Six years after its final book and two after its final movie, the Harry Potter series has started showing some not-entirely-unexpected signs of life in 2013. Back in September, we learned that J.K. Rowling will write Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a series of films set in Harry‘s canonical universe. And yesterday, news broke that a Potter prequel is set to hit London’s West End in 2015, co-produced by Rowling herself. But as one of the many superfans expected to hit the (magical, weather-replicating) ceiling at the idea of an expanded Potterverse, I’m concerned Harry Potter might be best just the way it is: iconic, massively popular, and definitely, conclusively over.
As far as overextending a franchise goes, Potter could get way, way worse. Rowling seems insistent on maintaining creative control over her characters and the world they inhabit. She’s writing Fantastic Beasts, based on the author of a fictional Hogwarts textbook, and while the script for the prequel play won’t be hers alone, she hand-picked co-producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender. Generic Action Franchise 17 they are not, nor are the projects assuming the creative risk involved in passing a beloved series from its creator to a new handler, á la Star Wars VII-IX. Instead, they’re bona fide additions to the Potter canon, straight from the source.
But as the Sony-Rowling collaboration Pottermore proves, even the author’s involvement isn’t a guarantee that Potter expansions will build on the series rather than dilute it. Clunky and strange, the site felt like an attempt to stretch shreds of new material (McGonagall’s back story! What your wand wood says about you!) into a lengthy facsimile of the original books, rendered in the style of an early-2000s PC game. Unveiled in fall 2011 after months of fans trying desperately to make it into beta testing, Pottermore fell flat. Most users I know saw an attempt to drag out Pottermania for what it was, took the Rowling-approved sorting test, and ran.
Not that these latest projects don’t have the potential to outshine their predecessor. But they face a similar obstacle: taking a well-plotted, self-enclosed narrative and forcing it back open. It’s true that, like all fantasy series with Potter‘s level of engrossingly detailed world-building, the series technically has endless potential for new stories. In Rowling’s world, there are always more Hogwarts pupils to follow, wizarding world quirks to explore, or more minor characters to expand on. Lord knows there’s the fan-fiction to prove it.
All of that serves as a backdrop, however, albeit a highly entertaining and well-executed one. The real heart of Potter was the coming-of-age and good vs. evil struggle of its main character, a story that Rowling wrapped up in a satisfying (if treacly) way with Deathly Hallows‘ where-are-they-now epilogue. The books are well-crafted enough that we don’t need to know more about Harry’s life at Number 4 Privet Drive before the Hogwarts letter came, the subject matter of the prequel play. And a Harry Potter story without Harry gives readers more detail, but it’s missing the emotional core that made the original series resonate with readers as so much more than an especially inventive fantasy.
The strangest part of these new projects is that Rowling has indicated in the past she’s aware of all this. She’s been resolute in insisting that there will be absolutely no sequels, however many hoaxes point to the contrary. And she’s made several efforts to move beyond Potter as a novelist, first with The Casual Vacancy and then as Robert Galbraith with The Cuckoo’s Calling, wisely deciding a pseudonym would jettison the inevitable Potter comparisons rather effectively. That Rowling would make efforts to move beyond her most famous work only to reopen the Pandora’s Box of spin-offs is puzzling; if she’s done with Harry, why let someone else tell part of his story? Why dive headfirst back into the Potterverse for her first-ever film?
Like most kids who grew up going to midnight release parties and debating their hypothetical House, I’ve got an emotional attachment to the original Potter books. But Fantastic Beasts and the upcoming prequel don’t strike me as bad ideas out of a nostalgic desire to keep my childhood trapped in amber along with the books that defined it. I’m simply skeptical that finding out more about Hungarian Hornbacks or the Dursleys’ sheer awfulness will provide much beyond a short-lived thrill for fans and a few more factoids to keep in mind for Potter-themed trivia night.
Harry Potter is a masterpiece and J.K. Rowling an awesomely talented author. That’s exactly why it’s time to leave Harry behind: Rowling clearly has more in her as a writer than a single franchise, and Potter is more than enough for fans on its own.