An open letter to J.K. Rowling: Please, just stop.
Dear Jo (can I call you Jo?):
We need to talk.
Nine years have passed since the publication of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final novel in your series, and five years since the release of the film adaption, part two. And yet, the magical world of Harry Potter shows evidence of something akin to urban sprawl, awash with continuations, spinoffs, and editorializing from you as you continue — through tweets and other means — to add annotations that are too often immaterial (e.g., Dumbledore was gay) and at worst upsetting or even infuriating (knowing that Americans use the term “no-maj,” as in “no magic,” instead of “Muggle” irritates me immensely).
There’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the upcoming film — the first in a trilogy — based on your 2001 companion “textbook’’ of the same name, and there are wizarding worlds both physical (Universal theme parks) and virtual (Pottermore) for fans to visit. Most exciting for Potterheads: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” billed as the eighth story in the series, comes out this Sunday (Harry’s birthday and your own, as we all know). Bookstores and libraries have shaken the dust off old midnight-release party plans. Many fans are predictably euphoric.
I, unfortunately, am not one of them.
Like so many millennials, I grew up enchanted by the books, much preferring the wizarding world to this decidedly lesser Muggle-populated one, where even the best of days pales in comparison to one that could involve, say, a trip to Hogsmeade or a ride on a hippogriff.
Manifestations of this enthrallment were plentiful: In my bleary-eyed stupor the day after “Deathly Hallows” (2007) came out, the result of staying up all night as a 15-year-old — after receiving my preordered copy at a midnight-release party at Borders, of course — to finish the 759-page novel in one sitting. In the dog-eared, water-damaged pages of my paperback “Chamber of Secrets” (1999), a testament to the countless times I returned to that and the other books, sometimes to just devour a single chapter or passage during a free moment. And in my custom-made quidditch cape, a seventh-grade birthday gift that joined a hodgepodge of items — a Hogwarts Lego set (which, Gulping Gargoyles, goes for a lot on eBay these days), a never-eaten bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans — that still inhabit my childhood bedroom.
So why am I not excited about the publication of “Cursed Child”? Well, for starters, it’s not a novel, and it’s not even by you; it’s the script of a play written by Jack Thorne, based on a story conceived of by the two of you and director John Tiffany. Handing off the characters that you so meticulously crafted over the course of 15-plus years — tying the velvet bows atop Dolores Umbridge’s head and digging the grave of the loyal Dobby (“Here Lies Dobby, a Free Elf”) — feels almost like a betrayal. Getting an “official” Harry Potter story written by someone other than you seems cheap, second-rate, even a bit wrong — not unlike when Harry watched Snape’s memories through the Pensieve.
“Cursed Child” picks up where “Deathly Hallows” left off, 19 years into the future; the synopsis of the two-part play, which premieres Saturday, reads, “Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs.’’ I, like Harry, am grappling with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs — his, and my own. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful here, Jo, but you’re messing with my childhood.
I grew up with Harry and distinctly remember feeling, as I walked home from seeing the final movie in my sophomore year of college, that the end of the series coincided with the end of my youth. It was a depressing thought, but I was comforted knowing that I could still return to your fantastical world, which would remain the same, unchanged, even if I would not. And the best part was that, with the official canon complete, I was free to continue the narrative on my own, filling in the blanks with my own imagination. (Do wizards use the Internet, or play Pokémon Go? Did Harry, Ron, and Hermione get the wizarding version of a GED since they didn’t finish Hogwarts? Did Albus Severus get made fun of in school because of that touching but nevertheless dreadful name?)
But you’ve made that difficult, searching out all the possible corners of the wizarding universe, from Diagon Alley to the Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, with tweaks and embellishments that leave little to the imagination and often seem less than authentic. You’re exhausting the magic that lies in the unknown, damaging a complete, holistic narrative by turning it into an exhausting, never-ending story. My friend compares it to the perfect weekend trip that, once extended, immediately falls apart. The enchantment is gone.
Which brings me to the (hor)crux of the matter, the reason I’m writing. I’m asking you — I’m begging you — to stop. Stop with the prequels, sequels, derivatives, and footnotes. By all means, keep writing, keep interacting with fans. But put Harry Potter to rest. Let young readers, readers of all ages, discover and rediscover the series as it was in its original form, without the torrent of supplemental material overwhelming its mystery and magic.
Surely you don’t need the money or the fame, and you’ve already proven you can write other things.
One line that’s always stuck with me is from “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” uttered by Dumbledore to Harry upon Nicolas Flamel’s impending death: “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” Well said, Jo. I think it’s best for all of us if you heed those words, too.
A concerned, and increasingly
Eryn Carlson is a writer who works at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism.