A Potter movie comes out approximately every two years, although with the young cast getting older we can see efforts are being made to push the schedule up a bit. Order of the Phoenix is set to arrive in 2007, and with Half-Blood Prince projected for 2008, it is likely we will see Book Seven Movie arrive somewhere around 2010. Philosopher’s Stone was published on 26 June 1997. Many sources (and none of them have been discouraged by JK Rowling, who is indeed the only one who would know for sure) speculate her last book will arrive in 2007, creating a one-two punch to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the most famous boy wizard this world has known.
But where will we be in 2012, when the Potter series reaches fifteen years old? Where will it be in fifty years? (Never mind where we will be in fifty years, these are the books we’re concerned with.)
Will the hype and excitement over the series be as great as it is now? Most definitely not. Is the series an enduring classic, like Lord of the Rings, or is it destined for a quieter following, such as the Narnia series? I predict the series will thrive for a couple years after the release of the last movie due to the excited fanbase, and then gently fade into a cult classic. It won’t endure the test of time like the other two for several reasons.
This is not because the Harry Potter series is comprised of badly written books. Quite the opposite. They really are good. We wouldn’t run fansites if they were awful books. We wouldn’t spend our work days IMing back and forth “but what is Snape really up to?” or “Ron and Hermione. Good idea or just contrived pairing?” (No, I’m not going to tell you the answer. I may however, write a column.) There is no question the series is good – and it is deep. But is it as deep as Lord of the Rings, and meant for thoughtful analysis such as Narnia? Sure it is. There are a bunch of themes identified in the books by now. A sample list follows – prejudice, change, death, bereavement, and choice. Those are topics that lend themselves to lots of discussion. You can study the Potter books in school, even. (Some schools do.) You can use them to foster learning in your kids or someone else’s. Undeniably, it is a classic series, visiting themes with depth.
All three of these series noted provide that opportunity, although Harry Potter is by far the most accessible. While JK Rowling has created an entirely new world, she has done it along side the real one. Tolkien had no such compelling restraint – Middle-earth bears a passing familiarity to the world, but is also an entire world on its own, complete with different languages in the mix. Sure you can immerse yourself in Potter, and fancy yourself a wizard or witch posing as a Muggle, but it doesn’t require a whole other language to do so. JK Rowling’s Wizard World is not as special without the direct contrast of the Muggle world. (Note to people who speak “elven” fluently: you are no closer to being an elf than Tolkien himself.) This is Potter’s greatest strength as a series and its absolute weakness: It is a pop-culture classic due to the setting of the book, the limited life-span of the story, and even the times we live in.
For the first indication of how pop-classic culture affects a series, look at what happened to Star Wars. So long as there were questions to be answered, the speculation was alive. Since Revenge of the Sith? Pretty quiet. All the questions have been answered. I wouldn’t say there’s nothing left to talk about, but by and large, there isn’t much left to say about it except in an academic sense. And much the same could be said about Harry Potter, immediately following book seven. The “shipping wars” will be put to rest (Mrs. Norris and Crookshanks forever, I tell you!), although the alternate “happier endings” will no doubt be written about for years to come. Go ahead, get the Draco/Hermione and Snape/McGonagall pairings out of your creative system. We’ll wait. We will all know what happens to Voldemort and Harry, and which side of the fence Snape really sits on, if any. The answers won’t change. There won’t be wiggle room for interpretation, or not much. People will live, and other people will die. No amount of wish fulfillment will change the reality of what happens to wrap things up in Book Seven.
Because of the times we live in, the internet has created a Potter-culture faster than the time it took for devoted fans to collect themselves after reading Lord of the Rings, or the Chronicles of Narnia. Harry Potter became an instant classic. It is still a classic, sure, but the candle it lit burns hotter and brighter and faster, and therefore things will burn out more quickly. After the last movie, this will be entirely apparent. We see some signs of it now between books, when sites go through lulls of information, then burst with activity the second something new comes into view (a movie, interviews, pictures). As a friend of mine put it, “things get eaten up a lot faster because of the multiple media channels- when something is on you can’t escape it, really”, and she’s right. Nothing is new, or for that matter exclusive for long thanks to the internet. Interviews are archived and indexed almost the instant they happen. No access to a television while at work to catch the trio on a morning show interview? Just wait until lunch and drop into your favorite fansite – they’ll have partial if not complete transcripts, highlighted quotes, and screen captures. If you’re lucky, they’ll have the video encoded so you can watch it at your leisure. But with over abundance of information comes burnout.
After movie seven, is it time for a break? Naturally, one will occur. Will people be as enthusiastic to talk Potter? For a few years, sure. Once the answers have all been revealed, it is always fun to go back and figure out how and why things ended as they did, but there are so many ways you can travel the path from A to B. But the fanbase will not endure. But the academics will play with it for a few years and then everyone will dust if off again slowly, as one tends to do with favorite books, reread it and go ‘well, was it really all that?’ Some people will say no. Others will say yes. No doubt the answer lies in how far you took your fandom the first time around.
After 2022 (Potter 25), BBC or its equivalent might even revisit the series, not to make not a series of movies but a mini-series instead. Why make a movie? The movies that are made now are perfectly fine and representative of the world. But in this new series, no stone will be unturned; the things that made die-hard fans gnash their teeth in anguish will be put back into the series. Every clue, every nuance, every time Hermione rolls her eyes at Ron – it will be there. All the Weasley family will be there in the Goblet of Fire “season”. The special effects will probably be just as special, if not better – technology doesn’t hold still, why should Potter? Prediction, or just good sound guessing? Potter is a very modern fantasy tale – so does it need revisiting? Probably not, but it very likely will be. Everything old is new again, at least twenty years later. So says fashion, so says the endlessly remade movies. It would be done out of a matter of habit and obligation, not because the series needs revisiting.
So is the series an enduring classic, as say Lord of the Rings, or is it destined for a quieter following, such as the Narnia series? My vote is with Potter becoming much like Narnia: a classic yes, an enduring classic, certainly, but with the quieter fanfare reserved for Chronicles of Narnia instead of the blown out fanfare anytime someone breathes the words “my precious”. It is, after all, just a sign of the times we live in.