Thoughts from someone who simply can’t get to London to see the new Harry Potter play.
I think even the most hardcore Harry Potter fans were surprised when J.K. Rowling announced that she was collaborating on a Harry Potter play with John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. I’ve since found out that they are well-known in the London theater community, but didn’t initially have any idea who they were and still don’t have a sense of their style. I think only the most well-heeled among us will be able to fly to England to fully experience the Harry Potter play. So what does this mean for the rest of us and our Harry Potter and Cursed Child experience?
Even people who don’t like Harry Potter would have issues, arguing that it wasn’t the biggest cultural milestone of the last fifty years.
Harry Potter went from complete non-existence to zeitgeist saturation in less than ten years. From the moment the first book came out in 1997, the word of mouth began to grow. And seemingly in the blink of an eye, there were movies, songs, and an unimaginable plethora of Harry Potter-themed goods available at your local toy store. Grade school kids were sleeping out to be the first to get a book so that they could read it! Can you even imagine? Voluntary marathon reading sessions for huge amounts of young people? And then adults started reading them too!
I think the first time I heard about it was a CNN report on a handful of crackpot tweens dressed in robes sleeping out in New York for the second book. They were all holding sticks. I figured it was the same group talking about Britney Spears and pogs, people who jumped on fads without any barometer of quality. Obviously, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I think I started reading Harry Potter at the behest of my then girlfriend, now wife, the beautiful Kelly, who had been listening to the books on tape on her commute. I was lucky enough to binge the first four and then I had to play the waiting game with everyone else. I didn’t really like the first movie, but I was also kind of obsessed with it, which was a weird feeling. Isn’t Harry Potter just for kids?
— Harry Potter Play (@HPPlayLDN) June 7, 2016
One of the most intriguing parts of the Harry Potter phenomenon, for me, is that it always defied simple categorization.
Difficult as it is to imagine now, the books started off as “children’s books.” As I recall, the New York Times best seller list actually changed their criteria away from children’s books so that the Harry Potter books wouldn’t dominate the top ten. And regardless of your opinion on the age range for the book, they have touched the lives of many adult readers. As one of those adults myself, I would argue that the books are timeless and ageless.
But to take it a step farther, the Harry Potter character had always stepped off of the page into other media. Obviously, film. I know some people who loved the movies but never cracked a book. And now there is a new Harry Potter film that doesn’t have a corresponding book (at least one with a story), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I’m looking forward to the movie, but it doesn’t feel like legitimate Harry Potter yet. I’ll have to see it first. But that’s also a decision that everyone has to make on their own, although I imagine for many the fact the J.K. Rowling wrote the screenplay might give it some heft. I also bet there will be some familiar characters in it, probably younger Dumbledore and I would be very happy to see Grindelwald.
But Harry Potter didn’t just move into movies. There are also people who would call the Jim Dale recordings the definitive Harry Potter experience. Not my sister! She never liked Jim Dale’s Hermione voice and when we discovered that there were separate British recordings by Stephen Fry, we had to have them! Stephen Fry is more of a reader and less of a voice chameleon than the amazing Jim Dale, so my sister gave them her stamp of approval.
But Harry Potter is also an experience.
There’s the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando where the original cast filmed new material for the tour and rides. There are video games with the cast’s voices that delve deeper into the history of Hogwarts. The Media Medusa herself has actually gone to Scotland to some of the different places where the movies were filmed or, perhaps more astounding, the places J.K. Rowling was thinking of when she set pen to paper. Hell, sometimes J.K. Rowling will just say something that completely changes the franchise— Dumbledore is gay, Harry should have ended up with Hermione— and it’s difficult not to incorporate that into our thoughts about the books, movies, and everything else.
— Harry Potter Play (@HPPlayLDN) June 6, 2016
And now Harry Potter is going to be a play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Of course, I’ve been arguing this whole article that Harry does not belong to one medium, but I was certainly surprised that Harry Potter was going to be confined to a stage play in London that few will be able to access. I immediately guessed that the rest of the world would get something of the play and we are. The script book will be released on Harry’s birthday, July 31st. So what are we to do with this Harry Potter play? I think it’s not too controversial to say that people who get to actually see the Harry Potter play are seeing the definitive edition of Cursed Child. What can the rest of us do?
My pie in the sky idea? I think that the books should come with a link to an MP3 of a cast table read to get us closer to the intended experience. Or perhaps we could get a table read with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and the whole gang? I would buy that! Anyway, I don’t see an audiobook available on Amazon yet. But I imagine we’ll get a Jim Dale audiobook for this before we know it. So I’d like to be able to hear that first, but since I didn’t know when it’s coming out, I guess I’ll just have to read the book.
Why not wait, you say? See the Harry Potter play or at least get the audio book? Because in no time at all, the plot of this story will not be a spoiler anymore. There will be headlines on magazines and web sites about controversies in the play. I’m making stuff up, so no spoilers here, just examples: “Should they have killed Ron?” “Why did Harry befriend Malfoy’s son?” “Will Hermione make a good minister of magic?” Although I can’t speak for anyone’s most genuine Harry Potter experience, I think we can all agree that the worst way to experience any work is through a series of spoiler headlines. So I’m going to read this book, probably on July 31st. I just wish I had other options. Reading a play is not optimal. Not to play the Shakespeare card, but seeing Hamlet is a lot better than reading Hamlet. Not for nothing was Hamlet originally written as a play, meaning it was something to be performed, not read dryly in your smoking jacket while lounging on the divan.
Hey, isn’t it a two-night play? That makes it even crazier! I saw a four and a half hour production of Peer Gynt once and it was only one night! How long is this?
I actually have a friend who won’t read Harry Potter because the books are too ubiquitous, too popular.
He’s a great guy, but in this case, a fool. But I know what he’s saying. Things that are too popular are so often artificially manufactured by corporate focus groups. I’ve actually heard good things about the movie, but I feel like he equates Harry Potter with the Angry Birds movie, a corporate cash grab on a popular property with name recognition. But to me, Harry Potter isn’t like that. It’s more like Emily Dickinson storing her poetry under her bed, never imagining how famous it would one day be. J.K. Rowling , who had no standing in the publishing community, conceived of Harry Potter. It was a pure idea that she nurtured and developed on her own in a vacuum, letting very few people in on her idea. As an unpublished writer, I know how hard it is to knock on those publishing doors. But she did it and quality shown through and, eventually, reached a massive audience. If anyone deserves to be rich, it’s J.K. Rowling. And she has continued to grow as an artist, trying different books and now — what the hell? — collaborating on a play.
I wish I was in a position to follow her on the artistic path to the London stage. I have no doubt that this Harry Potter play will be touring the world in a few years, but by then, then major plot points will probably be public knowledge. Better to read it now than have it spoiled by well-meaning discussion points a year from now.
And I managed to not go all fan-boy in this, but I couldn’t be happier that there is going to be more Harry Potter in the world. Sure, the story of Harry and Voldemort is over, but the Harry Potter universe is rich with an unplumbed wealth of opportunities for more stories. I can’t wait to see where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child takes me. Also, I couldn’t be happier that the world of Harry Potter is still on JK’s mind. I’m hoping that this will lead to more novels, which is my favorite Harry Potter. But I also suspect we’ll get a Cursed Child movie in a few years. And JK is, above all else, a novelist, so who knows who much of Cursed Child she broke down with prose? Have you read the Harry Potter books? They’re quite good.
Visit the official Harry Potter play website.
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