Well, in a fit of originality, I’m going to write about Harry tonight, but not the one I usually write about. In case you hadn’t heard, the eighth and final insallment of the movie series based on JK Rowling’s seven novels opened today. I was initally thinking of doing a Post in Ten Tweets of things I was looking for in the last movie, but I decided to allow myself a few more characters tonight.
I didn’t jump on the Hogwarts Express on its first journey from Platform 9 3/4. I was vaguely aware of the books, and had seen news stories about midnight release parties and such. It took three tries for me to get through the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, without falling asleep in the middle of the DVD. Eventually, I was successful, and I found the story interesting, but as a newly married 28 year-old male, I just didn’t find a story about 11 year-olds riveting. Chamber of Secrets held a little more interest for me as the first glimmers of prejudice in the wizarding world emerged, giving my adult mind a hand hold of sorts.
Then came 2003. Order of the Phoenix came out amid a tremendous amount of media hype. Alissa and I had wandered into Secret Garden Books in Ballard, and decided to pick up a copy of Sorcerer’s Stone just to see what all the fuss was about. We were going on a much-deserved trip to Victoria for our third wedding anniversary, and we figures we’d have some time to just relax with a book.
We were immediately hooked, and within a couple of days we headed back to pick up Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, and Goblet of Fire. We figured that would hold us. Well, Alissa had built up an enourmous reserve of comp time, so she took a week off before our trip to facilitate our move from Mountlake Terrace to Ballard. Well, she did that quite well and still had time to read. I had less time to read, but I read faster. By the time we were a couple of days into our trip, I had caught up to Alissa. She was still ahead of me, but we were both on Goblet of Fire. As a result, we own two copies of that book, an American version, and a Canadian/British version. Our copy of Order of the Phoenix is Canadian as well.
So what is it about the Potter books that strikes such a chord? Well, it’s an epic tale, full of all the elements of a “big story”. You have good and evil, an existential threat to the world, complex heroes and villains, moral ambiguity, and of course self-sacrifice in service to a cause greater than one’s self. All this is accomplished through the eyes of characters who are identifiable to the reader. Rowling crafts her characters and her world with a level of accessibilty that makes it easy for the reader to care what happens.
She also crafted a world that is incredibly vivid in its detail. There is clearly a rich history to the place, and there are hooks for equally grand stories all over the place. In fact, that’s one of my frustrations with the Potter books. You just want more. What were the founders of Hogwarts like? How did the story of Dumbledore and Grindelwald play out? Couldn’t you do a whole other series about James and Lily Potter’s years at Hogwarts and the first war against Voldemort? What about Voldemort at Hogwarts, or Dumbledore’s Army’s efforts against Snape’s administration of Hogwarts? Just the background elements of Harry Potter’s story provide fertile ground upon which the seeds of more great stories could be sown?
In this respect, I see the Potter books not unlike the Star Wars universe. Like Rowling, Lucas created an intricately detailed universe that practically invited expanded story-telling. Lucas did something very interesting. He opened up the post-Return of the Jedi story line to other authors, and many carried the story forward. I’ve seen that happen elsewhere, with varying degress of success. The difference is that in the case of Star Wars, the stories had to hold continuity with all the other stories. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see something like that happen with the Potter franchise?
Well, I have more to say about Potter, but I think I’ll leave it there for tonight.