First Harry Potter was “the boy who lived.” Now, courtesy of the bottomless, soul-sucking nostalgia of author J.K. Rowling and her legions of fans, he may be “the boy who never died.” Ever. Even when common sense and narrative structure suggest — nay, demand! — that someone cast a killing curse and put him out of his misery.
The misery, in this particular case, is a new “short story” penned by Rowling and published on her official fan site, Pottermore, this morning. For those of you without a Pottermore account and an adequate sense of closure, the basic updates run thusly: Potter, now graying and washed up, is attending the Quidditch World Cup with his kids; Ginny is a Daily Prophet sports reporter; Ron co-manages Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes; Hermione is leaning in at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Neville teaches herbology.
TL;DR: The characters of your favorite children’s adventure, the one that jump-started the imaginations of so many millions of kids, are now boring, conventional and nearing middle age.
That’s not necessarily a problematic plot “twist,” on its face. But perhaps, in the interests of continued realism, Rowling will provide us further updates on Potter as he ages: his struggles with his teenage kids, maybe, or his sexless retirement to the Isle of Wight, or his eventual abandonment in a second-rate wizarding nursing home where Ginny sadly wipes the spittle from her hubby’s slack jaw.
Gallopin’ gorgons, why stop there: Let’s see a Daily Prophet obituary for the original Potter crew, or a Rita Skeeter gossip column from Potter’s funeral. (“Lying in state in the Ministry of Magic, the famous Auror, 82, is only recognizable by the lightning scar puckering his wrinkled and age-spotted forehead …”)
My point is, stories have to stop somewhere. That’s inherent in the very concept of a story. But Rowling, apparently out of a determination to keep Pottermore in the news, keeps moving the stop of her story backwards, further and further away from its most logical narrative point and closer to a place that … has no point, really. Besides the appeasement of still-rabid fans.
And that’s unfortunate, frankly — because in writing these “updates,” Rowling has done little besides cheapen her original work. The entire Harry Potter series is based on the fact that Harry is exceptional; his character development, his narrative arc — indeed, the fundamental plot of all seven books — consists of Potter coming to terms with his own exceptionalness. And it works.
We see him grow from a small, confused orphan into a self-aware, if angsty, teenager. We watch him grapple with the gradual realization that he, and only he, can save the wizarding world from the fascist villain Voldemort. Finally, in what should have been the final pages of “The Deathly Hallows,” we see him seize this destiny once and for all, walking into final battle with Voldemort, resigned to die. It’s a perfect thematic realization of thousands and thousands of pages of character development, the most logical end-parenthesis to an arc that’s spanned many thousands of pages.
And then, Rowling tactlessly tacked on an epilogue. Flash forward 19 years. Harry is married and ruffled and middle-aged. He is no longer exceptional. Likewise his adventuring pals who, without exception, are all similarly settled — frequently with minor or heretofore unheard-of characters that jar against the canon. To quote The Awl’s Choire Sicha — one of many, many critics who despised Rowling’s false-bottomed ending:
The problem with adventures is that nothing ever happens after, there’s just life and diapers and bedtimes, and looking for something good on the television, and that’s no happily ever after at all.
How wickedly disappointing. And, for lack of a better word, lame.
That, needless to say, has not been the reaction of many fans, both at the time of the “Deathly Hallows” release and in response to this new “short story.” In fact, in the Pottermore comments section — which, it must be said, usually tends toward the hysterical — readers have confessed to “crying” over the opportunity to “get to know more about Harry,” even though said opportunity included zero substantial contributions to the canon, and lots of uncharacteristically shoddy writing. (I’m not exactly qualified to critique one of the world’s most successful authors, but this is straight-up ungrammatical: “Their presence has ensured large crowds along the cordoned area, all hoping for a glimpse of their heroes.”)
Sure, Rowling gives us some new information here. But like a pernicious curse, each deceptive new dribble of pseudo-plot also takes meaning away.
Rowling, here’s a plea from a fan unaffected by the deadly Nostalgia Charm: Stop writing these painful “updates” — for Harry’s sake and ours.