed on July 29 that she considered killing Arthur Weasley during the snake attack in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as part of a larger scheme of killing parents off to parallel other characters’ struggles with Harry’s, but chose not to, because the series contained few characters that were strong fathers.

Then, J.K Rowling revealed on Oct. 20, 2007 Dumbledore is gay. She made the announcement at Carnegie Hall during the Scholastic Open Book Tour Sweepstakes in front of an audience of 2,000 fans.

“I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy,” she said.

She also said Dumbledore was single because he used to be in love with childhood friend Gellert Grindelwald. Grindelwald became a dark wizard, and was defeated by Dumbledore before the events of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Even the biggest Potter fans were shocked about Dumbledore’s sexuality. Some went back through the books and found things they considered clues that hinted at this, including Dumbledore’s “flaming” phoenix, his fashion sense, his conquest for equal rights for all and the rearranging of the letters in his name spelling “Male bods rule, dude!”

In the 10 years of releasing the individual books, not once did Rowling ever give a hint in interviews or on social media that Dumbledore was gay. His sexuality adds nothing to enjoying the Potter experience.

On Oct. 31, 2011, in a leaked interview with Daniel Radcliffe for the Deathly Hallows-Part 2 home media features, Rowling said she “seriously” considered killing off Ron Weasley.

“Funnily enough, I planned from the start that none of them would die,” Rowling said in the interview. “Then midway through, which I think is a reflection of the fact that I wasn’t in a very happy place, I started thinking I might polish one of them off.”

Rowling has made good-faith attempts to branch off. Her most famous non-Potter book, The Casual Vacancy, received slightly positive reviews, even if people did express disappointment in the novel’s slow pace, boring characters and confusing, long-winded plot. All three books in her Cormoran Strike crime fiction series, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, were met with acclaim. However, most reviews of the first book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, were published before it became common knowledge Rowling was the author. Rowling is currently helping BBC One develop a Cormoran Strike TV series.

On Sept. 12, 2013, Rowling announced she and Warner Bros. would work on a Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, which became a trilogy and, recently, a five-part series.   

On Feb. 2, 2014, in an interview conducted by Emma Watson for Wonderland magazine, Rowling says Hermione should have married Harry, not Ron. She said she had Hermione and Ron get together for personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility.

“I wrote the Hermione-Ron relationship as a form of fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really,” Rowling said in the Wonderland interview. “For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it — Hermione with Ron. Distance has given me perspective on that. Am I breaking people’s hearts by saying this? I hope not.”

This revelation in particular outraged fans and consumed social media.

BuzzFeed even stepped into the discussion, siding with Rowling. Its reasons included Harry and Hermione having mutual respect, the two of them not getting into petty fights, them both experiencing prejudice by wizards for growing up in the Muggle world and other characters believing they already were a couple.

Pottermore listed 29 arguments for why Hermione had liked Ron ever since their first encounter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, including her looking closely enough at Ron to notice he has dirt on his nose, the two of them playing chess in the Gryffindor common room even though she always loses, her abnormal screaming at Ron getting hit by the white queen in the life-sized chess game and her crying after Ron calls her a “nightmare” for helping him with the pronunciation of “Winggardium Leviosa.”  

Later on in her post-Deathly Hallows career, Rowling began formally apologizing for killing certain characters, including Fred Weasley and Remus Lupin. More than anything else, this instance of giving in to the fans and calling attention back to her previous work calls her professionalism as a storyteller into question. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, released earlier this year, is also rife with these tones of overt fan service.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

One of the first images of Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

As for the Fantastic Beasts movie itself, it looks fine. The effects, music and references are all there. Grand action, repartee about how silly and weird everything is and romance were present in all three Fantastic Beasts trailers. Scamander having to protect his creatures, which he clearly loves like pets, gives the indication this movie will have some emotional weight.

The conflict of the Wizarding World getting exposed to the non-magic world, though, would feel a lot bigger if this were not a prequel and if we were not already aware of the existence of powerful memory-erasing spells to make the No-Majs — American equivalent of the British “Muggles” — forget everything they see.

If David Yates, who returns after directing Order of the Phoenix, Half Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows, can bring a similar level of filmmaking, and if the movie positively adds to the Potter mythology — as already indicated in certain reviews — then we may be in for a tip-top experience.

Rowling helped give define a generation’s childhood. Most of us are now probably adults, but you still cling on to certain things from your youth that make you truly happy — that make you feel whole. Perhaps, you attend school, have jobs and spouses and may even now have children of your own. You may even have nieces and nephews or younger cousins who you want to grow up under better conditions than you did.

One of the reasons why our generation’s childhood literally felt like magic was because of Harry Potter. It’s exciting to know that our children and younger relatives get to have a new Harry Potter movie every so often, just like we did. There may even be a new Potter book every now and then, just like we had.

But instead of asking for more, we have to start appreciating what we have. Rowling gave us a solid story with a beautiful ending. The young people you love will have things of their own that make their lives feel magical.

Reread Harry Potter on your own as an adult. Read it to a child who doesn’t know how to yet. Keep your copies of the DVDs and Blu-rays and have marathons. Wait for the eight core movies to re-release in theaters, because they probably will at one point or another. Buy your own copies of Fantastic Beasts, Quidditch Through the Ages and The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and then share the magic in those books with the next generation.

Nagging Rowling for more material and inquiring her about qualities of certain characters or if she feels bad for certain writing decisions with the core narrative does not show you love this series, and things will continue to go downhill until we show Rowling we’re ready to move on. Even though Warner Bros. is as much to blame as she is, Rowling is in charge of the Potterverse’s creative decisions, and she will keep writing new Potter-related works until people get tired of her doing so.

Childhoods end. They must end. We need to move on, and do everything we can to make the next generation of Harry Potter fans have as much of a magical experience as we did.

All will be well.

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One Response to ‘I’m done with Harry Potter:’ J.K. Rowling’s journey away from and then back to her iconic franchise

  1. Pingback: ‘Fantastic Beasts’ brings magic back to the big screen | Reel Entropy

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