Daily WTF: J.K. Rowling Refusing to Let Harry Potter Speak for Itself

In July 2007, J.K. Rowling published the final book in her Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It was a highly anticipated book that had people wondering what the hell the Horcruxes were, what a Deathly Hallow was, whether or not Snape was actually a decent guy, how Harry would defeat Voldemort, and if old J.K. would live up to the promises in her series. It was also, some of us naively thought, the signal that we could finally, finally move past Harry Potter and on with our lives. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

While I could get into the seventh book’s manifold problems and the numerous issues people had with it, what I really want to talk about is J.K.’s weird need to rewrite her own series and keep herself in the spotlight. She started doing this almost immediately upon the series’ conclusion, starting with her bombshell that Dumbledore was actually gay through her weird announcement that she wished she’d paired up Harry and Hermione to the most recent development that the Dursleys were abusive to Harry because James once teased Vernon. And don’t forget that she’s writing a new screenplay based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and that Pottermore, the online Harry Potter world simulation, is still chugging along.

I know that millions of people loved and still love Harry Potter, but J.K. really needs to stop. I cannot think of a single other modern author (or past author) who spends so much time publically revising her work – especially since it’s been published. It feels desperate and grasping and is doing very little to help the canon. Hardcore fans on Tumblr and FanFiction.net are wondering why she has to ruin the most solidly balanced relationship in the franchise, why she’s depicting Ron as a chubby loser, why she couldn’t include some of this information in her actual books, and why she just won’t let them enjoy her work. It’s starting to seem as though she resents the thousands of works of fanfiction out there and wants to be the only person who can talk about, write about, or theorize about her work. It seems selfish.

As a writer, we’re taught that at some point you have to let your work go. You have to stop tinkering with it because you’re eventually going to start messing it up. You have to sit back and let it speak for itself because if it can’t, it simply isn’t a good piece. For a decade, Harry Potter spoke for itself, and while the series may have developed more and more problems with each subsequent book, the world was still intact and still magical. J.K. needs to let it be magical. She needs to let the books speak more than she is. And if she’s not happy, why doesn’t she just write a new book? Fans would love that and it would re-cement her status as a writer and not someone constantly demanding attention. I know I’d appreciate it.

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2 thoughts on “Daily WTF: J.K. Rowling Refusing to Let Harry Potter Speak for Itself

  1. JunkChuck says:

    Interesting, but I don’t agree with your outrage. On a basic level, she’s marketing and maintaining her brand by keeping Harry Potter relevant, media-wise, in a way that fanatics are desperate to see. On a more personal level, you have to consider that she inhabited that world for well over a decade, and when she thinks of the stories and characters she does so with a richness we don’t know. A good writer imagines an iceberg but only reveals the tip–much in the way that an author like Tolkien built entire languages and cultural histories that give his vast world stability and the illusion of depth. It is not that Rowling is revising the story, but rather revealing bits of that world to hungry readers. I have to admit I’m not immersed in her creations–I read some of the early books, watched the movies with my children, and found it all quite satisfactory, but I admire the accomplishment. When continues to explore that world, as she undoubtedly will do, I expect it will be as much out of love and need as it is a calculated refusal to move on. After all, plenty of stories left to tell over there.

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    • clbutor says:

      From a business perspective, she’s absolutely doing the right thing. She’s keeping herself and her creation in the public consciousness and generating additional revenue for herself, her agent, and her editor.

      However, from a writing perspective, it’s crap. There’s really no other way to say it. Numerous other writers including Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Garth Nix, C.S. Lewis, and Stephanie Meyers have talked in length about their creations, giving us greater depth and understanding, but additions, subtractions, and revisions come in written form. E.L. James of Fifty Shades fame just released a new book that retells the series from Christian Grey’s perspective. So it happens. But it happens in the context of the printed word, not press releases. It’s also simply poor editing and planning when you can ONLY explain certain things years after publication and by explicitly telling your readers what “really” happened.

      It’s almost important to note that many of the things J.K. talks about are things she could have/did put in the last three books, which many fans regard as the worst-written of the series. At that point, Harry Potter had definitely blown up and there was a great deal of pressure on J.K. to finish and finish NOW. While she was writing, her fans were publishing their own books on what they thought was going to happen and inundating her with requests, theories, and opinions. She was probably also receiving a lot of pressure from her editor, agent, and publishing house because the easiest way to capitalize on a writer is to ensure that they’re pumping out books steadily. If they’re not, interest can and usually will drop.

      By refusing to actually write any additional books for the series (which makes no sense as fantasy series can and do span decades), it seems like she’s taking the easy way out. It is a lot easier to just talk about what is happening in your book than it is to write that book (Ask any writer.). And maybe that’s the direction publication will take in the future. Maybe publishers will see the benefit in publishing one book and then releasing a string of press releases, Tweets, and blog posts. Who knows? But from a fan perspective and from a writer’s perspective, it seems cheap and even insulting. I don’t want a 250 word post that took her 15 minutes to write. I want a 250 word book that took her a year. Things get lost when they come from Tweets and articles, but books endure and propagate a lot better.

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