The most significant Harry-Potter-premiere-related tweet of the week was no doubt Barry Cunningham’s (@barrychicken) heart-wrenching (for the Pottermaniacal amongst us) remembrance of things past:
Off to last Harry Potter premiere tomorrow with son Alfie, aren’t we lucky! Seems like only yesterday when I read first MS – life changing!
Barry Cunningham was an editor at Bloomsbury when Christopher Little, JK Rowling’s agent, sent him the first manuscript of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. According to the legend (and I have a second-hand account that it is true), Barry gave his daughter the manuscript and she loved it. The first Harry Potter book came out, so to speak, confidentially, until word of mouth made the series what they are now: the biggest international publishing phenomenon in human history.
Tonight the premiere of the seventh – sorry, the eighth – Harry Potter film will herald, according to some, the ‘end of Harry Potter‘. Tearful fans on the radio and on TV are bemoaning the ‘twilight of their childhood’. For those, like me, who quite literally grew up with Harry Potter from 1997 to 2007, this last film is the apocalypse. The last sigh of our adolescence! The dying words of a voice that brought us up! The epitaph of the first quarter of our lives!
Or not. The wonderful Harry Potter book series, as I see it, deserve to be critically set apart from their on-screen derivative.
Children’s literature critic Jack Zipes is a fierce detractor of the Harry Potter series, seeing them as supporting cultural homogeneisation and conservative values worldwide, and turning their readers into willing squaddies of the capitalist system. Where Zipes is wrong, according to me, is that he asserts that the Harry Potter books were marketed and designed to this specific end – real-life evidence contradicts him by showing that its success was, to start with, entirely reader-led and a big surprise to the publishing industry. But Zipes’s critique of the phenomenon, although it doesn’t apply to the books, works well to describe the Harry Potter film franchise.
Action-driven and Hollywoodised, the Harry Potter films and their countless derived products are a flashy, entertaining, unambiguous interpretation of the books. They flourished at a time when the power of the child and teenage customer was becoming, more than ever, a mouth-watering reality for advertising companies. Regardless of what one thinks of these films – I do think they are sometimes good, imaginative and funny – it is vital to consider them as an entirely separate phenomenon to the books: a product of the 2000’s, a displacement of the Harry Potter stories into the visual world of their time.
But they are in no way final.
In 2076 we will be flocking to cinemas (if they still exist) to watch the new filmic interpretation of the Harry Potter books. The director, productors and actors are yet to be born. They will not have grown up with the books. They will consider them as ‘classics’, not as a craze to be exploited before it expires. They will bring their fresh outlook to it. They will use new technologies to say new things.
In 3020, a new team will take over for a third version of Harry Potter.
And in 3100.
The books live on: there is one version and one only, it is JK Rowling’s; it is Barry Cunningham’s. The films are just one interpretation of these books. They are marked by their time, responding to the needs of their decade. The eighth installment of the Warner Brothers’s Harry Potter does not signal the end of anything else than itself.
If no one said that Orson Welles’s version of Jane Eyre was the end of Jane Eyre, then the Warner Bros’s version of Harry Potter is certainly not the end of Harry Potter.